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Monastery of Ioannis Theologou, Patmos

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The history of Patmos

Mosaic of the Founder offering the Monastery to St JohnThe history of Patmos really begins with Saint John the Divine, the Theologian, who was the beloved disciple of Christ. Saint John, to whom Christ bestowed his Mother’s safekeeping after the Crucifixion, was arrested by the Ephesian emperor, tortured most cruelly, and exiled to the island of Patmos where his sanctity and healing powers were recognised as miracles by the islanders who had been living under the control of the resourceful sorcerer Kynops. Kynops, seeing his power threatened, challenged Saint John, but failing to stir him to accept the challenge, called his followers to beat the saintly man almost to death. Saint John survived, recovered, and prayed to God to turn Kynops into a rock. The rock is there to this day, mute testament to the turning of the tide in the fortunes of Patmos and its place in Christianity.


Mosaic of the Founder offering the Monastery to St John >

Saint John retired to a cave some two kilometres above the harbour to pray and to meditate. It was in this cave, the Cave of the Apocalypse, where he received God’s Revelation of “what must come to pass”. His Vision became the last book of the New Testament: the Book of the Revelation.

In time the emperor who had exiled Saint John died and his successor, a wise and prudent man, recalled all those who had been exiled and so Saint John returned to Ephesus. His basilica, the first Christian basilica, was built in Ephesus and dedicated to the Holy Mother of God.

Ephesus was sacred in antiquity to the Goddess Artemis, the Goddess of birth and wild animals. The earliest legend of Patmos itself tells of how Selene, the Moon Goddess, while on her way to Endymion had bathed the island lying on the bottom of the sea with her enchanting moonbeams. One day Artemis was on the way to meet Selene, her friend, and as she looked down she saw the island shimmering like a jewel on the ocean’s deep bed. She fell in love with it and begged to have it. With the help of Zeus, who convinced his brother Poseidon, the God of the Sea, that it wasn’t much use down there, the beautiful jewel was brought from its watery depths, warmed by the Sun God Helios and given life.

The tragic Orestes paused on Patmos while fleeing from the Erinyes; he built a Temple to Artemis there; other temples found from ancient times had been dedicated to Zeus, to Dionysius, to Apollo Karneios and to the lovely Aphrodite, but it is Artemis who became the patron Goddess of Patmos.

From the 4th century AD the island became a magnet for pilgrims yet the Saracen raids during the 7th century left it deserted until the 11th century when one man of vision changed Patmos forever.

View from the Monastery< View from the Monastery

Hosios Christodoulos was a monk from Asia Minor who was forced to flee to the island of Kos to escape the harsh pillaging of the Seljuk Turks. An austere man, he nevertheless had a breadth of vision that changed the island of Patmos and secured the veneration of Saint John, and the preservation of the Holy Cave, for all time. Christodoulos had been richly patronised on Kos and had founded a great monastery there, but seeking more solitude he travelled to Constantinople to ask the Emperor Alexios Komnenos if he could exchange his rich and fertile monastery on Kos for the deserted island of Patmos. In 1088 Patmos was bestowed on him as a royal gift. Accompanied by many learned monks Christodoulos set about the building of the splendid fortress-like Monastery we see today, majestically set on top of the rockiest elevation commanding the awe inspiring view of the harbour of Skala.

In later years the Knights of St John of Rhodes recognised the Monastery’s primary importance, honouring it with special dispensations. The Patmian Seminary founded in 1713 continues its fine spiritual training. Patmos was the second island of Greece to declare its loyalty to the Greek War of Independence and finally, in 1947, the whole of the Dodecanese threw off the yoke of foreign incursions to unite with Greece. The Byzantine inheritance and magnificent treasures of the Eastern Orthodox Church is the heart and soul of Patmos, now guarded with contemporary scientific care and conservation to ensure that its glorious historical past is preserved for the future. The Museum is the finest in the Aegean.

An honour roll of Saints has blessed the island with their presence and many are the Holy Days celebrated here: September 14th is the Day of the Finding of the True Cross, Timios Stavros. In 335 Empress Helena of Byzantium, the same Princess Helen from England, discovered the Cross of Christ’s Crucifixion on one of her pilgrimages to Jerusalem. Basil was discovered where she found it and ever since then basil has been known as the holy herb, grown in pots, given to friends or strangers for good luck and protection, given by priests to the faithful.

Patmos was declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1999.