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
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.