Patmos: Why this year is special
Religious leaders from the world over will go to the Greek isle of Patmos Sept. 22-27 to commemorate the 900th anniversary of a monastery erected on the site where St. John is believed to have received the revelation recorded in the Bible. The observance will be accompanied by celebrations and exhibits in Athens and other parts of Greece over the next few months. Today a Monitor travel writer reports on a recent visit to the island. FOR its religious significance as well as its scenic beauty, we looked forward to the tour of Patmos as one of the highlights of our Mediterranean cruise. Our first sight of the island was at sunrise from the deck of the Epirotiki cruise ship Oceanos.Skip to next paragraph
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My husband and I stood at the rail and watched as the rosy glow of sunrise changed into bright yellow sunlight. We were immediately impressed with the dramatic hill on the port side of the ship and the massive gray stone monastery/fortress perched on top. Directly ahead was the small port of Skala - a perfect Greek village of whitewashed houses with blue-domed churches sprinkled in.
A flotilla of native boats was tied up to the piers, and local tenders waited to take us ashore. The short trip gave us time to study the island's arid, rocky hills. Buses were lined up to take us up to Patmos's two most famous sites.
The first, the Monastery of St. John the Theologian, dominates the island. Our bus stopped in the village of Chora below, and we climbed an ancient zig-zag stone path up to the gates in the wall. Once there, and a bit out of breath, we had a spectacular view of white stuccoed houses, terraced with tiny garden plots, stretching down to the sea. The steep climb was already worth the effort.
Inside the massive wall was a paved stone courtyard, surrounded by numerous arches leading into the monastery. The church, rich with frescoes, could be entered from one side. Opposite were doorways leading to the still active friary. We greeted two of the monks who live and work here as they arrived for the day. Custom allows the monks to stay overnight and eat with relatives outside the walls.
The monastery was founded by an abbot, Christodoulos, who came to Patmos in the 11th century intending to build on the spot where St. John received his vision. However, once Christodoulos saw the spot identified with the revelation - a cave on the side of a steep hill - he realized it wasn't a suitable location. So he built the Byzantine abbey on top of the hill, where an ancient Greek temple dedicated to Artemis had stood.
Christodoulos was given not only the consent and money (by the Emperor Alexius I Commenus) to build a monastery dedicated to St. John, but also title to the whole island of Patmos. So, since its inception, the monastery has held important documents.
It also houses a museum that looks primitive, having an enormous beehive brick oven in its main gallery. However, it now has special atmospheric controls to protect one of the most valuable Greek collections of early Christian manuscripts.