Patmos: Why this year is special
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Among the treasures are: 13 pages of the oldest known copy of the Gospel of St. Mark, from the 5th or 6th century. (Other pages are in the Leningrad Library and the British Museum.) Also the document giving the island to Christodoulos, signed by the Emperor in 1088, and some 267 codices on parchment, typical of work done by 12th-century monks.Skip to next paragraph
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Other objects on display are early icons; silver and brass altar pieces; highly decorated crosses and jewelry once owned by Catherine the Great; and exquisitely embroidered religious vestments, some made of petit point adorned with gold and silver threads and seed pearls.
The church itself has Byzantine frescoes from the 18th century. The interior is quite dark, since the church is still used and smoke from the many oil lamps continues to coat the walls and domed ceilings during services.
Restoration work in the tiny side Chapel of the Virgin has included taking some of the 18th-century plaster off by a special process and uncovering unusual 12th-century frescoes underneath.
As interesting as the monastery was, we were anxious to get to the second site, the cave where St. John lived and worked, located part way down to the sea.
The guide warned us that there were 40 steep steps down to the grotto. But it sounded worse than it was, because the steps were divided into sets of 8 to 10 by turns through gates and around the buildings.
There, as in almost every religious site in this part of the world, a later building sits on top of the original spot. A convent surrounds the cave, and a school was built in back of it, undoubtedly contributing to its protection through the years.
Inside the cave, a religious service was in progress for a small group seated on benches facing the altar built on one rock wall. When the service was over, we moved in close to the stone where St. John is said to have knelt in prayer; another place where he supposedly laid his head for rest; then the cleft in the rock where he heard, ``a great voice, as of a trumpet'' (Rev. 1: 10); and the rock protrusion where his student, Prochoros, dutifully wrote down the words describing the vision.
When we went back outside, the sun was sparkling on the panoramic scene below. The quiet simplicity of life even now, combined with the scent of the pine trees gave a hint of an idyllic place that could have been the setting for a profound religious experience.
A number of Bible scholars conclude that the book of Revelation resulted from a succession of visions, which were carefully written down in a conscious literary form. How long St. John stayed on Patmos isn't known. It is possible that he, as an old man, was either exiled to the island by Emperor Domitan (A.D. 81-91) for teaching a new religion in Ephesus, about 60 miles away on the mainland - now Turkey. Or, that St. John fled to Patmos on his own. Guidebooks state that after Domitan's death, St. John left Patmos and never came back.
It's doubtful that tourists will be able to find accommodations on Patmos during the anniversary celebration week. However, throughout the year several cruise lines include Patmos on their itineraries in the Greek islands. Contact your travel agent for details.
Sonia W. Thomas is the Monitor's travel editor.