The holy island of Patmos is sometimes referred to as “the Jerusalem of the Aegean.”On approaching the port of Skala from the sea your first sight is the massive medieval walls of the monastery, which stand guard over white-washed Chora, the island’s hilltop capital. Chora itself, the Grotto, and the monastery are all UNESCO World Heritage sites.
Patmos comprises three main, mountainous segments linked by two isthmuses at the center of the island where remnants of the island’s ancient capital can still be found. Although its infrastructure rivals that of its Dodecanese neighbors, Patmos still feels off the beaten path, esoteric, thanks to its unstudied natural beauty, its picture-perfect villages, its postcard-quality vistas and its sacred sites. In 2009, Forbes named the island one of the world’s most idyllic places to live: words such as “dreamlike,” “homey” and “virginal” are often used when describing this Aegean haven.
First settled by Dorian and then Ionian Greeks, Patmos came under the dominion of Rome and, like other Aegean islands, was used as a place of exile for political prisoners. Among the prisoners exiled to Patmos was Evangelist St John the Theologian (also known as St John the Divine), who was brought to the island in AD 95 during the reign of Domitian. During his long internment on this mountainous island, St. John wrote both the Apocalypse and his Gospel in the Grotto (cave) of St. Anna. In 1088 Ioannis “The Blessed” Christodoulos, a Bithynian abbot and soldier, received permission from the Byzantine Emperor Alexis I Comnenus to found a monastery on the island dedicated to St John. During the 1960s, this bucolic destination welcomed many of the world’s “flower children,” who came for the island’s beauty and spiritual energy.
Halfway up the mountain from the port of Skala to Chora is the Holy Grotto of the Apocalypse. According to Christian tradition, three fissures (a symbol of the Holy Trinity) opened in a wall in the grotto, St. John heard a voice that granted him a series of visions of the future (revelations), vivid pictures of how the Church would grow, battle the wicked powers of earth and hell and ultimately emerge victorious. The voice commanded the saint to transcribe these visions: St. John dictated the revelations to one of his disciples, Prochoros, and this text became the Book of Revelations. During his time in this sacred cave, St. John also composed the Fourth Gospel. The entrance to the grotto is marked with a mosaic of the visions of the saint. Inside the grotto, the nightly resting place of the saint’s head is fenced off and delineated in beaten silver.
Further up the mountain, immaculate Chora towers above the port of Skala. Its skirting of traditional white houses encircles the bottom of the exterior walls of the Monastery of St. John the Divine. An architecturally homogenous village, the cobblestone streets and alleys of Chora are lined with mansions built by wealthy ship owners during the 17th and 18th centuries. As you wend your way up to the Monastery, at the top of the hill, be sure to seek out an authentic taste of this unique Dodecanese village along some of its quieter thoroughfares.
Now surrounded by the village, the fortified Monastery of St. John, whose walls are more than 15 meters high, was built with local gray stone. In 1088 St. Christodoulos requested the entire island of Patmos from Byzantine Emperor Alexis I Comnenus so he could found a monastery dedicated to St. John. Even after “The Blessed” was driven from Patmos by pirates, monks continued building the monastery which, within a few centuries, became an important cultural, religious and spiritual center. Within its warren of chapels and courtyards, the Monastery of St. John houses medieval icons of the Cretan school and the Chapel of the Theotokos (the Virgin Mary), whose beautiful frescoes date to the 12th century; the monastery’s main chapel dates to the end of the 11th century. There is also a museum within the monastery, with icons, religious objects of silver and gold, sacred relics and embroidered vestments of inestimable value on display.
Patmos country side tour with Hora and Grotto
Our panoramic excursion begins at the port of Scala heading towards the center of the island to the main town of Chora.
Religious visit to St John's Monastery & Grotto of Apocalypse
This Monastery was founded in 1088 by St. Christodoulos. With its picturesque alleyways wind upwards towards the Monastery of St. John the Evangelist. It sits perched atop the hill of Hora. Appearing like a Byzantine castle, it was built like a fortress. Its presence is truly awe inspiring.