Patmos and a Story of Biblical Proportions

Only 15 to 17 monks live in the monastery, way down from previous centuries. We arrived in a small

The courtyard of the hilltop Monastery of St. John the Theologian, which dates from 1088.

courtyard, where one monk sat on the arcaded porch at the entry to the main chapel.

In that chapel (Chapel of St. John), there is a huge iconostasis. My notes say its altar dates from 1820, and the oldest frescoes from the 16th century.

The oldest frescoes in the Chapel of the Virgin date from the 12thcentury. We visited a third very

tiny chapel, dedicated to the monk who founded this monastery, St. Christodoulos.

Our itinerary also included the treasury, which with its rich collection

Frescoes seen under an arcade in the hilltop Monastery of St. John the Theologian on the Greek island of Patmos.

of centuries-old books and artifacts, made more of an impression on me than the chapels.

Our guide said the oldest manuscripts were from the fifth or sixth century and another from 941 AD. He pointed out that in the older manuscripts, all the words were run together to save space on the parchment pages. Parchment was too valuable to waste space with those breaks. Only from the 16th century were the words separated.

The collection also included vestments and other items that showed off some incredibly delicate embroidery done with gold, silver and silk threads. These works include tiny well-proportioned faces, the kind of thing that leaves the creator blind.

The same is true of the wooden carved crosses in the collection that have very delicate carvings of human figures and more.

A hilltop view down onto Skala, the largest town on Patmos, and its bay.

We walked down and out of the monastery and paused for a few minutes in Chora for a sweeping view over the island’s largest town — Skala, the harbor town where we had arrived (population: 1,600) — and our ship, which looked awfully small from that distance.

The island’s total population is only 3,000, our guide said, and two-thirds live off tourism. There are 420 to 440 Greek Orthodox chapels,

roughly one for every seven people.

One of more than 400 churches and chapels on Patmos, an island smaller than New York’s Manhattan.

Ironically, considering that Patmos is surrounded by the blue waters of the Aegean, salt-free water is in short supply. That’s why, our guide pointed out, many buildings have flat roofs. This is so people can capture rainwater, which is then drained off each house into its own cistern.

We drove about halfway down the hill from Chora to visit the grotto (the Holy Grotto of the Revelation) where it is said John the Apostle wrote the last book of the New Testament.

Entry to the grotto where it is said John the Apostle wrote the last book of the New Testament.

We walked into a cave, with altars and other religious paraphernalia, and saw a spot where John is believed to have laid his head to sleep and where Christ appeared to him. The space was big enough to have a few rows of benches that we sat on briefly to listen to our guide.

Of note, I learned in post-trip research that not every scholar is certain it was one of Christ’s 12 disciples who lived on Patmos late in the first century A.D. The writer of Revelations may have been another man named John.

Our press group rode back to Skala, and we were on our own for the time that remained at this port, to look around and shop.

So, as the sun began to set, I went shopping. It seemed a very reasonable way to use my last hour on this tiny island before boarding a tender and returning to ship.

The article and photos are by Nadine Godwin, the author of Travia: The Ultimate Book of Travel Trivia, which was published by The Intrepid Traveler.

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