Spiritual sites in Patmos: the holy Cave and the Monastery of St. John
The island of Patmos owes its fame to St. John the Evangelist, the most beloved disciple of Christ, and to the monastery, built during the 11th century AD to honour the evangelist’s name. The monastery has always been the “heart” of the island. A small settlement, called Hóra (Chora), started to develop around the monastery and the inhospitable island grew to become the jewel of civilization in the Archipelagus.
As it is well known throughout Christianity, St. John was exiled in Patmos where he wrote “The Apocalypse” (Revelation) with the help of his disciple Prohorus, in a cave. The Apocalypse is considered the most difficult semantically book of the New Testament. Its main idea is the Second Coming of Christ as a fair Judge and the fight between good and evil, light and darkness, the Church and the Antichrist, leading to the definite triumph of the Church and Christ. The Cave became the holiest site of the island.
Tradition kept alive the memory of the presence of St. John by indicating the spots on the rocky surface of the cave where he rested his head, where his hand held the rock and where the parchment was set and the crack on the rock where the voice of God was heard from.
The arrival of the monk Christodoulos at the island of Patmos took place in 1088 AD, and was due to the successive pressure of the Turks (already having invaded Asia Minor in 1071 AD) and the existence of an organized orthodox monastic community in Miletus. The monk, a man of vision, chose Patmos because it was a “place rough and miserable, but suitable for spiritual fruits”. He ensured the issuing of “golden” decrees by the emperor Alexios Komnenian the first providing the island with benefits. Since the uninhabited island was repeatedly ravaged by the Turks, the monks emphasized on the fortifications of the monastery which gradually acquired its heavy, austere form and high towers wreathed with crenellations. At the same time works of great intellectual significance were slowly but steadily gathered in the monastery proving the social status and education of the abbots. Icons, manuscripts, sculptures, frescoes are the best indicators of the monastic spirituality of Patmos, housed today in the museum.
The center of the monastic complex is the inner courtyard diverting the light from above, while a number of arches are erected towards the sky enhancing the beauty of the limited space. The old katholicon, dedicated to St. John, and the chapel of Virgin Mary were built around the central courtyard too. The chapel is famous for its frescoes (12th century AD) that indicate a close connection to the workshops of Constantinople and strongly prove the high level of spirituality in a place so far away from the Byzantine centers. The structure of the fortification resembles to a labyrinth. Chapels, cells, magazines, cisterns, warehouses and the refectory, the symbolic space of the communal life of the monks, and many other secondary rooms have formed a creative spiritual nucleus for Asia Minor and the Archipelagus. The accumulation of treasures never ceased. All this wealth can be witnessed today in the collection of treasures of the monastery, especially the Byzantine manuscripts. The Byzantine and post Byzantine icons, documents and holy relics have made Patmos great pilgrimage of the East. Its glory and fame have spread throughout the world.
Author: Ioli Vingopoulou
Translated by Helen Premeti
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