The Monastery of St. John is one of the most important places of worship for Orthodox and Western Christians alike. It was founded in 1088 by a monk, the Blessed Christodoulos, in honor of St. John the Divine, author of the Bible’s Book of Revelation. One of the richest and most influential monasteries in Greece, its towers and buttresses make it look like a fairy-tale castle, but were built to protect its religious treasures, which are now the star attraction for the thousands of pilgrims and tourists who visit every year.
ST. JOHN AND THE HOLY CAVE
Inside the church of Agia Anna, near the Monastery of St. John, is the Holy Cave of the Apocalypse. It was here that St. John had the vision of fire and brimstone that inspired the New Testament’s Book of Revelation. The cave contains the rock where John dictated his vision to his disciple, Prochoros, and the indentation where the saint is said to have rested his head each night. Also visible is the cleft in the rock from where the voice of God is said to have spoken to John. The cave also has 12th-century wall paintings and icons from 1596 of St. John and the Blessed Christodoulos by the Cretan painter Thomas Vathas.
THE BLESSED CHRISTODOULOS
The Christian monk Christodoulos (slave of Christ) was born around 1020 in Asia Minor. He spent much of his life building monasteries on several Greek islands. He was given permission by the Byzantine Emperor Alexios I Comnenos (r. 1081-1118) to build a temple on Patmos, in honor of the Apostles. Christodoulos laid the foundation stone for the Monastery of St. John, but died in 1093 before it was completed. His remembrance celebrations are held each year in Patmos on March 16 and October 21.
Also known as the library, the treasury contains a vast and important collection of theological and Byzantine works. There is a central room, decorated with plastered arches supported by stone columns, off which lie other rooms displaying religious artifacts. Priceless icons and sacred art, including vestments, chalices, and Benediction crosses, can be viewed. Floor-to-ceiling bookcases, built into the walls, store religious manuscripts and biographical materials, many written on parchment. Manuscripts of note include the Book of Job, sermons by St. George the Theologue, the Purple Code, and a 14th-century volume containing images of the Evangelists entitled Gospel of Four. The treasury also possesses 15th-to 18th-century embroidered stools and mosaics, as well as beautiful 17th-century furnishings. There are also garments worn by past bishops, some woven in gold thread.
Icon of St. John
This 12th-century icon is the most revered in the monastery and is housed in the katholikon, the monastery’s main church.
This room contains two marble tables taken from the Temple of Artemis, which originally occupied the site.
The Hospitality of Abraham
This is one of the most important of the 12th-century frescoes that were found in the chapel of the Panagia.
Chapel of Christodoulos
This contains the tomb and silver reliquary of the Blessed Christodoulos.
Chapel of the Holy Cross
This is one of the monastery’s ten chapels, built because Church law forbade Mass to be heard more than once a day in the same chapel.
This scroll of 1088 in the treasury is the monastery’s foundation deed, sealed in gold by the Byzantine Emperor Alexios I Comnenos.
This houses more than 200 icons, 300 pieces of silverware, and a dazzling collection of jewels.
Frescoes of St. John from the 18th century adorn the outer narthex of the katholikon, whose arcades form an integral part of the courtyard.
Chapel of the Holy Apostles
This chapel lies just outside the monastery’s gate.
This 17th-century gateway leads up to the cobbled main courtyard. Its walls have slits for pouring boiling oil over marauders.
SHIP OF STONE
Close to Patmos is a rock that resembles an overturned ship. Legend has it that Christodoulos, on discovering that a pirate ship was on its way to Patmos, seized an icon of St. John the Divine and pointed it at the ship, turning it to stone.
The Orthodox Easter celebrations on Patmos are some of the most important in Greece. Hundreds of people visit Chora to watch the Niptir (washing) ceremony on Maundy Thursday. The abbot of the Monastery of St. John publicly washes the feet of 12 monks, reenacting Christ’s washing of his disciples’ feet before the Last Supper. The rite was once performed by the Byzantine emperors as an act of humility.
1088: The Monastery of St. John is constructed, with a heavily fortified exterior.
1999: The Monastery of St. John and the Holy Cave of the Apocalypse are inscribed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site.