The Monastery of Saint John the Theologian in Patmos (Credit: Valeria Casali, CC BY-SA 3.0, via Wikimedia Commons)

Saint John the Theologian 11th century monastery in Patmos

A significant sacred destination for the whole Christianity in the heart of the Aegean Sea

1.1K views

Founded in 1088 in Chora on the small island of Patmos in the Dodecanese by Ossios Christodoulos “the Blessed” and named after the “beloved disciple” , the Monastery of Saint John the Theologian is unique and has been a place of pilgrimage and Greek Orthodox learning ever since.

The monastery (also called Monastery of Saint John the Divine) is built on the top of a small mountain standing on the site where Saint John is believed to have written his Gospel, including the Book of Revelation (also known as the Apocalypse).

Exterior of the Cave of the Apocalypse on Patmos, Greece (Credit: Vladimir Boskovic at English Wikipedia, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons)

John is considered to have been exiled to Patmos, during the persecutions under Emperor Domitian. Early tradition says that John was banished to Patmos by the Roman authorities. (Pliny Natural History 4.69–70; Tacitus Annals 4.30).

As the Evangelist himself testifies at the beginning of his book, “I John, who also am your brother, and companion in tribulation, and in the kingdom and patience of Jesus Christ, was in the isle that is called Patmos, for the word of God, and for the testimony of Jesus Christ. I was in the Spirit on the Lord’s day, and heard behind me a great voice, as of a trumpet, saying[…]”(Bible, King James Version (KJV))

Interior of the Cave of the Apocalypse on Patmos, Greece (Credit: PLBechly, CC BY-SA 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons)

The Monastery has the external appearance of a polygonal castle, with towers and crenellations. The monastery’s walls are over 15 meters high, its length from north to south is 53 meters and from east to west 70 meters. Its heavily fortified exterior was necessitated by the threats of piracy and Seljuk Turks.

While fortified monasteries may be found in other parts of the Orthodox world, this Monastery is the only example in Greece of an organized settlement around a fortified monastic complex.

Interior of the Monastery (Credit: Thanasis Christodoulou, CC BY-SA 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons)

The monastery consists of interconnecting courtyards, chapels, stairways, arcades, galleries and roof terraces. It is also home to a remarkable collection of rare manuscripts, books, religious icons, embroidered vestments, liturgical artwork and objects.

A short walk downhill is the Cave of the Apocalypse (Spilaion Apokalypseos), where according to tradition St John dictated the Book of Revelation and his Gospel to his disciple Prochoros. This holy place attracted a number of small churches, chapels, and monastic cells, creating an interesting architectural ensemble.

The highlights of the monastery include a library (2,000 volumes, 13,000 historic documents, 900 manuscripts including a 6th-century copy of St. Mark’s Gospel written in gold and silver script on purple vellum) and a museum housing prized possessions such as superb icons, ecclesiastical utensils, sacred relics, embroidered vestments.

The monastery celebrates the feast of Agios Ioannis Theologos on May 8. The Byzantine ritual of Niptir takes place every Wednesday of the Holy Week and revives the dramatic and symbolic event that marks the beginning of the Passion of Christ.