Today millions of tourists go on an annual pilgrimage to the sun kissed beaches and beautiful white houses of the Greek islands. Patmos has beautiful beaches, traditional white house on a hillside and great food, but there is also more to this small island. Known as ‘The island of the Apocalypse’ and the ‘Jerusalem of the Aegean’ has been drawing pilgrims from around the Christian world for centuries.
Today most pilgrims arrive on huge cruise ships that can be seen anchored in the bay. They come to visit the island where St. John the Theologian was exiled in 95AD. Where he went on to write the last book of the New Testament, the Book of Revelation, in the Cave of The Apocalypse.
As we arrived in the harbour, dominating the small port of Skala, was the fortified Monastery of St John the Theologian, sitting above pristine white houses of the capital of the island, Hora. Both the Monastery and town below it are UNESCO World Heritage sites.
We drove up the 3.4km, but you could take the bus or walk. It’s about a 30mins walk from the harbour taking the shorter route up the ‘old pathway’.
Either way, there are fabulous views of the bay and harbour below, the Cave of the Apocalypse is half way up. Then further up into Hora, we left the car parked below. Entering the town we were greeted with winding alley ways and tall white walls designed to keep out invaders and pirates. These lead up past gift shops to the fortified entrance of the Monastery.
There isn’t normally more than one cruise ship at a time but if you’re planning on visiting the main religious sites, either go early or on a day when there isn’t a cruise ship in to avoid queues and a conveyor belt feel.
Cave of the Apocalypse
Between Scala and Hora is the Holy Cave where the exiled John wrote the Apocalypse also known as the Book of Revelations. A disciple of Christ he was an old man when he came to Patmos. It is said that the Lord came to John and gave him a vision of what was to come and it was written down by his student Prohoros.
The cave has been turned into a place of worship and attached to it are the buildings of what was once a school. We entered the school with stunning views out across the bay and down steps into the church itself. Here at one side ducking our heads we entered the cave. We were shown where the book was written, where John slept, he lay his head and placed his hand to stand up.
Photography is not allowed within the cave, we were given special permission by the Monastery. As each group enters there is a monk or spiritual leader who will guide you through.
Saint John the Theologian Monastery
John stayed on Patmos for 2 years finishing writing in his cave. In the years afterwards, the island was raided by Arabs and the people were taken away as slaves. It wasn’t until the 11th Century in 1088, when St Christodoulous was granted the island by the Byzantine Emperor Alexios, that the Monastery was founded.
Built on the highest point over looking the harbour. Initially, the craftsmen and their families lived in Campos, the Abbot allowed them into the Monastery during the 12th century to protect them from pirate raids. Then in the 13th century, they were allowed to build homes around the fortress and the earliest buildings in the Hora date from then. The buildings all have high walls, many with hidden entrances and no windows to the front, all designed to repel pirates.
There is only one entrance to the Monastery its 15 metre high walls were an imposing sight. Above the 2 huge doors, we saw a balcony, built not for enjoying the views, but for pouring hot oil on invaders. Within the walls, the monk’s cells were arranged around the Katholikon, inside which is with a beautiful and complex wooden altar dating from 1820. Around the main courtyard were 4 of the 10 chapels of the Monastery.
Leading off from the main courtyard are steps and pathways that will take you around the different levels. Leading to the museum that holds a wealth of religious treasures dating back over the centuries from silverware and furniture to clothing and icons. The Monastery library houses thousands of book, manuscripts and documents dating back to 1073. With many manuscripts on parchment paper viewing, by religious and Byzantine scholars, is by appointment only.
You’ll also find chapels, cells storage areas and wells. There’s always a monk or two around to answer any questions, a small gift shop and lots of places to sit and contemplate the world. Make sure you climb the steps to the bell towers for a wonderful view and picture. We were given the extra privilege of going on the rooftop where there were wonderful views across the island.
There isn’t normally more than one cruise ship at a time but if you’re planning on visiting the main religious sites, either go early or on a day when there isn’t a cruise ship in to avoid long queues and a conveyor belt feel.
Visiting the Monastery should also be conducted with a certain amount of respect to the religion. Dressing appropriately simply means covering shoulders and knees. A t-shirt and 3/4 length trousers are enough. Though it does get warm so I’d recommend loose fitting clothing. It was a busy day when we visited with a cruise ship in the harbour and we were shocked and disappointed to see many visiting wearing swim wear, bikinis and shorts. Signs outside remind visitors to dress respectfully and unlike many other religious places we’ve visited in Greece at the moment they don’t hand out shawls. Please be respectful.
As you walk around look out for the Monastery cat, lazily resting in the middle of the main courtyard, he won’t move out of your way but was very friendly with children.
Churches, chapels & more monasteries
There’s more for the Orthodox pilgrim to the island. With a claim to have more churches than any other island in Greece, there’s also further monasteries and a nunnery. Just walking around the Hora we noticed that almost around every corner there was another beautiful small church or chapel.
Look out for the Hermitage of the Prophet Elias perched on high. Also, the Monastery of the Annunciation, the largest nunnery on the island with a fortified feel to it. The nuns are said to have continued to teach children on the island Greek during the Italian occupation of the Dodecanese, they are now renowned for their embroidery with designs from the Byzantine history of the island.
Patmos has a sense of spirituality about it, a place where you can appreciate the architecture and reverence of the religious places. You don’t have to be Greek Orthodox or particularly believe in Christianity to understand that something special happened on this island a long time ago.
It’s a place where we had our own travel blogging revelation and I’m sure the peace and tranquillity will give others who visit a chance to sit contemplate and listen, something so important in this hectic world we now live in.
If you’re not on a visiting cruise ship, you can get a ferry from Piraeus or Rhodes, the shortest route would be a flight to Samos and 1-hour ferry ride to Patmos. We took a very comfortable 9 hour trip by Blue Star from Rhodes with a cabin, returning on the faster 5-hour Dodecanisos catamaran.
Have you visited Patmos or are you planning to? What did you think of the spiritual side of the island? If you enjoyed this post and found it useful please comment and share. Thank you
During our trip to Patmos, we were guests of the Municipality of Patmos. We would like to thank Mr Iakovos Kouklakis for showing us around the Monastery and Cave and Mr Mathaios Melianos for showing us the churches of Hora. The car we used explore the island was provided by T&G Patmos Rentals. All the opinions written in this post are our own, based on our own experience.