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Patmos: The Greek island where the end of the world began

Updated:2024-05-23 13:23    Views:149

'Sacred' island: Positioned in the north of Greece's Dodecanese island group, Patmos is a major Christian pilgrimage site. 'Sacred' island: Positioned in the north of Greece's Dodecanese island group, Patmos is a major Christian pilgrimage site. John Malathronas Holy cave: A sign pointing to the Cave of the Apocalypse, the grotto where biblical figure St. John is said to have had a vision that inspired the Book of Revelation. Holy cave: A sign pointing to the Cave of the Apocalypse, the grotto where biblical figure St. John is said to have had a vision that inspired the Book of Revelation. John Malathronas Impressive monument: The Monastery of St. John, established in 1088 by St. Christodoulos, is a fort-like structure that dominates the island of Patmos. Impressive monument: The Monastery of St. John, established in 1088 by St. Christodoulos, is a fort-like structure that dominates the island of Patmos. John Malathronas Principal attraction: A mosaic depicting St. John is positioned over the gate of the much-admired monastery. Principal attraction: A mosaic depicting St. John is positioned over the gate of the much-admired monastery. John Malathronas Vision cave: Inside the cave of the Apocalypse, the location where St. John was inspired to write the Book of Revelations. Photograph by special permission from the monastery of St John. Vision cave: Inside the cave of the Apocalypse, the location where St. John was inspired to write the Book of Revelations. Photograph by special permission from the monastery of St John. John Malathronas Reading room: The library at the monastery is the most important in Greece outside Mount Athos and holds 1,200 manuscripts in parchment, vellum or scrolls, including leaves of Mark's gospel dating from the 6th century. Reading room: The library at the monastery is the most important in Greece outside Mount Athos and holds 1,200 manuscripts in parchment, vellum or scrolls, including leaves of Mark's gospel dating from the 6th century. John Malathronas Significant texts: It contains some of the earliest published books in existence, like the principal edition-of Aristophanes comedies from 1498. Significant texts: It contains some of the earliest published books in existence, like the principal edition-of Aristophanes comedies from 1498. John Malathronas Stand out beaches: Lambi beach, located in the north of Patmos, is dotted with small, multicolored pebbles. Stand out beaches: Lambi beach, located in the north of Patmos, is dotted with small, multicolored pebbles. John Malathronas Rainbow pebbles: The colors range from butterscotch orange to sweet potato red and egg-yolk yellow, all threaded with dark streaks and dashes of pure white. Rainbow pebbles: The colors range from butterscotch orange to sweet potato red and egg-yolk yellow, all threaded with dark streaks and dashes of pure white. John Malathronas Freestanding rock: According to legend, the rock of Kallikatsou is formed of a girl whose mother put a curse on her after she swam straight after Holy Communion. Freestanding rock: According to legend, the rock of Kallikatsou is formed of a girl whose mother put a curse on her after she swam straight after Holy Communion. John Malathronas Ambitious plans: A Swiss politician, Josef Zisyadis, is cultivating vines in 20 acres of land near Petra beach with Dorian Amar, a French winemaker. Ambitious plans: A Swiss politician, Josef Zisyadis, is cultivating vines in 20 acres of land near Petra beach with Dorian Amar, a French winemaker. John Malathronas Almost ideal: "The soil is fertile, there's water in the ground, but the terroir is not perfect for the vines," winemaker Dorian Amar says Almost ideal: "The soil is fertile, there's water in the ground, but the terroir is not perfect for the vines," winemaker Dorian Amar says John Malathronas Island enhancements: Financier Charles Pictet, restored three windmills on a hillock opposite the monastery one of which is fully functional and produces wholemeal flour. Island enhancements: Financier Charles Pictet, restored three windmills on a hillock opposite the monastery one of which is fully functional and produces wholemeal flour. John Malathronas Grikos village: This lovely fishing village, facing the small island of Tragonissi, a natural windbreaker to a safe, sandy beach. Grikos village: This lovely fishing village, facing the small island of Tragonissi, a natural windbreaker to a safe, sandy beach. John Malathronas A photo tour of the Greek island of Patmos Prev Next

Editor’s Note: This story was originally published in 2018. It was updated and republished in March 2024 in tribute to its writer, John Malathronas, who died in February. Malathronas was a regular contributor to CNN Travel and an expert on Greece, having written several respected guides to his homeland.

CNN  — 

The island of Patmos, sitting under perfect blue skies in the eastern reaches of the Aegean sea, may look like a typical vacation destination in Greece, but it isn’t.

It’s where the end of the world began.

Not that you’d guess that, strolling down the winding path in the center of the island, where a sleepy priest tends a souvenir stall.

Yet, this is the place from where infernal visions of mankind’s ultimate downfall sprang – inspiring St. John to write the Book of Revelation which forms the closing pages of the New Testament and gives the Bible some of its most portentous descriptions.

Here, the Greek Orthodox chapel of St. Anne, constructed in the early 17th century, completely encloses the cave where John is said to have seen visions that he interpreted as the final judgment.

lf it wasn’t for the sign reading “Cave of the Apocalypse” you wouldn’t know you were entering the sacred grotto. The chapel, it’s north side sealed by a rocky alcove, lies at the end of a series of corridors.

Inside, a silver miter rises over a fenced-off cleft where the biblical figure apparently laid his head to rest. A silver bracket surrounds the crack where he’s said to have placed his hands to get up.

“This is where Prochorus the scribe took down John’s reams of words as the saint was having the vision,” the chapel’s warden says, pointing to an open Bible sitting where the rock forms a natural pedestal.

“And this is where God’s voice came through and spoke to the saint,” he adds, pointing to a fissure on the rock above.

The fissure ends in a triple point, considered to symbolize Christianity’s holy trinity – the father, son and holy ghost.

‘Sacred island’ The island is dominated by the fortress-like Monastery of St. John. The island is dominated by the fortress-like Monastery of St. John. John Malathronas

Two monks still live in cells above the cave today, but the main focus of religious activity in Patmos – known as the “sacred island” – is the monastery of St. John, an imposing citadel that looms over the island.

Established in 1088 by St. Christodoulos, a Greek monk, the monastery still contains original structures dating to the 11th century – parts of the fortifications, the kitchen, some cells, the cistern and, most importantly, the church of St. John, which boasts some superb frescoes.

While the church is impressive, the monastery’s museum and library are several notches more formidable.

The original “golden bull” by Byzantine Emperor Alexios I Komnenos has pride of place. This ancient seal granted the whole island to Christodoulos, with imperial monograms appearing all over the scroll in the way we initial contract pages nowadays.

There’s also a firman – a type of edict – issued by Sultan Mehmed the Conqueror from 1454 that confirms the monastery’s independence and assigning a monk as a tax collector.

The library – said to be the most important in Greece outside the Greek Orthodox center of Mount Athos – boasts 1,200 manuscripts in parchment, vellum or scrolls, including leaves of Mark’s gospel dating from the 6th century.

Although the cave and the monastery are the principal attractions on Patmos, they’re not the only reason people flock to the island according to Panagos Evgenikos, leader of the island’s council.

“Some years ago we joined a European conference on religious tourism along with places like Santiago de Compostela in Spain and Lourdes in France,” Evgenikos said during this writer’s visit in 2018. “The final consensus was that religion by itself is not enough to attract tourists to a destination; there must be an extra pulling factor.

“In the case of Patmos, it’s our beaches and the beauty of Chora, our capital.”

Rainbow beach Lambi beach is covered with multi-colored pebbles. Lambi beach is covered with multi-colored pebbles. John Malathronas

A swim at Lambi in the north of Patmos helped prove Evgenikos’ words.

The beach here is dotted with small, multi-colored pebbles ranging from butterscotch orange to sweet potato red and egg yolk yellow – and the combined effect is extraordinary.

Then there’s Petra, a sandy spit of land joined to the free-standing rock of Kallikatsou – according to legend the rock is formed of a young girl whose mother out put a curse on her after she swam here straight after Holy Communion, despite being forbidden to do so.

Another highlight is the lovely fishing village of Grikos, facing the small island of Tragonissi, a natural windbreaker to a safe, sandy beach.

Located in the north of Greece’s Dodecanese island group, Patmos has no airport and it’s not easy to reach, but it attracts VIPs from all over the world due to its tranquility – the Aga Khan, David Bowie and Giorgio Armani have all been regulars over the years.

In fact, several have made Patmos their home and sought to benefit the island.

Nicholas Negroponte from MIT’s Media Lab installed an island-wide Wi-Fi system for everyone to surf the internet for free.

Another Patmos lover, the financier Charles Pictet, restored three windmills on a hill opposite the monastery. One is fully functional and produces wholemeal flour.

Josef Zisyadis, a Swiss politician, harbored more ambitious plans – in he began cultivating vines in 20 acres of land near Petra beach with Dorian Amar, a French winemaker.

Back in 2018, Amar was proudly showing off an Assyrtiko white and a Mavrothiriko red under the cheeky label of “Domaine de l’Apocalypse.”

“The soil is fertile, there’s water in the ground, but the terroir is not perfect for the vines,” he said at the time. “There’s wind and there’s sun but there’s no shade.”

“I’ve been planting trees to lower the temperature and improve the production – an oak here, a few carob trees there – give me a few years and I’ll have turned this patch into a paradise.”

Many would argue that the island is already a paradise because of its relative inaccessibility, but is the building of an airport on the cards?

No nudity Petra beach lies beyond some of the islands' vineyards. Petra beach lies beyond some of the islands' vineyards. John Malathronas

Christos Patakos, manager of Patmos Aktis, the only five-star hotel on the island, shook his head.

“I don’t think it’ll ever happen,” he said, when asked in 2018. “There’s a general feeling, especially among the regulars and those who own houses on Patmos, that the island must be ‘protected’ from mass tourism. It is they who object.”

While the monastery is one of the main draws here, it doesn’t dominate life on the island.

“The monastery has a lot of clout, but it keeps out of everyday life as long as there’s mutual respect: for instance, there’s no nudism and Chora’s bars shut at 3 a.m.”

Father Bartholomew, a jovial, communicative monk, agreed.

“That’s when we go to Matins,” he interjected. “Tourists forget that this is a living monastery and that we must fulfill our obligations.”

Bartholomew also conceded that the monastery would welcome an airport on island.

“It would only marginally increase tourism and be beneficial for the locals in medical emergencies.

According to Bartholomew, the monastery has always sided with the municipality and the tourist authorities when it comes to development plans.

“An army base here wanted to have artillery exercises during the summer; we forbade them,” he added.

“As for the opening hours: we close at 1:30 p.m. because we hold Vespers at 3 p.m. We wake up for Matins at 3 a.m. with Mass at 6 a.m. so that we can open at 8 a.m.

“Even by mid-June some shops may not have opened yet, but we’re the only reliable operation on the island, open all year round.

“It’s all balanced and harmonious; we all know where we stand.”

Patakos agreed. “The island has many fans, who come here to recharge their batteries and absorb its energy You can feel the vibes when you arrive.

“Yes, tourism is mainly beach tourism – but we’re lucky to also have great sights like the monastery and the cave.”

“Patmos is a tiny Byzantium, like Mount Athos but more advanced – they don’t call it ‘the Jerusalem of the Aegean’ without reason.”

Getting there

The easiest way to go to Patmos is via ferry (two to three hours) from Kos, which has an international airport.

Patmos Aktis Suites & Spa, Patmos 855 00; +30 2247 032800

Monastery of St. John the Theologian, Patmos 855 00; +30 2247 031223



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