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Articles Blog

Patmos, Greece

Karyn Planett

A Christian Landmark

Every vacation should include at least one pilgrimage, whether it’s to a world famous beach, a written-up-in-every-magazine restaurant, or the atelier of your favorite haute couture designer. Patmos is a delightful little island in the heart of the Aegean Sea offering some dramatic beaches, plenty of people-watching tavernas, a selection of Patmian shops and boutiques, all finished off with the opportunity for an honest to gosh religious pilgrimage.

Saint John 

The star of the show is John of Patmos, ascetic cave dweller and visionary, a.k.a. John the Divine, John the Seer, John the Revelator, John the Theologian, and the Eagle of Patmos (though there is no evidence he could actually fly). He is, however, widely credited with authoring the Book of Revelation in the New Testament, and is regarded as a prophet and saint by many Christian denominations. 

For the sake of clarity, this particular Saint John is not to be confused with Saint John the Apostle, Saint John the Baptist, or Saint John the Evangelist author of the Gospel of John. Confusion reigns because, over the years, the Church has named no fewer than fifty-four Saint Johns (not including Jill). Religious scholars quarrel over whether these Saint Johns are all different people, so you can be forgiven a bit of head scratching. Then there’s Saint-Jean; Sant Joan; San Juan; San Giovanni; The Knights of St. John; St. John, New Brunswick… but we digress. 

The Book Of Revelations 

Now that we know who we’re dealing with, on with the story. 

This particular John lived in a cave on Patmos, possibly exiled there by persons of authority. Patmos, you see, is between Rome and Ephesus hence a pilgrim’s steppingstone. While in this cave, John claimed to have experienced two “revelations” or visions. The first was a sort of test revelation during which John was instructed to give a message to the Seven Churches of Asia, which referred to the seven communities of Christians living in Greek Asia (now Turkey). The message was along the lines of, “pay attention to what I’m saying.” 

The story of the second revelation occupies the bulk of the book and provides its alternate title, “The Apocalypse of John”. This vision was truly apocalyptic as it basically described the end of the world ruled by Satan, destroyed by the Messiah so that peace might reign foreverafter. 

The Book of Revelation has a checkered history when it comes to Biblical scholarship. John’s vision is considered a divine revelation by most Christians and—here’s a good one—Rastafari! How they square this story with Haile Selassi, reggae, and the spiritual use of cannabis is another whole article.

Theologians are a little fuzzy about when this apocalypse was meant to happen. Estimates range from the first century AD to sometime in the future, so best stay on your toes. Details are always a little hard to pin down when stories have to survive several millennia of translations and rewrites. On top of that, John actually dictated the whole story to a scribe named Prochoros who’s depicted in a mosaic above the entrance to the cave where it all happened, and who knows how good he was?           

The “Jerusalem of the Aegean” 

So, here you are in this tiny little harbor village, staring at an imposing Monastery looming high above. Realizing this is a place of serious Christian pilgrimage, and armed with the knowledge you now have, do you make the trek up the hill, sit in the picture-perfect plaza drinking coffee from a briki pot, or head to the beach?

Absolutely. All of the above. It’s a quick trip by taxi up to the Monastery of St. John, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, then a lovely walk down. Constructed in the late 11th century, the monastery looks, for all intents and purposes, like a military installation rather than a place of religious retreat. It was built in that manner to protect inhabitants from pirates and the Turks. Inside is a maze of courtyards, stairways, galleries and terraces leading to the frescoed Chapel of the Theotokos and the religious artifacts of the Treasury.

On the way down the cobblestone path leading to town, you can pause at the actual Cave of the Apocalypse to see if there might be a leftover vision or two, then get a scooter and go to the beach, and finally have a stroll around the village, baklava in hand. 

Pocket-sized Patmos, only thirteen square miles small, is one of those rare destinations where you don’t have to choose between the highlights. Everything can be done in one nine-to-five day. 

                                                                        Karyn L. Planett