Location, Situation and Sites
Location: About 40 miles southwest of Miletos in Asia Minor (Modern Turkey) lies the Island of Patmos. It is one of the Dodecanese (the twelve) and part of the Southern Sporades chain.
Situation: The island has an area of about 23 square miles. It is about 10 miles long (north to south); about 6 miles wide (east to west); and is about 37 miles around the island's periphery. It is more properly three volcanic swells of land connected by two small isthmuses, and appearing in a horseshoe shape. The highest point is Hagios Elias, at over 850' ASL. The Chapel of St. John is now located there.
Sites: The island has three villages but only two villages visible from the port: Skala, at the east harbor; and Khora, which rise up the now paved path at several miles distance. Another village, Grikos, is a few miles west of Skala.
History and Mythology
Early occupations: Some etymologists believe the name Patmos may be a clue that the earliest people to inhabit the island were Carians, who had a mountain called Latmos in their home territory. The Carians were an ancient people of Asia Minor who worshipped Artemis (later, Dianna). There is also evidence on the island of Dorian occupation, and also Ionian settlement. It is from this period that the island gained mythological identity.
Mythology: According to the legend, the hero Orestes was pursued by the Furies who sought to punish him for the murder of Clytemnestra, his mother. Orestes found the island, and took refuge there.
6th - 4th centuries BCE: A walled acropolis on the hill of Casteli has been identified, along with the remains of the Temples of Bacchus and Apollo, and what may be a hippodrome. The island fell into decline by the period of Roman rule.
Roman: Tacitus Annals. (3. 68; 4.30; 15.71) state that the island had become a penal colony for the political agitators. It had been intentionally depopulated as the penal establishment grew. It is in this period the New Testament records that St. John dwelt here. In the text he is sent there because of "the Word of God and testimony of Jesus", terms which are used later in the Book of Revelation (6:9; 20:4) in reference to persecution. Eusebius records that St. John was banished by Emperor Domitian in 95 CE, and released 18 months later under Nerva (cp. Ecclesiastical History III.18.1; 20.8-9).
4th - 9th centuries CE: Mainly Italian fisherman occupied the island, and the ancient ruins were quarried for housing, etc.
1088 CE: A Christian monk of Nicea (in Bithynia) called Christodoulos (slave of Christ) built St. John's cloister upon the ruin of the Artemis Temple. Christodoulos had previously established cloisters at both Kos and Leros, and came to Patmos with an assignment from the Emperor of Byzantium to devote himself to quiet reflection and study. His remains were placed in an open reliquary beside the chapel of Christodoulos, but were eventually deteriorating as people would "appropriate his holiness" by taking a finger or toe from the body. The monks were eventually forced to put the body in a marble sarcophogus.
15th - 19th centuries CE: The villages of the island sent for aid to the Pope. They requested defensive help to ward off the oncoming Turkish invasion in 1453. The Turks eventually took the island (1523), but the Sultan gave a guarantee of self-administration. While enjoying he self-administration, the island safeguarded its Greek cultural heritage by initiating the Patmian School (founded 1713), an important Greek educational center. Two important Greeks, Xanthos and Themelis, two of the founders of the secret society to oust the Ottoman rule of Greek lands (Philiki Hetairia) were native of this island. By the1830's, the island lost its autonomy and was under direct Turkish rule.
20th century: In 1912, the island officially belonged to the Italian Dodecanese, and remained under Italian occupation until March 7, 1948, when it officially became a modern Greek island.
Sites For The Modern Visitor
The Grotto of the Apocalypse: This traditional cave was fortified into a monastery by Gregory of Caesarea in 17th century. The frescoes to the left of the entrance portray the miracles and travels of St. John the Evangelist, as written by Prochorus, a supposed disciple. The fresco to the right of the entrance portrays St. John's battle with the priest of Apollo at Patmos, who the story says was called Kynops. St. John threw Kynops into the water of the harbor at Skala, and Kynops turned to stone. The rock is still pointed out as a local landmark in the harbor.
The Monastery of St. John and The Chapel of Virgin Mary: 12th century frescoes were uncovered by 1956 earthquake that shattered the 17th century coverings. The treasury of the monastery includes jewels of Catherine the Great of Russia. The library of the monastery includes over 900 manuscripts (325 parchment), 2000 codices and books, and 13,000 documents.