During a number of our gulet vacations in the Greek islands, we visit Patmos, which is the the holy island of the Apocalypse, at least as seen from the Greek Orthodox tradition.
Patmos is the site of the Revelation (that is the literal meaning of the Greek word apokalypsi, the place where Saint John the Divine's famous vision - set down in one of the most mysterious and most controversial of the Early Christian texts, the Book of Revelation, is said to have taken place. The Revelation has had an extraordinary strong and lasting influence on Western thought, imagination and literature, but most especially on art. As a result of this tradition, Patmos is home to a major Christian pilgrimage, to the Cave of the Apocalypse, as well as to one of Greece's most significant monasteries, that of Agios Ioannis Theologos, founded in 1088 and set atop of the island's old capital village, the Chora. The monastery is recognised by UNESCO as a World Heritage site.
On all our visits to Patmos, we include the cave and the monastery, but from time to time it's extra special, if, for example, it coincides with the Feast Day of the Assumption of Saint John i.e. his departure from the world of the living. For the people of Patmos, this is one of the three most important annual religious festivals, the others being Easter, a moveable feast, and the Assumption/Dormition of the Virgin Mary on August 15th, both of them major holidays in all of Greece.
On the Feast Day of the Assumption of Saint John, both the cave church and the monastery are extra busy, not with tourist groups, but with local Patmians and with Greeks of Patmian descent living in Athens or further afield, having returned for their island's special celebration. A festive service is held in its main church, both celebratory and funerary in nature, with all the monastery's monks present, as well as the island's priests, the regional bishop, and various visiting clergy - apparently including the Greek Orthodox bishop of New Zealand. The image shows priests leaving the monastery church after the service.
During our visit, we go to the monastery's museum with its manuscripts, including 33 pages of the Codex Purpureus, one of the most precious, most extraordinary treasures of the imperial scriptorium of the Early Byzantine (Late Roman) Empire, icons and archaeological artefacts. We also explore the monastery's main church and side chapels with their superb frescoes and elaborate decorations. During celebratory days, the church is filled with beautiful Byzantine-style chants and one can see locals of all ages worshipping and tasting the sweetened blessed bread after the service, part of an event that defines the islands' collective identity and that has certainly been celebrated there annually for over 900 years (some claim for over 1,900 years).
A local festival or celebratory event is always an opportunity, always a bonus, giving us a chance to participate in a location's life and traditions and beliefs, to make them come to life by seeing them live.
To visit Patmos with expert-guides, take a look at our gulet cruises in Greece.