CHORA & THE SOUTH OF THE ISLAND
From afar the startling white, crystalline appearance of the Chora of Patmos, clustered around its fortress monastery, is visible across the water from points on many of the neighbouring islands: this visible link was important in maintaining authority over the area of its influence. From the port of Skala below, its profile dominates the horizon; often early in the morning it is capped with a passing swathe of fog. The winding road up to it from the port is plied by local buses roughly every two hours out of season, and with greater frequency in the summer. The 3km distance can also be climbed in 50 minutes along the old stone-paved kalderimi, or mule-track, which leaves from the southern end of Skala. Half way up the climb, by either route, are the buildings of the Patmiada School, immersed in a grove of cypress and fir trees. This is primarily a theological seminary, founded in 1713 by Makarios Kalogieros and still functioning today. Throughout the vicissitudes of Greek history, it has been a constant focus of academic and spiritual instruction, and represents the more evangelical side of the mission of the Monastery of St John. Below it is the convent of the Apocalypse (opening times are the same as for the monastery of St John—see below). A simple entrance, with a modern mosaic lunette above the door, leads into a small complex of churches and cells which have grown up over the last two centuries, around the reputed site of St John’s sojourn on Patmos. Steps lead down to the original part of the complex, where a double church has enclosed the mouth of a shallow cave in the hillside. This is an early 17th century construction, which replaced the original 12th century building which was erected here a couple of decades after the building of the monastery of St John. The part which you enter first (straight ahead) is the chapel of St Anne—a dedication made probably in honour of Anna Dalassena who was instrumental in getting her son, the Byzantine Emperor Alexios I Comnenus, to grant the lands and privileges for the main Monastery. To the right is the inner portion— the cave of St John the Divine—which is believed to be the saint’s refuge and the place where he received his vision of the ‘Apo-calypse’ (‘un-veiling’), which is preserved in the Book of The Revelation. Tradition holds that the two silver-framed niches to the right of the iconostasis mark the spot where the elderly saint rested his head, and (to the right of it) put his hand to raise or support him self. The ledge of rock further to the right is supposedly where his amanuensis, Prochoros, rested the parchment on which he wrote down the words which St John dictated to him. The cave may originally have had a spring. Behind the late 16th century iconostasis, which displays the impressive icon of St John receiving the Revelation, by the Cretan artist, Thomas Vathas (1596), are the re mains of some 12th century wall-paintings which had been covered with whitewash until 1973. One fragment, animated by graceful and symbolic gestures, depicts the dictation of the vision by St John to Prochoros; its surface is covered in graffiti, many of which go so far back in time that they constitute in themselves a point of important historical interest.
ST JOHN AND CAVES
John was probably exiled to Patmos from Ephesus in c. 95 ad towards the end of the reign of Domitian, which had been marked by a period of zealous repression of Christianity. He must have been already in his 80s; he appears to have returned afterwards to Ephesus (once the proscriptions of Domitian had been repealed following the Emperor’s assassination in September 96 ad), and to have died there around the year 100. It is supposed that he is the same John who was Jesus’s ‘beloved’ disciple, but it is not certain. Patmos was an insignificant island at the time but which had historic links, through the cult of Artemis, with the city of Ephesus. This cave, with its water, may have been an obvious refuge for an exile too old to begin building a roof over his head. It should be recalled that a long tradition going back to Plato and earlier, saw the darkness of caves as the symbol of a state which had not yet been pierced by the light of higher or divine illumination; caves were lairs of ignorance, appropriate places for the having of visions, and hence they were always popular refuges for hermits and anchorites hopeful of illumination. The vision which St John received here was the greatest instance of this in Christian history. His extraordinary testimony was a gift of hope to the ‘seven churches of Asia’ to whom it was addressed, that their persecution (of which he himself was a victim) was not in vain, that their persecutors (the Roman authorities) would be decisively destroyed, and that all would be turned to good for the chosen faithful.
In iconographic tradition, it should be observed that there is a spiritual hierarchy implied in the images used to depict the Revelation, by which St John is generally seen higher up and outside the entrance of the cave, while his less enlightened servant, Prochoros, sits hunched within, mechanically writ. John’s head is turned away towards the hand of an invisible Almighty above, to whom his right hand gestures in awe, while his other hand opens down wards to his humble servant. In this way, he figures as a conduit for divine wisdom, and part of the mystical pattern by which illumination filters down from the Heavens into the darkness of the human soul.
The paved kalderimi continues from above the convent of the Apocalypse, reaching the edge of Chora a short distance below the monastery. A steep street climbs up— doubling back on itself, through an area of fine stone houses built mostly by 19th century ship-owners who wished to be in sight of the harbour below—to the en trance of the Monastery at the summit of the hill (190m a.s.l.).
Patmos Island is part of the Dodecanese Island Group, Greece.