The Monastery of St. John the Divine on Patmos


The Monastery of St. John

the Divine

Upon entering the arrow bay of Akala, the eye in captured and the soul held in thrall. Built on that once nearly inaccessible high point, the Monastery of St. John the Divine dominates the island with its majestic presence. Im-pregnable behind its towering stone walls, rivalling the charm and the grandeur of the monasteris of Mt. Athos, the Monastery of St. John the Divine is the repository of history and the profound religious feeling of the centuries. Its founding by Hosios Christodoulos the Laternan in 1088 was the second great event, after the Revelation of God to St. John, that would determine the course of the island`s fate. It is a monastery with historical and religious importance which established the monastic tradition on Patmos and bolstered its importance as a place of pilgrimage. But it is also a monastery of exceptional artistic and architectural value: behind its fortress-like, medieval facade is a frtified and labyrinthian complex of cells and installations where priceless religious heirlooms are kept. Wall paintings and rare icons, a sacristry, holy vestments, countless items connected to worship and an invaluable collection of manuscripts, old books and documents have found safe refuge in this holy place. In a place where the spirit breathes freely and is refreshed by the limpid, crystal clear spring of pure Orthodoxy. Today, the monastery is one of the most forward-looking monastic foundations, keeping the memory of Byzantium burning and making full use of its rich tradition. Here one finds an up-date Center of Preservation for icons and manuscripts. Here the monastic and liturgical rituals, which have gone into eclipse in other monastic centers, are also retained with exceptional precision. The monastery has become cenobitic in our time, with the monks of the Patmian Brotherhood sharing daily meals in common.


Externally it has the look of a medieval castle while internally it is a multi-level building complex with courtyards, galleries and narrow corridors. The arrangement of the buildings is in accordance with the plan of the Bizantine Orthodox monastery (but in a freer from) where all the calls and the rest of the auxiliary spaces are arranged around the main church.


Most surviving Monastery buildings belong to different building phases and are in keeping with the demands of their times and the functions of their sections, the trapeza and katholikon. The basilica church of the Theologos that is mentioned as having pre-existed the Monastery from the Early Christian period on the same spot was most likely destroyed during Arab raids throughout the region in the 7th century. The variation observed at the Monastery of St. John the Divine was created becouse of the uneven ground (the building complex had to be adapted to it) and the rapid and continuous development of the monastery which resulted in the extension of the building at the expense of its courtyards.

The walls of the monastery enclosure, polygonal in shape, are 15 meters high; the greatest length from north to south is 53 meters while from east west is 70 meters. Security reasons meant the only two entrances could be opened to the Monastery, the central Gate and the so-called „paraporti” (side door).

The main entrance to the monastery dominates the north side of its waalls. Formerly there was another opening on the south side, but it has now been closed off. The entrance consists of two rectangular towers which are joined to the wall in back.

On the top part the wall there is a small opening from which burning hot oil or water of even lead was once poured on invaders who threatened to violate the gate. Above the lintel, in a semicircular arch, the icon of St John the Divine remains the unsleeping guard and protector of the monastery. In front of this entrance is the chapel of The Holy Apostoles founded in 1603, by the abbot of the Monastery, Niceforos Chartofylakas, who come from Crete.

The courtyard in the center of the monastery is laid with pebbles and decorated with arches. On its north and west sides can be seen whe white walls of the cells.

At the centrance, to the left of the Gate, there are inscriptions testifying that the Metropolitan of Didymoteicho Gregory and the Ecumenical Patriarch Neophtyos, both from Patmos, are buried at this point. The courtyard of the Monastery is limited in size as there was constant need to expand the buildings of the Monastery at the expense of its open space. Only a few sections of the orginal courtyard survive today, where one can see the mouths of the cisterns where the monks collected, and still collect, rainwater to use for various purposes in the Monastery. The circular stone building at the centre of the courtyard, which resembles a spring, today contains the asperges whereas in the past it was used to store wine.

On the south side of the courtyard is the „Tzafara”, a two-storey arched gallery built in 1698.


Small posts with simple epistyles support the edges of the arches, whilst the two lower arches are supported on the remains of an ancient column and column capital, which most likely come from the ancient temple of Artemis.

The second row of arches supports a double belfry, which is supported on small, simple posts with its twin bells still surviving. There is a marble inscription between the two lower arches, informing us that Neophytos Grimanis built and dedicated the church.dsc_4784

A more recent gallery with four arches is situated in front of the outer galille of the main hurch on the east side.


The main church of the monastery was one of the first buildings to be ceated, as it was completed around 1090. It is one of the first buildings erected by Hosios Christodoulos, as the devotional center of the fraternal order of the Monastery. On the east, it abuts on the fortress` walls.

The carved wooden iconostasis of the main church, the hanging silve lamps and the priceless chandeliers create a pious at mosphere which is supplemented by the Bizantine psalmody. Here the monastic conventions and, of course, the traditions of the monastery are observed as nowhere else. The more elderly monks keep vigilant watch on the younger ones to make sure they do not change, do not eliminate or corrupt anything. Even today one can hear at the Monastery of St. John the Divine the slow tempo of the Byzantine hymn, „Joyous Light”.

The main church is an inscribed cruciform church with four columns, to which were later added the gallery on the facade and the side-chapels. The floor of the church consissts of marble slabs. The carved wooden iconostasis is more recent, dating from 1820, and was the gift of Nektarios, the Patmian metropolitan of Sardis. This is a work of high art that was built by twelve screen carvers from Chios, an island with a long tradition in woodcarving. The inscription on the Abbot`s throne, which is richly decorated in ivory flowers, says that it was dedicated to the Monastery in 1964.

This iconostasis an older one (from the 15th century) which is its turn had replaced the orginal stone iconostasis which Hosios Christodoulos had placed there. The church was built on the ruins of an Early Christian basillisa, while in antiquity there was a temple to Artemis on the same site.


Leave a reply

Your email address will not be published.