The monastery of Saint John the Theologian
The monastery is a unique place of worship in the heart of the Aegean Sea, with constant monastic life that counts more than 900 years.
Majestic and imposing, the monastery protects the settlement around it and dominates in the life of Patmos for centuries. In its labyrinthine interior, there are priceless treasures and heirlooms.
The monastery was founded in 1088 by Saint Christodoulos Latrinos of Patmos, an emblematic figure of the Byzantine asceticism. The monastery is remarkable in terms of architecture not only because it is harmoniously placed among the surroundings but also due to its continuity and connection to history. The first buildings at the time of Saint Christodoulos (1088-1093) were the catholicon (temple), the cistern (tank), the altar in its initial form, some cells and a big part of the walls. The chapels of Panagia (Virgin Mary) and Saint Christodoulos were probably erected in the 12th century. In the 16th century, when the island prospered due to shipping and commerce, new significant buildings were built: the chapels of the Holy Cross, of Agoii Apostoloi (Holy Apostles), Agios Vasilios (Saint Basil) and the vestry next to the catholicon where the books are kept. The last decade of the 17th century a large building project named after Neofytos Grimanis, the metropolitan bishop of Karpathos, was implemented and gave the monastery its final form. At that time the central yard was reformed, a two-storey archway (tzafara) was built and the walls were fortified. Dozens of donors from Patmos and the wider Orthodox community offered significant moveable dedications, while in the monastery, as well as in Chora, the style of a school of builders from Rhodes prevailed. Between 1550 and 1700 exquisite woodcuts of Cretan artists decorated the catholicon and the chapels, along with precious icons. However, the earthquake of 1956 caused significant damage to the walls and the interior of the monastery. Therefore, in 1957-1964 a large-scale restoration project was set up by the Ephorate of Antiquities in the Dodecanese, in collaboration with the Directorate of Restoration of the Ministry of Education. At that time, a big four-storey building was erected to house the vestry, the library, the museum and the guest houses, since the buildings in the west side of the monastery were all demolished.
The wall surrounding the monastery has a polygonal shape and a height of 15m. The main entrance (in the north) consists of two rectangular towers connected to a wall and on the top there is a “murder-hole”, from where boiling oil, lead or water was poured on attackers.
Catholicon is built where a temple of Artemis and later an Early Christian Basilica dedicated to Theologos used to be. Directly next to the main temple there are the chapels of Panagia Kyra ton Aggelon (Our Lady of the Angels) and Saint Christodoulos. The iconostasis of the 19th century was constructed by carvers from Chios. It is gold plated and wood carved and its details depict biblical representations. The icons on the iconostasis are of Russian style and according to tradition they were a donation from Catherine the Great. The silver vigil lights are Venetian, dating back to the 17th century. One of the most interesting depictions on the narthex is that of the Massacre of the Innocents (16th century, work of Andreas Ritzos), while the icon of Saint John the Theologian stands among many other significant icons; it dates back to 1090 and was a gift from Alexious I Komnenos to Saint Christodoulos. The full body relic of Saint Christodoulos is located at his chapel in a silver shrine.
The altar of the monastery is of special interest (visitors are not allowed). Here survives a small piece of marble of the Doric order ancient altar. It is the only monastery altar that has a dome, and the 17th century mural paintings decorating it are actually taken from the catholicon of the monastery: they were brought here when the earthquake of 1956 revealed underneath older paintings from the 12th century, the very ones you see today in the catholicon.
The place was inaugurated in 1988, in the celebration of 900 years since the foundation of the monastery. Stone columns and plaster groin vaults stand in the central hall, while the walls are covered by dozens of wooden stacks for manuscripts and early printed monographs. The initial nucleus of the library was formed almost simultaneously with the foundation of the monastery in 1088 and included the handwritten codes Saint Christodoulos had collected, as well as the imperial documents that ensured the ownership of the monastery. Until the early 13th century the library was involved mainly theological books, while in the mid 14th century it was further enriched with historical, philological and philosophical works. During the 15th century great donations were made by monasteries in Asia Minor, in order to protect these treasures from Turkish looters, and many books of various contents were added from the West. Along with the establishment of the School of Patmos in the 18th century, the library was enriched with a series of documents and manuscripts, mainly of theological content. Additionally, it seems that from quite early on, there used to be a scribe workshop for copying manuscripts.
Today the library is one of the most significant monastic libraries in the world. It includes 1,200 handwritten codes, more than 13,000 documents and more than 4,500 ancient and early printed monographs. The oldest code dates back to the 6th century and the documents back to the 15th century. With the Chrysobulum in donation (the Golden Bull) of Alexius I Comnenus from 1088 as its first entry, the documents archive includes byzantine, imperial, patriarchic, late Byzantine, Turkish, Latin and Russian documents, thus being the most significant source of information for the wider area of the Aegean Sea. The value of the archive has fascinated and still fascinates millions of researchers.
Visiting the library is allowed only after special permission.
Secretariat tel. number: +30 22470 20800
Tel. centre: +30 22470 31223