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The divine island of Patmos: Where St John's once lived

By Teresa Levonian Cole

The Greek Islands are about beaches, you say, with maybe a ruin or two to satisfy the nagging cultural imperative. But then, I suspect, you haven't been to Patmos.

This northern Dodecanese island is a special place. Its claim to fame lies in a unique mystical event that took place at the dawn of Christianity, and is embodied in the looming apparition that hovers like a benediction above the island.

You can see it as the boat arrives in the pretty harbour of Skala: a halo of whitewashed houses, encircling what looks like a huge, crenellated castle of volcanic stone. 

A bay on Patmos

Traditional beauty: Patmos is just as stunning as other Greek islands

Leaving Skala's picturesque cafes, ouzeris and tavernas, a drive through thick pine forest will lead straight to it; not a castle at all, but the imposing 11th-century Fortress Monastery of St John the Theologian.

The story of St John  -  sometimes referred to as the Apostle or Divine  -  is central to Patmos. Exiled by emperor Domitian in AD 95 to this backwater, he settled in a cave, where he had the apocalyptic vision recounted in Revelation, the final book of the New Testament.

Nothing much more happened until 1088, when the Blessed Christodoulos, a monk, acquired Patmos from the Byzantine emperor Alexios komnenos, and founded the Monastery to honour St John. This was to become the nucleus of the island and, thanks to the strict observance of tradition and the absence of mass tourism, little has changed.  MORE