1. Topography – environment
Geographically, Patmos belongs to the Dodecanese, situated in the northern part of this island complex. It is a volcanic, rocky and arid island, with sparse vegetation. The few trees that can be seen on the slopes, mostly near settlements, are the result of recent afforestation efforts. The terrain has a vivid plasticity, featuring tall and precipitous hills, alternating with lowland areas. Its shoreline is variegated, with sequences of bays, coves and promontories. In several bays, behind the beaches there are meadows, while agriculture is practised mainly on the hill-slopes. The climate is mild during the winter and cool during the summer, and a notable feature of the local climate is the extraordinary limpidity of the atmosphere and the cloudless skies. Patmos receives very little rainfall, and this, in conjunction with the scarcity of natural water springs, has always been a serious issue for its inhabitants.
2. 1 Prehistory - Antiquity
The earliest traces of habitation on the island have been identified on several sites, like Kastelli, Kalikatsou, Aspri, Kampos, Leukes. These consist in pottery finds and stone tools dating to the Middle and Late Bronze Age (2000-1100 BC). No Minoan or Mycenaean findings have been unearthed to date. Remains from the Geometric and Archaic periods are mostly found in Kastelli, an important settlement of the island, which was fortified with a strong defensive wall in the 3rd and 4th centuries BC; this site bears signs of continuous habitation during the Classical, Hellenistic and Roman periods.
Very few ancient sources mention anything about the island, and even these testimonies are insubstantial. Patmos was first referred to by the historian Thucydides in the 5th cent. BC: Paches, the admiral of the Athenian fleet pursued the Spartans, “…as far as the island of Patmos.” It is later mentioned also by ο Strabo, Pliny and other writers, but they do not offer any detailed information either. Together with its neighbouring islands, Patmos was dependent on Miletus, at least until the Hellenistic Period. One of the patron goddesses of Patmos was Artemis Patmia, connected to Artemis Skythia, and it is thought that her temple stood at the site where the monastery of St John the Theologian was later built.
During the late Roman Period, it appears that Patmos was used as a place of exile and seclusion, where the political adversaries of the Roman emperors were dispatched. According to the Christian tradition, the Apostle John, the “beloved” disciple of Christ, was exiled here in the last years of Domitian’s reign (around 95 AD). During his stay, aided by his loyal student Prochoros, John composed the Apocalypse (Revelation), preached Christianity and baptized the locals.
2. 2. Byzantine Period – Knights Hospitallers
Later on, during the 4th – 6th centuries, Christianity spread and became predominant in the Dodecanese. Many architectural members today incorporated in the Monastery as well as in residences of the settlement testify to the existence of Early Christian . An inscription also mentions the existence of an altar (and possibly a basilica) dedicated to the “glorious Apostle and Theologian John” on the site today occupied by the Monastery. In the following centuries (700-900) the island was devastated by the onslaught of the Arab pirates, which resulted not only in the destruction of Patmos, monuments but also in the capture and sale of its inhabitants on the slave markets.
Patmos acquires special importance during the Middle Byzantine Period, when, in 1088, osios Christodoulos Latrenos, one of the most brilliant figures of Byzantine asceticism, founded there the Monastery of St John the Theologian. The Emperor Alexius I Komnenoi ceded to him the island in its entirety, the islets of Narkioi (today Arki or Arkioi) and Leipsoi as well as two suburbs of the city of Leros, Parthenion and Temenion, and granted the Monastery the privilege to own a flotilla, which was used to maintain a steady flow of supplies, but also for conducting trade.
On this barren island, Christodoulos was accompanied by some faithful companions, a few monks and the artisans who built the monastery. Initially these artisans settled on Cape Eudelon, on the north, so as to not disturb the quiet life the ascetics wished to lead. Soon though, they were forced to relocate close to the fortified walls of the monastery for safety considerations, to protect themselves against the frequent pirate raids, thus creating the first settlement nucleus of Chora. The monastery, inasmuch as it enjoyed “absolute, inalienable and perpetual ownership and every authority” over the island as a result of the imperial donation, acted as an arbiter, controlling the life and social behaviour of the settlers. In their majority, these made their living by catering for the monastery’s needs by farming, tending the cattle and manning its ships, while gradually new settlers were added coming from the nearby islands and the opposite coast of Asia Minor. The settlement retained its form virtually unaltered up to 1453, when refugees from Constantinople created the “Allotina” (literal. ‘of yore’) quarter. A couple of centuries later, following the sack of Candia (1669), Cretan immigrants created the “Kritika” (Cretan) quarter.
Patmos suffered greatly, mainly on account of the incessant pirate attacks, which during the 12th century had created an atmosphere of grave insecurity, largely stemming any financial and commercial pursuits. The monastery’s –and by extension, the island’s– position was ameliorated in the 13th century, with the development of renewed intellectual activities accompanied by a partial or total reaffirmation of older privileges. The 14th century is also a period of hardship, for the Ottoman captures a large part of Asia Minor, while the Dodecanese are seized, in 1309, by the Knights Hospitallers. Patmos lies on the borders of these two powers. In the period of the wars between the Ottomans and the Venetians (1451-1481,1491-1512), however, the monks maintained a policy of equal distances, and managed to obtain privileges and protection from the Ottoman and the Knights Hospitallers, laying the foundation for economic growth and prosperity.
2. 3. Ottoman Period – Modern Times
With the retreat of the Hospitallers from the Dodecanese in 1522, begins the period of Ottoman rule, during which the monastery flourishes, and with it the island. This period is marked by a booming of seafaring and maritime trade and new social realignments. The 16th and 17th centuries see the building of the first lordly mansions, i.e. of large, autonomous agricultural complexes; it also appears that during this period we have the emergence of an agricultural aristocracy, probably of non-Patmian origin which, owing to its control of large estates, gradually begins to curtail the monastery’s power. The recent settlers and the Cretan refugees brought with them a new level of culture and an urban lifestyle, comprising, together with the old Byzantine families, a new ruling class. This first period of growth comes to an abrupt end with the pillage and destruction of Chora by the Venetian admiral Morosini (1659), in reprisal for the monastery’s attempt to improve relations with the Ottoman, for the monks had diagnosed the Venetians’ difficulties in maintaining control of Candia, and, in general, over the Aegean. This important turning-point in the history of the island was one of the reasons behind the gradual decline of the agricultural aristocracy and created strong currents of class realignment. This deep transformations in the social structures afforded opportunities to the bourgeois class and to the burgeoning class of ship owners to free themselves from the authoritarian and interventionist politics of the monastery, which for hundreds of years represented the fundamental controlling factor of economical and social activities on the island, allowing them to unfold their full potential and contribute to the transition to the new capitalist era.
Thus, since the mid-18th and during the 19th century, the island, especially after the foundation of the School of Patmos (1713), enjoys strong intellectual, maritime and, concomitantly, financial growth, as well as intense phenomena of urbanization, which altered the shape of the Chora settlement. The old agrarian landholdings are now divided and many new residences and churches are built. Furthermore, the character of the urban quarter begins to take shape and the urban fabric expands over new, extended boundaries, mainly through the creation of the “Aporthiana” quarter and the construction of buildings on the north brow of the settlement’s hill, which acquires, more or less, its present layout.
Due to the advanced urbanization and the intellectual prosperity, the Patmians acquired national consciousness relatively early, and by the time of the 1770 Revolution, they were ready to take up arms accepting the Russians as liberators, although the Treaty of Küçük Kaynarça (1774) restored the revolted lands to their former rulers. This consciousness manifested itself clearly during the Revolution of 1821, wherein the island’s participation was direct and substantial: Patmos was the second island after Spetsai to fly the flag with the Revolution’s colours. Three important revolutionary figures who contributed all their resources to the struggle for liberation came from Patmos. These were Theofilos Pagkostas, Patriarch of Alexandria, who, after 1820, actively participated in the preparation leading up to the Revolution and supported it throughout its duration, and Emmanuel Xanthos, one of the three founders of the Philiki Etaireia (Friendly Brotherhood) and Demetrios Themelis, the apostle of the Philiki Etaireia, who assumed command of the struggle in the Aegean. Other Patmian patriots were particularly energetic, like M. Pagkalos, an officer of the Greek Army, Emmanuel and Georgios Kalos, and Emmanuel and Theodoros Xenos, who with their ships supplied provisions for Karaiskakis’ army and to the beleaguered city of Messologi.
In 1832, with the Constantinople Treaty, Patmos, together with the other islands, was restored to the Ottoman Empire until 1912, when the Italians capture the Dodecanese. Liberation finally comes in 1948, when the island is incorporated into the Greek State.
3. Traditional and Recent Architecture
The residences of Patmos exemplify the island architecture of the Eastern Aegean. Their construction is based on the Byzantine ospition, a rectangular building with a rooftop chamber, internally divided in two parts, the kámari for spending the daytime and the ipnos for sleeping. It also features a small courtyard, equipped with an underground cistern for collecting the precious rain-water, and an oven. This building evolved to the two-storey anogokatogo and using the additive method of building -depending on the particular needs and the financial capabilities of each family- more diversified combinations emerged, like the mansions (archontika), large and luxurious two-storey buildings of a complex layout. Their ground floor featured a courtyard, cistern and areas for preparing food and storing foodstuffs and the harvest, while the upper-storeys had bedrooms and several salons (ontades, sing. ontas) for the reception of guests.
Due to the recurrent pirate raids, the settlement was protected, not by the erection of a continuous defensive wall, but by arranging the outer buildings so as to create extended lines of walls without openings. The buildings were constructed using common materials, so the wealthy residences did not stand out exteriorly, to avoid easy detection and plunder by the pirates. On the contrary, their interiors were luxurious. The safest place was, however, the heavily fortified monastery, where the inhabitants sought refuge in times of danger.
4. Monastery of St John the Theologian
4. 1. The Monastery’s History
At the site where the catholicon of the monastery of St. John the Theologian was built there were pre-existent ruins of an Early Christian basilica and a later oratory dedicated to the same saint. Traces of a temple dedicated to Artemis have also been identified in that area. In the year 1088, according to the founding chrysoboul by Emperor Alexius I Komnenoi, the isle of Patmos was conceded to osios (venerable) Christodoulos in order to erect a monastery; thus Patmos was transformed from a desolate and uninhabited island to an outpost vital in the defence of the Byzantine State.
The monastery maintained good relations with the Knights Hospitallers, who after 1309 formed their state in the Dodecanese, as well as with the Ottoman, who succeeded them in 1522, becoming one of the major pilgrimage destinations of the Christian faith and acquiring a series of imperial privileges, tax-exemptions, lands and dependencies, even a privately owned commercial flotilla.
4. 2. Monastery’s Architecture
The architecture of the monastic complex, with its dominant castle-like character, was formed gradually over the centuries, the result of various building phases. The catholicon was erected in the late 11th century, and it constitutes a variation of the simple tetrastyle cruciform inscribed temple. The chapels of Panaghia (Virgin Mary) and Osios Christodoulos are 12th century additions, while the retrofitting of the refectory (from wooden-roofed to vaulted with a cupola) and the construction of the catholicon’s stoa also date to this period. Significant building activities were undertaken during the 16th and 17th centuries, following an initiative of the abbot Nikephoros Chartophylax and Parthenios Pagkostas. This is the time of the building of the chapels of the Timios Stavros (Holy Cross), Aghion Apostolon (Sτ. Apostles) and Aghios Onoufrios. During the last decade of the 11th century, a large building project was realized with funds provided by Neofytos Grimanis, the metropolis of Karpathos, which among else included the construction of a two-storey stoa in the courtyard, the so-called ‘tzafara’, by the Rhodian mason Daniel.
4. 3. Pictorial Decoration and Relics of the monastery
The encomium of Athanasios of Antioch for osios Christodoulos, where the “disconcerting beauty of the church” and the “lustre of its marble” is mentioned, supports the claim that, by the mid-12th cent. the church was already decorated with frescoes. This original decoration was covered around 1600 by the later decoration of the catholicon, the and the chapel of Osios Christodoulos. An interesting aspect of this pictorial decoration lies in the selection of some rare scenes from the Evangelical narratives, like the example of the withered fig tree or the Parable of the hundred sheep. In the inner narthex we have an impressive depiction of the Massacre of the Innocents, influenced by works of 14th and 15th century Italian painters. The sublime aesthetic result reveals the artist's ability, apparently a very talented painter from a Cretan workshop of the era; he was chosen by the, also Cretan, abbot and scholar Nikephoros Chartophylax.
The pictorial ensemble of the Panaghias chapel, discovered underneath the 1745 murals, is a splendid example of the ‘monumental’ tendency of the late 12th century. In this iconographic project emphasis is given to the portraits of the venerable Patriarchs of Jerusalem, and apparently this echoes the position of the likely sponsor, osios Leontios, abbot of the monastery and later Patriarch of Jerusalem. The superior quality of the decoration reflects the monastery’s aesthetic orientation towards the Empire’s centre, Constantinople, while the iconographic program with the frieze depicting the Jerusalem patriarchs, which was then under Latin occupation, can be construed as an expression of imperial opposition to the increasing dominance of the Franks in that area. The first phase frescoes in the monastery’s refectory are attributed to the same workshop. The building was decorated anew in the first decades of the 13th century with motifs from the eucharistic and the dogmatic cycles, the cycle of the Passion of Christ and the life of the ascetics.
The oldest icon kept in the monastery dates to the 11th century, it is a mosaic depicting aghios Nikolaos (St. Nicholas). A series of portable icons dated to the first half of the 15th century testify to Patmos’ new orientation towards Crete in terms of its artistic preferences. These affinities are strengthened following the fall of Constantinople in 1453, especially since Stylos, the monastery’s dependency in Apokorona of Crete, becomes its most important source of income. A number of eminent Cretan artists, active between the 15th and the 17th centuries, like Andreas Ritzos and his son Nikolaos, Angelos, Nikolaos Tzafouris, Michael Damascenos, Georgios Klotzas, Thomas Bathas, Ieremias Palladas, Theodoros Poulakis, have created some of the surviving signed works.
The monastery’s library was also renowned, and it is one of the very few Byzantine libraries to have to have survived until recent times virtually intact. NumeNumerous manuscripts and printed works are kept there, as well as important imperial documents and rich archival material. Among the monastery’s relics are also masterpieces of silversmithing, miniature art and gold-embroidering.
5. School of Patmos (Patmias Scholi)
One of the most important events in the recent history of Patmos was the establishment, in 1713, of the Patmias Scholi, an undertaking carried out in the context of the common conviction that the spiritual regeneration of Hellenism will lead to liberation. The Patmian Makarios Kalogeras was the founder of the School. Having studied in the patriarchal School of Constantinople, he became connected with distinguished individuals, such as the members of the Ypsilantis and the Mavrokordatos family, who supported him in his endeavour to create “a School for the entire Nation” on Patmos. Around the Cave of the Revelation, Makarios initially built a classroom and a few cells for the students to dwell in. Within a short period of time, new students began studying there, flocking to the new school not only from nearby areas but also from faraway parts of the Hellenic lands as well as from abroad. Its fame spread rapidly, and by 1729 its popularity necessitated its enlargement.
Originally, Makarios taught alone, delivering mostly lectures on the interpretation of Greek writers and the Church Fathers, grammer, philosophy, rhetoric, ecclesiastical music and Latin. Before long, though, his best students joined him, like the monk Kosmas and Gerasimos of Hypsomatheia (Byzantium), and succeeded him as heads of the School, helping to diffuse precious knowledge to younger students. Numerous scholars, eminent figures of their time, have studied here.
By the late 18th century the Patmias Scholi had become the most celebrated Greek school and received many grants and donations, while scholarships were awarded to the least well-off students. During the 19th century, especially in the period leading up to and including the Greek Revolution, the School, though still active, had fallen into decline, as due to the difficulties of the time revenue had ceased coming in. Later, in around 1831, the School was renovated, it gradually recovered and teaching was resumed. There was only a brief suspension during the period of the Italian Occupation (1912-1947), and in 1947 it was re-established as a pastoral school. After 1948, new buildings were erected with the support of the Monastery of St John the Theologian, the Patmian unions in America and other benefactors, as well as with money collected in a fundraiser among the Patmians of the diaspora, and an ecclesiastical school is still housed in these buildings.