Sacred Spaces: Monastery of St. John the Theologian (Patmos)

Photo via

It is said that St. John the Theologian wrote both his Gospel and the Apocalypse on the Greek island of Patmos.  So, it is no wonder that “[a] monastery dedicated to the ‘beloved disciple’ was founded there in 1088 by Hosios Christodoulos Latrinos.”  Since its founding, the Monastery of St. John the Theologian has served as a place of pilgrimage and learning.

The building of the Monastery was funded by a grant from Byzantine emperor Alexios Komnenos.  It is a unique bit of architecture, erected on the top of a small mountain (where, according to archaeological findings, once stood an ancient temple of Artemis and an early basilica) and combining the traditional elements of a monastery with aspects of a fortress.  “It has the external appearance of a polygonal castle, with towers and crenelations. It is also home to a remarkable collection of manuscripts, icons, and liturgical artwork and objects.”

The Monastery’s bells would be used as warning signals to the people of Patmos, telling them “to take refuge behind the fortified walls of the monastery[.]”  There is also a small opening, known as “the killer,” above the entrance of the Monastery through which hot oil or water could be poured on anyone trying to invade.  Why the need for such fortitude? Due to its location, the island of Patmos was subjected to frequent raids and attacks by pirates and other invaders.  Even Hosios Christodoulos himself was forced to leave the island in 1118 due to pirate raids.

Chapel of Hosios Christdoulos, via

“The earliest elements [of the monastery], belonging to the 11th century, are the Katholikón (main church) of the monastery, the Chapel of Panagía, and the refectory.”  In main chapel are 17th century paintings depicting the miracles performed by St. John the Divine.  There is a beautiful 19th century, three-dimensional iconostasis (which replaced one from the 15th century. That one replaced Hosios Christodoulos’ original marble iconostasis).  Inside the chapel of Holy Christodoulos are many holy relics including the skull of St. Thomas and bits of the Holy Cross.

When the Monastery of St. John the Theologian was founded, Hosios Christodoulos also founded the monastery library, supplemented from his personal collection.  “The library is now home now to more than 3000 printed books, 900 manuscripts and 13000 documents dating back to 1073. This room is not open to the public except by special permission , usually for Byzantine and biblical scholars.”

Today, the Monastery of St. John the Theologian is a UNESCO World Heritage site. The settlement which grew around the monastery is still inhabited and continues to develop.

“The active monastic community of Pátmos, apart from safeguarding the artistic and intellectual treasures of the monastery, continues to rescue old traditions and rituals such as the Byzantine ritual of Niptir, which takes place every Wednesday of the Holy Week and revives the dramatic and symbolic event that marks the beginning of the Passion of Christ.”

Tour the Monastery of St. John the Theologian

The video below offers a wonderful insight into the history of the Monastery as well as its various treasures. (Click here to view directly on YouTube).

Sacred Spaces Blog Series

Want to learn more about the world’s most unique and fascinating sacred spaces? Follow the links below to other pieces from our Sacred Spaces blog series!

Basilica di San Marco (Venice) | St. Issac’s Cathedral (St. Petersburg) | Monastery of the Kiev Caves (Kiev) | St. Nicholas Naval Cathedral (St. Petersburg) | The Duomo (Florence) | The Hagia Sophia (Istanbul) | Cathedral of St. Sophia (Novgorod) | Church of Our Savior on  Spilled Blood (St. Petersburg) | The Church of the Ascension (Kolomenskoye) | St. Basil’s Cathedral (Moscow) |The Churches of Kizhi Pogost | Monastery of Panagia Elona | Smolny Cathedral (St. Petersburg) | Agios Stefanos (Syros Island) | Church of the Intercession on the Nerl | The Rock Churches of Matera

Main image via
The Monastery of St. John –
he Historic Centre (Chorá) with the Monastery of Saint-John the Theologian and the Cave of the Apocalypse on the Island of Pátmos –
St. John the Theologian’s Monastery in Patmos –
Tags: , , , , , , , ,

Categorized in: