As with every Greek island, there’s a myth about how Patmos was created. It goes like this: the goddess Artemis was sitting on her sacred mountain on Asia Minor one night, gazing at the sea. The goddess of the moon, Selene, came to meet her, and showed her in the distance the unbelievable sight of an island hidden under the waters, at the bottom of the Aegean. At Selene’s wish, Artemis asked her father Zeus to raise the island and bring it to the surface, where her brother Apollo ordered the Sun to dry the island out and make it habitable. And that’s how Letois, the island of Artemis, came to be.
Today, the name Patmos does not immediately bring a mythical huntress-goddess to mind; rather, the island has been an important site of pilgrimage for Orthodox Christians for many centuries. According to tradition, Patmos is the island where John the Apostle received the vision of the Revelation from God, and dictated the final book of the Bible to his student, Prochoros. A cave known as the Cave of the Apocalypse is a site sacred to all Christians, and draws thousands of pilgrims every year. The island’s religious significance is so great that many monks and hermits settled on its hills and coasts over the years, to the extent that Patmos is known by many as the Sinai of the Aegean. The most prominent and impressive of the island’s religious monuments is the monastery of St John the Theologian: the imposing fort-like monastery was founded in the year 1088 AD and is a protected UNESCO World Heritage Site. Around the monastery’s walls and right on the top of the hill the village of Chora was built, its cubical whitewashed houses huddled around the ancient monastery like hatchlings around their mother.
Because of its religious significance, Patmos is home to many traditions and customs of the church, especially during Easter, the holiest of Greek Orthodox celebrations. Holy week at Patmos is a unique experience: in the morning of Good Thursday, at the monastery of St. John the abbot reenacts the scene where Jesus washed the feet of his disciples during the ceremony of the Basin (Niptiros). Then after the sun has set on Good Friday, many processions snake through the alleys of the villages and towns, each carrying a flower-adorned Epitafios from every church; all of these processions meet at the main squares of Chora and Skala, where the candle-bearing crowd mingles singing religious chants.
The island’s only port is Skala, which is today the largest village on Patmos and also the liveliest in the summer months. From here you can hop on a traditional caïque or sailing yacht and explore hidden beaches, the nearby island of Leipsoi and the charming miniature archipelago around Arkoi island. Patmos is a favourite destination for artistic types, drawn to the island for its remoteness and relatively calm vibe, although since recent years the island can be very busy during the high-season months of July and August. Like a miniature continent, Patmos offers endless possibilities for relaxation, and to enjoy the world-famous Greek hospitality surrounded by what is considered the most picturesque landscape in Europe.
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