The island of Patmos, sitting under perfect blue skies in the eastern reaches of the Aegean sea, may look like a typical vacation destination in Greece, but it isn’t.
It’s where the end of the world began.
Not that you’d guess that, strolling down the winding path in the center of the island, where a sleepy priest tends a souvenir stall.
Here, the Greek Orthodox chapel of St. Anne, constructed in the early 17th century, completely encloses the cave where John is said to have seen visions that he interpreted as the final judgment.
lf it wasn’t for the sign reading “Cave of the Apocalypse” you wouldn’t know you were entering the sacred grotto. The chapel, it’s north side sealed by a rocky alcove, lies at the end of a series of corridors.
Inside, a silver miter rises over a fenced-off cleft where the biblical figure apparently laid his head to rest. A silver bracket surrounds the crack where he’s said to have placed his hands to get up.
“This is where Prochorus the scribe took down John’s reams of words as the saint was having the vision,” the chapel’s warden says, pointing to an open Bible sitting where the rock forms a natural pedestal.
Two monks still live in cells above the cave today, but the main focus of religious activity in Patmos — known as the “sacred island” — is the monastery of St. John, an imposing citadel that looms over the island.
Established in 1088 by St. Christodoulos, a Greek monk, the monastery still contains original structures dating to the 11th century — parts of the fortifications, the kitchen, some cells, the cistern and, most importantly, the church of St. John, which boasts some superb frescoes.
While the church is impressive, the monastery’s museum and library are several notches more formidable.
The original “golden bull” by Byzantine Emperor Alexios I Komnenos has pride of place. This ancient seal granted the whole island to Christodoulos, with imperial monograms appearing all over the scroll in the way we initial contract pages nowadays.
There’s also a firman — a type of edict — issued by Sultan Mehmed the Conqueror from 1454 that confirms the monastery’s independence and assigning a monk as a tax collector.
“In the case of Patmos, it’s our beaches and the beauty of Chora, our capital.”
A swim at Lambi in the north of Patmos helps prove Evgenikos’ words.
The beach here is dotted with small, multi-colored pebbles ranging from butterscotch orange to sweet potato red and egg yolk yellow — and the combined effect is extraordinary.
In fact, several have made Patmos their home and sought to benefit the island.
Nicholas Negroponte from MIT’s Media Lab installed an island-wide Wi-Fi system for everyone to surf the internet for free.
Christos Patakos, manager of Patmos Aktis, the only five-star hotel on the island, shakes his head.
“I don’t think it’ll ever happen,” he says. “There’s a general feeling, especially among the regulars and those who own houses on Patmos, that the island must be ‘protected’ from mass tourism. It is they who object.”
“An army base here wanted to have artillery exercises during the summer; we forbade them,” he adds.
“As for the opening hours: we close at 1:30 p.m. because we hold Vespers at 3 p.m. We wake up for Matins at 3 a.m. with Mass at 6 a.m. so that we can open at 8 a.m.
“Even by mid-June some shops may not have opened yet, but we’re the only reliable operation on the island, open all year round.