Rev. Henry Fanshaw Tozer

Henry Tozer, a Fellow and Tutor of Exeter College, Oxford, traveled widely in Turkey and Greece on numerous journeys from 1853 to 1889. He also wrote Researches in the Highlands of Turkey (1869) and Turkish Armenia and Eastern Asia Minor (1881). Islands of the Aegean is annotated in Blackmer (1670) and Atabey (1232).


Chapter IX: From The Islands of the Aegean (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1890)

By the Rev. Henry Fanshaw Tozer, M.A., F.R.G.[178] In passing from Samos to Patmos we leave a land of classical archaeology for one the interest of which is wholly Biblical and ecclesiastical. Before the Christian era the name of Patmos only occurs in a few passages of ancient writers, and of its history, if it had one, nothing is known; it was when it became the place of banishment of St. John the Divine, and the scene of his apocalyptic vision, that it once for all attracted the attention of mankind. At the present day it is one of the least accessible of the Aegean islands, for owing to its remote position and the unproductiveness of its soil no steamers ever touch there. In order to reach it we engaged a good-sized decked vessel, for though we hoped after visiting it to arrive at the neighbouring island of Leros in time for the Austrian packet which touches there on its way from Smyrna to Rhodes, yet it was necessary to be prepared for a longer voyage, since, if the weather was unpropitious, we might be forced to continue our course southwards to Calymnos, or even to Cos. Early on the morning of April 9 we left the harbour of Tigani; and a [179] favouring breeze carried us along the southern coast of Samos, where the two highest summits were in view–Mount Ampelos, which rises behind the Leraeum, and descends to the cape which is called Colona from the standing column of that temple; and, towards the west, Mount Kerkis, the ancient Kerketeus, which is the loftiest point in any of the lands on this side of the Aegean, excepting Samothrace, being 4725 feet above the sea. After this we sailed between groups of islands unknown to fame, and at last in the course of the afternoon passed Cape Geranos, the north-eastern headland of Patmos. We then penetrated into the harbour, which forms the innermost part of a deep bay on the eastern coast, and so landlocked that frequent tacking was required order to enter it. Long before we arrived, the monastery of St. John, which is the most conspicuous building in the island, had been in sight, crowning the summit of a high hill, like a vast sombre castle, with the white houses of the town clustered round behind this rose the peak of Hagios Elias, which reaches the elevation of more than 800 feet. The scala, or village at the landing-place, has a very peculiar appearance, for each of the small two-storeyed houses of which it is composed resembles a square, flat-topped box, as white as whitewash can make it. This mode of building prevails throughout this island, and, as we afterwards found, in those that lie to the southward of it.

In shape Patmos may be roughly described as forming a crescent, the horns of which face eastward; [180] but its outline is broken up by innumerable promontories enclosing landlocked creeks, so that, when seen from above, it presents somewhat the aspect of a strange polypus. Its length from north to south is about eight miles, and its area is rugged and broken; but the most marked peculiarity is that it is almost divided in two in the middle, for in this part, within a distance of little more than half a mile from one another, are two isthmuses only a few hundred yards wide, and rising but slightly above the sea-level. On the southernmost of these the scala is situated, while between the two stands the steep hill on which the acropolis of the Hellenic city was built. The narrow waist thus formed served for a boundary line to determine the domain of the monastery, for while [181] the southern half of the island belongs to the monks, the northern part is the possession of the civil community. At the time of the foundation of the convent no women were allowed to pass this limit, but within a short period the restriction had to be abandoned. The soil of which the island is composed is everywhere volcanic and very barren, and its coasts are flanked by red and grey rocks, which ever and anon break into quaint pinnacles. The absence of running water is shown by the numerous windmills, and there are only three or four wells in the whole area; the want of these, however, is made up for by cisterns, and the inhabitants are never obliged to import water, as sometimes happens in Santorin. The male population are chiefly employed in the sponge fishery, which is carried on in many of the Sporades. The island is most commonly known by its mediaeval name of Patino, in like manner as Astypalaea is still called Astropalaea, and Carpathos Scarpanto.

Leaving our baggage to be carried up to the monastery of St. John, which is a mile and a half from the scala, we ourselves proceeded to the smaller monastery of the Apocalypse, which occupies a steep position on the mountain-side about one-third of the distance in the same direction, and is the spot pointed out by tradition as the scene of the Revelation. It is entered from the back, and from this point the visitor descends among a variety of buildings by numerous stone staircases, the steps of which are forty in number. At the lowest point, though still at a con- [182] siderable height above the valley below, is the cave which forms the chapel of the Apocalypse. This is entered through a church dedicated to St. Anne, which is built outside and parallel to the mouth of the cave, and consists, like the chapel, of two parts–a narthex or porch, and the sacred building itself. The iconostasis at the further end of this church is ornamented with pictures of St. Anne, of our Lord, and of the Panagia, and is surmounted by an elaborate rood-screen, while against the outer wall a representation of the Entombment, richly embroidered on velvet, is hung in a glass case; this was a gift from Russia. The chapel of the Apocalypse, which is formed by the bare sides and roof of the cave, is about twenty-two feet in length by fifteen feet in breadth. In one part of the roof a rent is pointed out, where the rock was broken at the commencement of the Revelation, and from a somewhat deeper cleft in this the Divine voice is said to have proceeded; nor does the process of identification stop here, for a hole in the wall close below this is believed to have been the place where St. John’s head lay.

The pictures in the iconostasis of this chapel are worthy of notice. In the left hand compartment is a Jesse tree, in which the Virgin and Child are the most prominent objects; but figures of prophets and saints are seen in the branches. The central picture represents our Lord appearing to St. John, who lies at his feet as dead. In this, Christ is seated in the midst of seven angels, who bear in their hands seven churches, while a candlestick stands in front of [183] each of them. A sword proceeds out of his mouth, and in his right hand are seven stars, in his left hand the two keys of hell and of death. The third is divided into three sections, the first of which presents a figure of the founder of the great monastery, St. Christodoulos; in the second the disciples of St. John are represented as laying his body in a tomb, while he himself is being taken up to heaven, such being the tradition of the Greek Church with regard to his death; while in the third St. John is listening to the divine inspiration, and a disciple is writing from his dictation. The monk who pointed out these objects to us was a simple, pleasant man, and had a full belief in the genuineness of the local traditions. Though he belonged to the great monastery, he had lived here, together with some members of his family, for the last eight years, and they were the sole occupants of the building. To their credit be it said, the whole place was scrupulously clean.

Before proceeding further, I must make mention of a work which has exercised a great influence on the traditions of Patmos, the 'Acts of St. John’ attributed to Prochorus, one of the seven deacons. This narrative, the text of which is given in full in Zahn’s Acta Johannis, was probably composed in the first half of the fifth century; for a time it was much used in the Eastern Church, and its popularity is attested by the numerous versions of it that exist–in Latin, in Old Slavonic, in Coptic, and in Armenian. Of its apocryphal character there can be no doubt, for, not to mention other proofs, the writer was wholly [184] ignorant of the position, size, and nature of Patmos he makes it nine days’ sail from Ephesus, and con ceives of it as a large and populous island, hardly smaller than Sicily. The story commences with the departure of John from Judaea on a mission to the province of Asia, on which Prochorus accompanied him, and after describing his sojourn at Ephesus, relates in full detail his banishment to Patmos and residence there. Two of the incidents that are mentioned deserve notice here, because they will be referred to later on.

The first of these is the contest of St. John with Kynops, a magician who inhabited a cave in a desolate part of the island. It runs as follows. When the priests of the temple of Apollo in Patmos found that John was converting all the leading men to Christianity, they came to Kynops to request him to put an end to his influence; and in consequence of this, Kynops, in the presence of a great multitude, displayed his magical powers in a variety of ways as a challenge to John, and finally cast himself into the sea, intending to reappear from it, as he had done on several former occasions. But John, extending his arms in the form of a cross, exclaimed, ‘O thou who did’st grant to Moses by this similitude to overthrow Amalek, O Lord Jesus Christ, bring down Kynops to the deep, of the sea; let him never more behold this sun, nor converse with living men.’ And at John’s word immediately there was a roaring of the sea, and the water formed in an eddy at the place where Kynops went down, and Kynops sank to the bottom, and after [185] this reappeared no more from the sea. The name of the magician is now attached to one of the southern promontories of Patmos, a wild and precipitous locality, and in one part of it a cavern is shown which is reported to have been his dwelling-place.

The other incident relates to the composition of John’s Gospel, which is associated with the Apostle’s departure from the island at the end of his term of banishment. When the people of Patmos, whom he had converted, found that he was about to leave them, they begged him to deliver to them in writing a narrative of the miracles of the Son of God which he had seen, and of His words which he had heard, that they might remain steadfast in the faith. Prochorus then narrates how he went with John to a tranquil spot by a low hill a mile distant from the city; and, after long fasting and prayer, John caused Prochorus to seat himself by his side with paper and ink, and then, standing and looking up steadfastly into heaven, dictated to him the Gospel, commencing with the words, ‘In the beginning was the Word.’ The interest of this story–which is in direct contradiction to all the early traditions relating to this Gospel–arises from its having been a suggestive subject for early works of art. The figures of an aged man, who is standing, dictating to a youth who is seated, in the midst of rural surroundings, are found, for instance, in a Greek MS. of the Gospels in the Vatican, figured in Agincourt’s History of Art (Painting, pl. lix), in the Codex Ebnerianus in the Bodleian, in the facsimile [186] from an Armenian MS. in Professor Westwood’s Palaeographia Sacra, and in one of the MSS. in the monastery at Patmos. Strange to say, in the nar rative of Prochorus in its original form, there is not a word about the Apocalypse. In some of the later MSS. of the ‘Acts of St. John,’ however, there is an interpolated passage, evidently adapted from the story of the composition of the Gospel, in which that book is said to have been dictated by the Apostle to Prochorus in a cave in Patmos. It was thus, no doubt, that the grotto which we have visited was fixed upon as the scene of this event, and it is possible that the picture on the iconostasis is intended to describe it. It is noticeable, that in the Guide to Painting of Dionysius of Agrapha, which from an unknown period of the Middle Ages to the present day has determined the mode of treatment of sacred subjects in art in the Eastern Church, it is prescribed that the scene both of the Revelation and of the composition of the Gospel shall be a cave; but whereas in the latter subject Prochorus is to be introduced as the scribe, in the former the Apostle is to be represented alone (Didron, Manuel d'conographie chrétienne, pp. 238, 304-307). 

Just outside the entrance gate of the convent of the Apocalypse stand the ruined buildings of a school which formerly was resorted to by numerous students from the neighbouring islands. About thirty years ago it was given up, owing to the competition of schools that had sprung up elsewhere. Leaving this, we now proceeded upwards by a rough road [187] composed of blocks of trachyte until we arrived at the town, and, passing through it by a succession of steep zigzags, reached the entrance to the great monastery of St. John. The likeness of this to a castle increases as you approach, owing to the massiveness of the walls and buttresses, and the projections, resembling towers, at the angles. Here we were welcomed by the Hegumen, and conducted to a simple monastic chamber, which was destined for our reception.

With the exception of one or two Greek monasteries which are built in the interior of caverns–such as those of Megaspelaeon in the Morea and Sumelas at the back of Trebizond–none that I can remember is so closely and strangely packed together as that of St. John on Patmos; its staircases are quite a puzzle, and passages occur in the most unexpected places, and diverge in a variety of directions. The court round which it is built is very irregular in shape, and several pointed arches are thrown across it to strengthen the buildings on either side: within it are numerous cisterns for storing water and troughs for washing. The upper part is a wilderness of chimneys, bells, domes, and battlements. A pavement of tiles or flags covers the flat roof, or rather roofs, for different parts have different levels, and the communication between these is made by steps constructed at various angles. Among them the domes of chapels project at intervals, and at one point stand three large bells, one of which has an inscription in Latin, another in Russian. The voices [188] of these we heard in the middle of the night, calling the community to prayers, after the door of each chamber had first been vigorously knocked, and the semantron, or alarum used in the Greek Church, had been sounded in the corridors. The number of monks is thirty, and they are all natives of Patmos. They possess farms in Crete, Samos, and Santorin, but at the present time they complain of poverty. The foundation of the monastery dates from the latter half of the eleventh century, when a monk named Christodoulos, who had been an inmate of several convents, and found none of them sufficiently strict in their rules to satisfy his own ascetic tem perament, obtained from the Emperor Alexius Com nenus a concession of the island of Patmos, confirmed by a golden bull, that he might establish there a com munity regulated according to his ideas of monastic life. We are expressly told that for some time before the island had been uninhabited, and this fact must be taken into account in estimating the value of the local traditions.

The panorama from the roof of the monastery, to which I ascended on the morning after my arrival, is truly wonderful. The greater part of the strange island, with its varied heights and irregular outline, is visible, and, along with it, the wide bay, which is embraced by its rocky arms. Toward the north ap peared the level line of Icaria, the peaks of Samos, and the promontory of Mycale; and, in the opposite direction, the island of Leros, beyond which rose the fine summits of Calymnos; while in the open expanse of the Aegean to the west lay Amorgos, and the distant volcano of Santorin. In addition to this, the sea was studded with numerous islets, and these, together with the intervening spaces of deep blue water, formed the pervading feature of the scene. Such was the view which, with frequent changes from day to night, and from sunshine to storm, must have been present to St. John at the period of his banishment; and it is an interesting question whether the impression which it made upon him is traceable in the imagery of the Revelation. The subject is one which may easily lead to fanciful speculation; and Dean Stanley, whose mind was singularly open to local influences, and could trace their working with great felicity, in this instance seems to have yielded to the temptation in an eloquent passage on Patmos in the Notices appended to his Sermons in the East (p. 230). There he goes so far as to suppose that the dragon, and the beasts with many heads and monstrous figures, were suggested by the serpentine form of the island and its rocks contorted into fantastic and grotesque forms. Still the references to the sea in the Apocalypse–even if we exclude from consideration, as we ought to do, those passages where the sea is introduced, like the earth and sky, as one of the constituents of creation–are frequent and striking; and still more so is the introduction of the islands (Rev. vi 14: ‘Every mountain and island were moved out of their places;’ xvi. 20: ‘Every island fled away’); for these objects rarely occur in Biblical imagery, [190] and in the Old Testament the expression ‘the isles’ signifies rather a region than a feature in geography or landscape. But even if we hesitate to admit the direct suggestiveness of such points as these, we may, at least, feel that the scenery of this island, from its grandeur and wildness, and the sense of space and solitude which it conveys, was well suited to form a background in the mind’s eye of the seer for the wonderful visions of the Apocalypse.

The first place of interest in the monastery which we visited was the library. This is a spacious and airy room, and the books are arranged in cases along its walls, so that it presents a very different appear ance from what Dr. E. D. Clarke described, when he saw it at the beginning of this century, and carried off some of the most valuable of the works that it contained. At the present time its most precious treasure is the famous Codex N., a quarto MS. of the sixth century, with double columns, written on purple vellum in uncial letters in silver, with the names of God and Christ in gold. The portion which is here preserved consists of thirty-three leaves, and contains the greater part of St. Mark’s gospel; but its interest is increased by the fact that other fragments of the same MS., containing portions of the other gospels, exist elsewhere–six leaves in the Vatican, four in the British Museum, and two at Vienna. Strange to say, the MS. which resembles it most nearly, both in its externals and its text, is the Codex Rossanensis (Σ), which belongs to the monastery of Rossano in Calabria, not far distant from the [191] site of the ancient Sybaris. So close is the correspondence between the two in respect of their peculiar readings, that it is thought they may both have been copied directly from a common original (See Prof. Sanday on the Cod. Rossan. in Studia Biblica, No. VI.). The Rossanensis also is a codex purpureo-argenteus, a kind of manuscript which is very rare–rarer even, according to Professor Westwood, than those which are written entirely in gold letters.

Next in importance to Codex N. is a MS. of the book of Job, which is attributed by Mr. Coxe to the seventh or eighth century (Report to Her Majesty's Government on the Greek MSS. yet remaining in the Libraries of the Levant, P. 27). It is a very large folio, and is written on vellum in uncial letters, with illustrations inserted in the pages; these appeared to me of great value for the study of mediaeval art, having much more originality than is usually found in Byzantine work. Among them are groups representing Job’s sons and daughters, figures of stags and other animals, and scenes from Job’s history; and these were not illuminated on the conventional gold ground, and in some parts were drawn in outline. There are also two Books of the Gospels in small quarto, with the original binding, one of which has the emblems of the evangelists in silver gilt at the corners, with the figure of Christ on the cross in the centre, while the other, which is bound in red silk, has the heads of the evangelists in silver. Both possess full-page illuminations of the evangelists, but [192] in the latter of the two the picture of St. John is wanting: in the former he is represented, as I have already described, as dictating the gospel to Prochorus. We were also shown a semi-uncial MS. of the works of St. Gregory of Nazianzus with the date 942; this was much defaced by damp. Not the least interesting object is the original bull of Alexius Comnenus, authorising the foundation of the monastery. The dimensions of this are about 9 ft. long by 16 in. wide, and it is on paper, which has been mounted on linen; the writing is large, and the emperor’s signature, and words inserted by him, are in red ink.

Let me now describe the great church of the monastery. This is entered through an outer porch, or proaulion, which runs the whole length of the west end of the building, and is open to the court, being supported on the outer side by marble columns. In one part of this there is a rude font, intended to contain the holy water that is used on the festival of the Epiphany. Its walls are frescoed with sacred subjects, among which may be seen the warrior saints, St. George and St. Demetrius, and St. Artemius with Constantine and Helen. In one part stands Alexius Comnenus in robe and crown, bearing a cross in his hand; in another the magician Kynops is throwing himself into the water, while on the opposite side of the picture is the aged St. John with his followers. In the eastern wall of this corridor there are three doorways, two of which lead into the church, and the third into a chapel of St. Christodoulos. The church is entered through a narthex, and is extremely dark, the only light being that which is admitted from the cupola and through a side chapel. The central dome is supported on four pillars, and contains a fresco of the Saviour; the floor beneath is ornamented with stone mosaic. The iconostasis is richly carved with figures, fruit, and flowers, and the lecterns are inlaid with tortoise-shell and mother-of-pearl. There are two ancient paintings of St. John–one large and the other small–but both much defaced by time and the devotion of worshippers; and a small triptych of the period of the founder is shown, with very delicate paintings of Scripture subjects. In the chapel the body of St. Christodoulos lies in a niche which has been hollowed out in the side wall; it is enclosed in a case, but the face is visible. His shoes and his staff are preserved as relics; the former are made of coarse brown leather, and much worn, while the latter–a pateritsa–is in two parts, one of which has the cross-piece attached to it, which is sometimes used for leaning on during service in the monasteries. The monks also show the chain by which St. John was bound as a prisoner; but the spurious character of this, as of all the memorials of St. John in the island, is made more conspicuous by the genuineness of most things connected with the founder.

The refectory is a large and lofty room, with a vaulted roof and central dome, and a long stone table runs down the middle, resembling that which we noticed at Nea Mone in Chios; but the seats [194] here are of wood, resting at intervals upon stone supports. It is now disused, owing to the system of common meals having been given up, but some frescoes remain to testify to its former grandeur. Adjoining it is a kitchen of equally massive construction, with a single fireplace surmounted by a chimney running up to the top of the monastery, like a rude funnel of irregular shape.

When we left the monastery we descended towards the western coast of the island, until, at the end of half an hour, a creek came in view, and on its shore a small level of cultivated land, which is known by the name of 'The Garden of the Saint' (ο κηπος του οσιου). It measures about a quarter of a mile each way, and contains a chapel and a few dwelling-houses; but the fame which it enjoys is due to its possessing one of the few fountains in the island, and this is said to have issued from the ground in answer to the prayers of St. Christodoulos. From this point we made our way along the rugged slopes until we reached the inlet at the back of the scala, on the further side of which rises the height that was occupied by the acropolis of the ancient city. The situation of this, as I have already described, is remarkable, since it stands between two isthmuses and two seas. When we arrived at its foot, we proceeded to climb its steep south-western face, and not far from the summit came upon the remains of fortifications, which were mainly formed of polygonal blocks roughly put together; but when we had crossed over to the opposite side, we found a line of walls and towers in much better preservation, as many as six courses of masonry remaining in many parts. The site was well chosen on account of its inaccessibility and its central position in the island.