Summer School in Greek Palaeography and Byzantine Epigraphy
Figure 1: View of Patmos Island (Photo by Laura Borghetti)
Before beginning to describe my amazing experience in Patmos, I would like to spend a couple of lines about the island's history and major institutions. Patmos is one of the northernmost islands of the Dodecanese complex, Greek archipelago situated off the coast of Asia Minor, and its main communities are Chora (the capital city) [Fig. 3], and Skala, the only commercial port. All churches and communities on Patmos typically are of the Eastern Orthodox tradition and Patmos is even mentioned in the Gospels' Book of Revelation. And not by chance. The book's introduction, in fact, states that its author, John, was on Patmos when he was given (and recorded) a vision from Jesus. Early Christian tradition identified this writer as John the Apostle, though some modern scholars are uncertain, and thus call him the less specific "John of Patmos". No matter the authenticity of this attribution, John the Apostle has become patron of the island and official foundation documents prove that Saint Christodulos, far back in 1080, established the Monastery of John the Theologian, on the top of Chora's hill. In 1999, the island's historic centre Chora, along with the Monastery of Saint John the Theologian and the Cave of the Apocalypse [Fig. 2], where – according to legend – Saint John was given his vision, were declared World Heritage Sites by UNESCO.
Figures 2/3: The Cave of the Apocalypse and a view over the historical centre of Chora (Photos by Laura Borghetti)
In this idyllic frame, I happened to be accepted and have the chance to attend a Summer School in Greek Palaeography and Byzantine Epigraphy. The National Hellenic Research Foundation, represented in loco by Vassiliki Kollia, had chosen two special locations where the courses would be held. First and foremost, the Library of Saint John's Monastery, and then the lovely Nicolaides Mansion, in the historical core of Chora. The Monastery Library owns an amazingly rich treasure in manuscripts: 330 manuscripts (267 on parchment) are housed here, including 82 manuscripts of the New Testament, some of them decorated with precious miniatures [Fig. 4]. The Nicolaides Mansion in Patmos town is a two-storey house built between the 17th and 18th century, considered a representative example of the architecture fostered by the island's prosperous middle class. Particularly interesting is the single nave chapel dedicated to St. Nicholas, which was incorporated into the facade, and the lavishly decorated ambataros, a wooden structure on the upper floor which served as a partition and storage space [Fig. 5]. It has been truly exciting for us students to be taught in such beautiful historical buildings, which made the learning experience properly unforgettable.
Figures 4/5: The inside of the Monastery Library and the Chapel of the Nicolaides Mansion (Photos by Laura Borghetti)
Figures 6/7: Samples of a manuscript and an epigraphy both from the Monastery of Saint John the Theologian (Photos by Laura Borghetti)
Figures 8/9: Prof. Cataldi Palau and Alexia Melianou talking to the students (Photos by Laura Borghetti)
To conclude, I can say that I am very happy about my experience in Patmos from several perspectives. First of all, both the instructors and our group of students managed to make the best out of the Summer School, in spite of the little time given to us combined with the high amount of notions to be learnt and practical exercises to be accomplished. Both subjects were taught so well and the teachers were so helpful, that eight hours of classes a day were never heavy, but always useful and fascinating. The international group of participants quickly found a nice connection and the time we spent together out of the classes was a lovely occasion to share projects, ideas and contacts [Fig. 10/11]. Last, but not least, the almost unbearable heat wave of the first two days was soon toned down by the Meltemi, the strong wind of the Aegean islands, that was following us through our classes, explorations of the islands and – in some cases – also through the long hours of extra PhD-work during the peaceful Greek nights.
Figures 10/11: Some of the students enjoying a coffee and a glimpse from Chora (Photos by Laura Borghetti)