October 6, 2010

The Skull of the Holy Apostle Thomas in Patmos

Hidden near the altar area of the katholikon of the Holy Monastery of Saint John the Theologian on the island of Patmos is a room which contains many holy relics. The most treasured relic of this Monastery dedicated to the Apostle John, however, is none other than the skull of the Apostle Thomas.

The skull of St. Thomas is kept in a large embossed silver goblet with a lid of silver; all is covered with a very rich Venetian table rug. Emperor Alexios Komnenos had the relic bound with silver strips both lengthwise and over the top and, where the silver ribbons cross, fastened together with precious stones, and the ends held in like manner. Soon after the completion of the Monastery it was presented to St. Christodoulos, the founder.

In the olden days Greek captains, as they sailed passed the Monastery of Saint John, would fire their guns in its honor. Often they would drop anchor in Skala and go up to the Monastery to request of the monks the relic of the skull of St. Thomas to be brought aboard their ship for a blessing to keep them safe as they travelled the dangerous sea.

Today the Apostle Thomas is very much celebrated in Patmos on his primary feast day of October 6th as well as the Sunday of St. Thomas which is eight days after Pascha.


According to the American explorer William Edgar Geil, in his book The Isle That Is Called Patmos published in 1896, the following miracle attributed to the skull of the Apostle Thomas took place:

"Recently this skull was taken by four monks aboard a vessel which set sail and finally landed the five monastery skulls* upon the island of Samos, from which much wine comes. My vessel touched there on the way out from Smyrna, and I saw a large tank ship have wine pumped into it, just as oil is. Information was given me that it is transported to a foreign port where, after being put up into packages with a famous name on it, it is sold at a high price. Well, the worms had gotten into the vineyards, destroying the crop, and in some instances making life miserable for the vines; hence the skull of St. Thomas was invited to 'come over and help us'. The five Patmos skulls remained on Samos a month. They carried the relics in procession, the four monks did; they took them into the vineyards, they marched from village to village, the people following in great crowds, singing hymns and praying. It is said that when the worms saw the silver-bound, gem-bestudded skull coming, they decamped precipitately.

The citizens of the wine island so appreciated this visit of the worm-chasing skull that they took up a collection and presented to the monks three hundred pounds sterling for their visit. One thousand five hundred dollars a month is pretty good pay out there in the Aegean Sea, but the people were happy that the worms were gone."

Geil, being a devout Protestant and not understanding the importance of holy relics, goes on to make the following comment: "It is passing strange that an old skull is needed to help get a blessing from the living God. But thus their superstitions teach them."

With little reverence yet much respect Geil proceeds in his account to describe another miracle attributed to the holy skull of the Apostle Thomas:

"Some fifteen years ago the grasshoppers overran Smyrna; they leaped into everything and gave the place a desolate appearance. When the people's patience was well-nigh exhausted, the monks of St. John came over from Patmos with the uppermost portion of St. Thomas. When St. Thomas arrived there was at once much singing and kneeling and praying and kissing of the skull. Then a procession was formed, and the relic got down to business. The grasshoppers, as soon as they turned themselves and saw (so the the story goes, which is given in Patmos to this day, and I heard an account also at Smyrna) the worm-chasing skull of the saint after them, they fled in great haste. It is declared that grasshoppers were never known to hop such long hops, such fast hops, such high hops, as those Grylli hopped when they saw what was coming. On this occasion the insects jumped into the sea, and so great was the number that the small boats could go about with difficulty. The stench from their decaying bodies necessitated the making of a great festival, besides the carting of them beyond the city limits, where trenches were dug and the obnoxious creatures buried. On Patmos the monks told me that no grasshoppers have since visited Smyrna: yet in the latter place the information reached me that several times since they have made their appearance there, but in small numbers. The holy men out on the island, where news is scarce, had not heard about the calls the Grylli had made on Smyrna."

The first photo of the relic of St. Thomas was taken by Geil and can be seen in his book here (p. 41).

Read also: A Miracle of the Skull of the Apostle Thomas in Symi in 1978

* These skulls likely include those of St. Philip the Apostle and St. Antipas the Martyr. Others could also be those of St. Pachomios the New Martyr, the Apostle James the Brother of our Lord, St. George the Great Martyr, St. Stephen the Protomartyr, St. James the Persian, etc. According to Geil, the monastery had over one hundred relics.