In the city of Rome there are so many artistic jewels that reveal the loving presence of the Lord. The Basilica of Santa Maria Antiqua, long buried by an earthquake, has a fresco said to be “the oldest image of the Virgin Mary with the Child Jesus, according to the architect Francesco Prosperetti, superintendent of archaeological artifacts in Rome. This is indeed Rome’s oldest icon.” See the rest at Aleteia:
We drove several hours, making a rest stop about a half hour from the border of Montenegro, in Shkodra. Shkodra is an ancient medieval town, but also important in the revolution against the Communists. It was a bustling city with a great deal of traffic. Our experience was limited to pedestrian mall with a great many cafes. They were primarily filled with young people. A mosque was on the mall.
We reached the Montenegro border, stopped at the border crossing and went from a country with a Muslim majority to one with a Eastern Orthodox majority. We drove along Shkoder Lake, shared with Albania. This is a fertile area with vineyards and fruit orchards.
As we continued we ascended into the Balkan Alps with steep peaks and deep gorges. In time we made another rest stop at a roadside restaurant where we sampled the local grappa. In Montenegro they infuse the grappa with fruit. We tried the apricot and quince. It is strong drink but fortified us for the rest of the journey. Maybe it was the fruit.
High in the Alps we came to the Moraca Serbian Orthodox Monastery founded in the 13th century. The church is dedicated to the Assumption of Mary and a small chapel is dedicated St. Nicholas. It had incredible frescoes and a beautiful crucifix on the icon screen. The grounds were beautifully landscaped backed by high peaks. There were many people there and the monks were attending them. Father Tom wondered how much peace they enjoyed as it was on a busy highway.
We arrived at the ski lodge in Kolasin where we will spend the next two nights (elevation 3000 ft).
Tomorrow we spend the day at Dumitor National Park.
This is the Church of Saints Archangels Michael and Gabriel, in Bulgaria.
The church of Saint Peter and Saint Paul
The church of saints Peter and Saint Paul is a medieval church. After the fall of Tamovo to the Muslims it became the patriarchate.
The church is also the scene of a massacre. After the fall of the kingdom to the Ottomans, the new Muslim overlords invited the boyars, that is, the aristocracy, for negotiations. Once inside all 120 some were slain by the Muslims.
The Transfiguration monastery near Veliko Tarnovo, Bulgaria, was founded in the 11th century as a cloister of the Vatopedia monastery at Mount Athos.
At the time of the Ottoman conquest, the Muslims burned the church to the ground in the 15th century. In 1832 by a firman of the sultan allowed construction but the exterior must be low to show the superiority of the Islamic religion.
The last judgement. The soul is being weighed. The bad deeds out weigh the good. There is only one act of mercy and for that the the angels are tipping the scales: mercy outweighs justice. (You can see the devils trying to grab the weight pans). The soul has only one act of mercy and the angels are determined to win the tug of war with the demons.
The devotion of people always touches me profoundly. When I saw this young man in prayer I thought of the young Muslim women in prayer. The human soul yearns for the incomprehensible mystery of God that we know has become incarnate in Jesus. This image of a young man at the foot of the cross inspires me to prayer.
The guide pointed out that during 500 years of Islamic domination under the Ottoman empire new churches could not be built and had to be low when repaired so the mosques would dominate. So a little over 100 years ago when they overthrew the yoke of Islamic domination the construction of churches was a priority and a sign of their freedom.
We arrived in Rusenski Lom which is a gorge which became a place where monks lived in caves. This was an opportunity to visit the rock hewn churches of Ivanovo. There were over 300 monolithic chapels and churches however most of them are not preserved.
When you look at the entrance to the church you realize how much beauty is hidden to our eyes. The monastic movement flourished in the 13th century however after the Islamic conquest in the 14th century the settlement decayed. Today this is a treasure trove of 13th century frescoes of the Palaeologan period.
These frescoes predate Giotto about 70 years. The molding of the figures show a humanism that is breaking away from iconic hieratic style.
The Bachkovo monastery of the Mother of God is one of the oldest and largest Orthodox monasteries in Europe from 1083.
This depicts the Council of Nicaea that triumphed over Arius whom you see on the floor.
The current church was built in the 19th century over the prior church destroyed by the Muslims of the Ottoman empire.
The Boyana church, on the outskirts of Sofia, Bulgaria, is a medieval church from the late 10th to early 11th century. The frescoes are stunning however photography is not allowed inside. They are an exceptional achievement that overcomes the stylisation of icons with individuality and vitality. When I looked at these I thought of Giotto and the Scrovengi chapel in Padua and marveled that these predate Giotto by 70 years. There are incredible nuanced shades of color and a perspective not seen in icons and frescoes.
When I started to identify themes my driver turned to me and said: “I went to school during Soviet times when we were deprived of religious education in school and have to make up for that with self study. The Soviets,” he said, “were masterful in that they deprived you of your legacy by trying to erase it.” The art professor, Pierre Graber from Paris stated that these are the most precious contributions of Bulgaria to the world.
Saint John Rilski Monastery
Saint John Rilski was the first hermit monk in the desert; that is he lived in a cave in the forest. The library is the richest in Bulgaria.
The original church burnt so a new one was built in the 19th century.
The tomb of Neofit Rilshi who is the 19th century monk who is the father of pedagogy in that he established a school at the monastery where he wrote grammar and lexicons and textbooks.