Tag Archives: frescoes

A Roman Jewel Rediscovered

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:


A Monastery in Montenegro

Thursday, August 27. We started the day with another great breakfast on the hotel terrace. Today was to be primarily a driving day to Montenegro.

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.

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Shkodra mosque.

Shkodra mosque.

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.

Shkodra Lake, Montenegro


Balkan Alps near Moraca Monastery.


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.

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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.

Church of the Assumption.

Church of the Assumption.

Facade of the Assumption Church.

Facade of the Assumption Church.


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Gazing heavenward.

Gazing heavenward.

Church of Saint Nicholas.

Church of Saint Nicholas.

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.


Angels and Archangels

This is the Church of Saints Archangels Michael and Gabriel, in Bulgaria.


A young Pantocrator.

A young Pantocrator.

In contrast to the all-powerful Father.

The Holy Mother.

The Holy Mother.

Gazing heavenward.

The Nativity.

The Annunciation.

The Annunciation.


The Apse.

The Apse.


The Baptism of Jesus.

The Baptism of Jesus.

The frescoes are wonderful.

The frescoes are splendid.

Once again this church of the 17th century built over an earlier church from the exterior does not look like a church but a barn.

However it is the church of the archangels.

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 columns are from The ancient Nicopolis ad Istrum.
The frescoes are influenced by the Italo-Cretan school from the time of the Council of Florence.

Saints Peter and Paul.

The pieta.

The pieta.


The Archangel Gabriel

The Archangel Gabriel

Detail. Notice the brushstrokes.

Detail. Notice the brushstrokes.

St Michael with sword.

On the exterior wall are the remains of a pictorial calendar.

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 ancient citadel.

The king’s tower with a tombstone recycled from Nikopolis ad Istrum.

Transfiguration Monastery


The Transfiguration monastery near Veliko Tarnovo, Bulgaria, was founded in the 11th century as a cloister of the Vatopedia monastery at Mount Athos.

The wheel of life is one of the exterior paintings of the 19th century.

The exterior icon of the Transfiguration.

20150523_021201.jpg  The icon screen.

Assumption of the Virgin which is on the west wall.

Gazing heavenward.

The Resurrection.

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.

Scenes from our Lord’s life.

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.

Preparing for another baptism.

In the chapel of the Holy Spirit people place their petitions in the wall.

Beautiful sight that shows confidence in prayer.

Hidden Frescoes

We arrived in Varna to visit the Cathedral of the Assumption of the Holy Mother of God. The cathedral was consecrated on August 30, 1886.

The icon screen is heavily carved with icons that are very 19th century.

Rusenski-040447The 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.

From Varna we drove into the fertile valley and into the region where the Danube flows into the Black Sea.

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.

The rock formations are very conducive to silence so no wonder it appealed to the hesychists monks who lived in total silence in a life dedicated to prayer.

When I began the climb up I was thinking about all the rock hewn churches I had seen in Ethiopia.

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.

The Transfiguration.

Last supper.

These frescoes predate Giotto about 70 years. The molding of the figures show a humanism that is breaking away from iconic hieratic style.

The Annunciation.

The Anastasis. The Harrowing of Hell.

The natural light gives a golden hue to the frescoes.

Bachkovo Monastery

Plovdiv-043757The Bachkovo monastery of the Mother of God is one of the oldest and largest Orthodox monasteries in Europe from 1083.

The monastery church.


The refectory of 1601 has great artistic value.

Plovdiv-044706This depicts the Council of Nicaea that triumphed over Arius whom you see on the floor.

The Jesse tree.

The Last Judgement.


The Visitation.

The Visitation.

Saints Helena and Constantine.

Inside the church is the wonder working icon of Virgin Mary Eleusa of 1310 brought from Georgia. This is one of the three miraculous icons in Bulgaria.

Plovdiv-045736Gazing heavenward.


The current church was built in the 19th century over the prior church destroyed by the Muslims of the Ottoman empire.

Stunning Frescoes of Boyana

The mountains where the monastery is located.


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

Painted doorway

The entrance to the 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.

Gazing Heavenward. You are not allowed to take pictures inside the church. The exterior photos give you some idea of the beauty of the interior that has an awesome 19th century golden icon screen.

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The 14th century tower.

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.


This is an active monastery among the 60 active monasteries in Bulgaria. The museum guide said there are baptisms everyday.