The Ohrid treasures

Scattered heritage

THE OHRID TREASURES

There are historical documents detailing countless barbaric thefts of historic objects from Macedonia, which greatly damaged the identity of our people. Such lists seem endless, and the information they contain is staggering, so here we will list only some of the more typical examples documented by the Serbian administration after World War I, on their rivals in plunder – the Bulgarian government officials and their special thievery missions. One has to bear in mind, however, that in some of the cases mentioned perhaps not everything was destroyed by the "rivals" in plunder. It is possible that some misdeeds were overblown or dismissed as someone else's acts, but the truth is that all those things were destroyed or stolen. On those long lists there are all kinds of things that were kept in the sacred buildings, from objects of no financial worth, to objects of great value, to objects that are masterpieces of Macedonian cultural heritage.

During a raid, the soldiers of the 52nd Bulgarian infantry regiment damaged the Kurbinovo church in the Resen region, set the Pretor church to fire, tore down the church in the Asamati village, and burnt many icons. The monastery in Gopeš was also burnt, and the churches in Carev Dvor, Drmeni, Stipan, Perovo, Volkodere, Stenje, and Slimnica were robbed, as well as the monastery in Jankovec.

The Serbian church administration also recorded great damage to the churches and monasteries in the Ohrid/Struga area. The St. Naum monastery was under Bulgarian rule for just one year, but the monastery property in the Stipan monastery (in the Prespa region) and the property in the Trpejca village were under Bulgarian rule until 1918, when the military forces departed. Besides money, they also took many valuable relics from this monastery. Following the orders of the Metropolitan Boris, the relics were transferred to the National Museum in Sofia, and among other things, there were: a shroud embroidered in gold, a holy goblet made of silver, a gilded holy goblet, a treasure chest of massive silver with relief pictures, a long silver box with the remnants of several saints and two old silver-plated gospels. There is an official committee memorandum about these objects, authorised by the Metropolitan Boris. The St. Spas monastery, according to one report of the Serbian church administration, suffered the most by the activities of the Metropolitan Boris and his men. Great damage was also done to the St. Svetiteli and St. Bogorodica monasteries in Kališta (among other things, 4 kg of silver were stolen). Only the St. Petka monastery in Velgošti wasn't robbed, as it was relatively destitute.

At the time of their departure from Ohrid, the Bulgarian church administration left in the Mitropoly archive the original notes on every valuable relic sent to the National Museum in Sofia during World War I. According to those notes, some of the things taken from the St. Clement church were: the shroud of Andronicus Palaeologus, St. Clement's gold crown with precious stones and a little cross (which was made in Venice, and which during Turkish rule was being hidden in people's homes), St. Clement's repaired ivory sceptre ornamented with a snake, discovered in 1911 at Imaret, where St. Clement was buried, a bronze chandelier consisting of 19 parts, and the tzar gates. From the St. Nikola Bolnički, only the tzar gates were taken.

However, in addition to these objects, others were also taken, although it's not clear from which churches: a St. Matrona silver box with ribbons; a small silver gilded cross embedded with precious stones; two embroidered towels—a gift from the tzarina Ana Komnena; a handwritten gospel with a red velvet covers; a Skalica annal in a wooden box; a big silver cross—gilded; twenty old manuscripts; an silver-plated old gospel with the images of St. Clement and other saints; a silver icon of many saints in relief; two silk bishop caps; a holy goblet dating from 1719; a Jesus Christ the Saviour with a wreath of thorns icon—which was a gift from the Ohrid Archbishop Dimitrij Homatijan in the 13th century; and a bronze panel from a bronze chandelier with an inscription that it was a gift from Prohor the Archbishop to Justiniana Prima.

In 1923 and 1924 the Kingdom of Serbs, Croats and Slovenes, via the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, asked Bulgaria to return the Ohrid church relics. However, the restitution request was never granted, and the correspondence reveals, as is stated in the Bulgarian letters, that the relics were left for temporary storage in Skopje and that they never reached Sofia, let alone the National Museum there. Yet, in the 1990s those relics started to materialise one by one – in Sofia's National Museum! There's another interesting fact: In that time, the Serbian bishop in Ohrid, Jovan Cvijović, was involved in the procedure of returning the relics from Sofia, as is evident from his correspondence with the Ministry of Faiths of the Kingdom SCS. The bishop was very persistent about the restitution of the historically cultural monuments—even though he himself, when he was Metropolitan in Bitola, was very zealous to collect relics from the Bitola monasteries and churches, and then to send them to the National Museum in Belgrade.

There are also documents on the objects taken from churches and monasteries in the Kruševo region. Thus, from the St. Nikola church in Kruševo, among other things, more than 1 kg of pure silver was taken; a silver cross was taken from the town's Vlach church (St. Jovan), and a silver cross was taken from, and a gospel destroyed in, the St. Paraskeva church in Žvan. From the St. Bogorodica in Bučin two octoechoses were taken, as well as a pentecostarion, an irmology, a missal, a triodion, and a holiday menaion. From the Arilevo church a hymn book and a missal were stolen, and from the St. Jovan monastery in Slepče, 60 manuscripts and books were taken.

According to the report by the Serbian governor in Veles, in the Veles area there weren't many robberies or much damage to the churches and monasteries during the Balkan Wars and World War I, with the exception of the St. Dimitrija monastery near Veles and of the St. Nikola one near Omorani, where at least one silver-plated gospel was stolen, and other material damage done. However, according to other sources, the St. Dimitrija monastery had many icons stolen (or damaged), although their exact number isn’t known.

To be continued...

Nove Cvetanoski

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