June 20, 2016

Diplomatic missions for thievery

Scattered heritage


During the Balkan Wars and World War I, the Bulgarian state used to send missionaries into the new countries to make surveys of their cultural treasures. This meant the collection and removal of valuable objects under the pretense of protecting them from wartime hazards (other armies, possible future conquerors, or military actions in general).

In those so-called cultural missions many scholars and professors were involved, some of whom were people of Macedonian ancestry – Mihail Arnaudov, Nikola Milev, the Ohrid-born Georgi Valačev, George Miletič; and from Bulgaria – prof. Jordan Filov, a well-known archaeologist and the Sofia Archaeology Museum's director, and later (during World War II) the president of the Bulgarian government. More precisely, in August of 1916, Filov was sent and financed by the Bulgarian army headquarters in order to catalogue the Ohrid monuments. As Filov writes in the reports about his first stay in Ohrid – on August the 5th, at the Ohrid bishop Boris quarters, he saw the shroud that was given to the Ohrid bishop by the Emperor Andronicus. About it, nothing further was known until it turned up in the Sofia's National Museum in the late 1990s.

The historian and researcher of Bulgarian archives, Dr. Zoran Todorovski, has discovered a document by Čaulev, stating that as per the request of the Bulgarian president Boris Radoslavov an icon of Jesus Christ dating from the 13th century was taken to the National Museum in Sofia. The icon was a gift from the Ohrid archbishop Dimitrij Homatijan. The National Museum in Sofia also received a bronze chandelier panel with an inscription by archpriest's hermit the Justinian dating from the 15th century. During his archive research, Dr. Todorovski also found a list of 21 objects that were appropriated at the time, and in the late 1990s started to appear, one by one, on Bulgarian museum shelves. The people from Ohrid had even sent a direct written request to the president Radoslavov, asking for the return of those icons and saying they could take care of them by themselves.

Yet, let's see what the Serbian reports on the "Serbian rival in plunder" contain. In the documents on file in the Bitola historical archive there is information on various objects that can be considered both material and cultural wealth, i.e. those documents reveal that the monasteries and churches were robbed of everything that was possible to be carried away – from candlesticks and candles to icons, carvings, textile, wheat and ordinary furniture. Even objects of no material value were taken away or destroyed, so in that context, the attitude of the Bulgarian armies and military officials towards the valuable historical and artistic works is more than clear. The lists of appropriated objects are lengthy indeed, but we will enumerate only the more characteristic examples concerning valuables.

From the church in the Dobruševo village in the Mariovo region, everything was taken away, and then all of the buildings (the church, the bell tower, the church school) were mined and demolished. Everything was taken from the churches in Dolna Čarlija (things such as a missal, two books of hours, irmology), Podmol (an octoechos), Lopatica (a gospel) and Crničani (an epistle, a book of hours, a psalter, two menaions, two octoechoses), and then the holy buildings were torn down.

The books and the icons, together with the church bells and furniture, were taken from the churches in Staravina and Gradešnica. Many things were appropriated from the Čebren property (cattle and food), and sixteen buildings were destroyed, including the church. The books and the iconostasis were taken from one of the two churches in the Sredno Egri village. All the books and icons were taken from the churches in Brod (in the Bitola region), in Tepavci, Gneotino, Gradilovo (which doesn't exist today). In addition to the ones in Gradilovo, churches in Orehovo, Vranjevci (two), Paralovo, Meglenci, Trap, Dobromiri, Suvodol, Ribarci, Biljanik, Karamani, Kukurečani, Raštani, the monasteries in Krklino and in Velušina were destroyed.

Until the Balkan wars and World War I, almost every Macedonian church and monastery had old manuscripts, books and icons, as well as golden, silver, bronze and copper artefacts – and all of them were stolen. From the church in the Malovišta village Bulgarian soldiers took 20 missals, two silver-plated gospels, and 100 icons. From the church in the Vašerejca village, the gates were taken, as well as eight icons, a gospel, a missal, a holiday menaion, two octoechoses, an epistle, a prayerbook, a book of hours and 15 icons.

The Beranci village church was robbed of, among other things: a gospel, a menaion, two octoechoses, a lenten triodion, a church triodion and an epistle, and from the monastery in the same village, besides other material things, six ornamental icons, two gospels, two epistles, a prayerbook, a missal, 12 menaions, two octoechoses, and a Book of Hours were taken. From the church in the Bukovo village, in the Bitola region, 10 missals were taken away, and from the Krstoar church – twenty missals. The churches in Trnovo, Dihovo (two churches), Niže Pole, Brusnik, and Lavci were robbed and demolished, as well as the monastery in Magarevo.

All the monasteries and several churches in Prilep and the vicinity were robbed, and the churches in Slepče, Strovje, Melnica, Topolčani, Stepanci, Ruvci, Marul and Vitolište were torn down.

Caption: The Serbian administration erased the traces of its "collecting" activities throughout the Macedonian churches and monasteries during the 1912-1918 wars, but it left behind documents about the Bulgarian army's plundering.

To be continued...

Nove Cvetanoski

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