July 10, 2016

Thousands of thefts during just one war

Scattered heritage


In the document left behind by the Serbian government (after the Serbian ecclesiastical, military and state administration despoiled the Macedonian churches and monasteries during the 1912-1918 wars), which describes the plunder and ravaging by the Bulgarian armies and emissaries in the same wars, there is information on the holy buildings in the Gevgelija region that were most damaged, or demolished, from 1916 to 1918. There too, besides movable property, other church objects were stolen, from bells and priests' robes, to candlesticks and candles. These thefts caused great material damage, but even greater was the damage done to Macedonian cultural heritage.

From the St. Spas church in Gevgelija, among other things, the iconostasis was dismantled and carried away, as well as the gates, the Northern and Southern door, six tzarist icons, 16 icons of the holidays of the Lord and the Holy Mother, 16 epistles and icons of various sizes, a silver cross and 30 church books. In 1916, both this church and the other town church, St. Troica, were demolished. From the latter, the iconostasis was taken, along with the Northern and Southern gates, eight tzarist icons, 20 icons of the holidays of the Lord and the Holy Mother, 14 epistles and icons of the Christ's Crucifixion, as well as 30 church books. From the Molneni church (also demolished), the iconostasis with icons and three gates were taken, along with a holy cross, a holy silver-plated gospel, and 18 church books. From the Grčiste church eight big tzarist icons and five more icons of various sizes were taken. The Davidovo church lost ten various church books, and the one in Bogdanci lost 15 icons, five of which were large ("throne") icons.

From the Gjavato church, in 1917, 36 icons were taken (12 of them large), a holy silver-plated gospel, and all the church books – and afterwards, the church was torn down. From the Paljurci church, among other things, 10 large icons and 20 smaller ones were taken, as well as a gospel and the church books. The iconostasis was destroyed in the Stojakovo and the Bogorodica churches. The church books were taken away from the Negorci church; from the Mrzenci church, a whole case of books was taken, as well as the iconostasis with the icons. Just as the rest of its property, the Prdejci church books weren't spared either. Long is the list of stolen objects from the Hum church, too. For instance, in 1919, among other things, the iconostasis with the icons were "lifted", as well as all of the church books, a gospel and a silver cross.

In 1919, a list was made of the damages and robberies in the Kavadarci region churches and monasteries, too. According to that list, which was written by church officials, a marble stone—artfully carved and bearing a historical inscription—was taken from the Drenovo church altar on April the 23rd 1918 and transported to Sofia. Another stone was removed from the Eastern side of the church; the stone was artfully shaped and had an historical inscription. In addition, five columns were taken, and all of them were ornamented and had historical inscriptions.

In April 1916, the Bulgarian education inspector took to Sofia, from the Kavadarci church, a triptych that used to belong to the St Gjorgji monastery in Polog. The triptych contained, among other things, information about this monastery's construction. Incidentally, a property of great value was taken from this monastery on September the 9th 1916, at the orders of the major Nikolov from the Bulgarian army's Fifth infantry regiment. In those years of war, the Moklište and Bošava monasteries were also robbed, as well as the Roždenci church, the Ulanci church, from which the Bulgarian soldiers upon their departure, on September the 8th 1918, took all the church books and all other sacred objects. On September the 3rd, upon their retreat, they burnt the Čemerci church. During their occupation, though, the Bulgarian soldiers and governors took four copies of the church protocols from each of the 31 churches in the Kavadarci region.

The documents in the Bitola archive also point to damage and theft in the churches in the Mavrovo region, Polog and Poreče. In Poreče, among other things, the frescoes and the wall icons were painted over (while the other ones were taken away), and the church inscriptions were destroyed. From the Plasnica village church two icons were taken, and from Brod one icon of the Holy Mother, a big silver cross and four protocol books. An octoechos, six church protocols and a cross were taken from the church in the Benče village (where even in the late 1980s many valuable old manuscripts, illuminated very artistically, were discovered). From the village church in Tomino Selo, two silver crosses were taken, as well as an "Antimins", a collection, a missal, two irmologies, two common menaions, two prayerbooks, two large icons and two marble panels with inscriptions on them. As the documents say, the damage of the Tomino Selo church, in December of 1915, was done by the Bulgarian governor of the then-Poreč county, Stojan Blažev from the Dolno Vodno village, and the village priest. The books and some other items were burnt in front of the church, some valuables were taken away, and the inscriptions and frescoes were painted over and damaged. Also at that time in the Topolnica village church two wall icons and two inscriptions were whitewashed, and two missals were taken, as well as an irmology and a prayerbook.

In the St. Nikola church in Gorno Krušje, Poreče, four protocol books and five icons were damaged or seized. Two wall icons in the St. Gjorgji church in Slatina were painted over with whitewash, and an irmology (a church book containing prayers and holiday praise songs) was taken. Seven wall icons were painted over in the Grešnica village church, which was robbed of a silver cross, a gold-plated gospel, 12 menaions, two Books of Hours and two epitraphils, a missal, an irmology, an epistle and an Easter service book. The Kovač village church was left without an epitrachil, a missal and eight icons; the Lupšte church was robbed of an epitrachil and five icons. Epitrachils were taken from the Zrkle and Ramne churches, one from each, whereas a common menaion and a Book of Hours were taken from the Zdunje village church. The St. Bogorodica monastery in the Manastirec village, on the other hand, was plundered not fewer than five times during World War I by Bulgarian soldiers, priests and governors. Anything that could be carried away, was taken – even the monastery supervisor's clothes and personal belongings.

From both of the churches in Mavrovo (the old and the new one) three silver crosses were taken away—one of them made partly of ebony—as well as the prayerbooks. During World War I, church books and other objects were also taken from the churches in Lazaropole, Tresonče, Selce, Rosoki, Galičnik, Janče, Rostuše, Bituše, Sence, Volkovija, Beličica, Kičinica, Vrben, Ničpur, Brodec, and Nistrovo. The churches in Reč and in Sredzimir were demolished on July the 20th 1917, when the Štrkovica village was also destroyed due to a rebellion.

History is full of examples of robberies. However, in this manner only the worst heathens robbed monasteries and churches of the cultural, historical and sacred treasures that were saved there until then.

The preceding information relates only to the damage done by Bulgarian soldiers, emissaries and priests during World War I, but as such it is enough to suggest an incredibly large amount of cultural and historical treasures taken away from Macedonian churches and monasteries. (Adding up only the numbers of the old manuscripts and books carried away, one can see that the previously mentioned estimate of the total sum of manuscripts and books taken from Macedonia—to Bulgarian libraries, museums and archives—is very realistic.) Since everything valuable is being kept, the biggest part of it is surely being kept unofficially in the Bulgarian treasuries and archives, chiefly in the National Museum in Sofia (just as the Serbian museum keeps everything the Serbian army and administration stole). In fact, even after years of inquiries and subsequent denials, valuable, previously undisclosed relics still surface from time to time in foreign collections. Though many items are mentioned in the preceding paragraphs, they represent only a small fraction of the artefacts taken from Macedonia. One can only guess at the amount of Macedonian ethnological heritage being kept in foreign countries.

To be continued...

Nove Cvetanoski

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