Saint John Bigorski Monastery

Sveti Jovan Bigorski Monastery – Saint John Bigorski Monastery is located on the road connecting Gostivar and Debar, in the vicinity of the tiny Rostuse village, in west Macedonia. Sveti Jovan Bigorski Monastery /Saint John the Baptist Bigorski Monastery/ is the 19th century monastery standing on the slopes of Bistra Mountain, within the area of the Mavrovo National Park, above the banks of the gorgeous Radika River. The present day monastery of Saint Jovan Bigorski was constructed over the remains of an older church dating from 1021, which by some historical records was the endowment of the Serbian King Holy Jovan Vladimir – Sveti Jovan Vladimir. It was heavily destroyed by Ottomans in the 16h century and only small church remained to be quickly restored afterward. The Saint Jovan Bigorski Monastery – Sveti Jovan Bigorski was restored in 1743 by the monk Ilarion and local Mijaks, when several monastic cells were added. At the beginning of the 19th century, during the management of Abbot Arsenius, the Monastery of Saint John Bigorski – Sveti Jovan Bigorski was expanded and enjoyed a large number of Mijak benefactors and makes the center of spiritual life of Mijaks.

The ornamented wonderfully wood-carved iconostasis of the Bigorski Monastery church was elaborated in the 1830s which belongs to the most fascinating work of this monastery. The iconostasis of Saint John Bigorski Monastery is divided into six horizontal bands. The first is basically composed of rectangular fields that feature ornaments of flora and fauna. The second zone, which moved throne icons, ends with a figure of an eagle with spread wings. The third area is divided into three smaller horizontal parts that are symmetrically distributed angels, grapes and vines, etc. Above them are two rows of icons with depictions of apostles. In the center of the Bigorski iconostasis is the large cross with the Christ Crucifixion. Besides the iconostasis, the arch priest’s throne and the prior’s chair had been manufactured by the wood-carver’s group of Petre Fylipovic-Garkata from Gari village, with the help of his brother Marko and with active participation of a number of distinguished Miyak wood-carvers. The zographs Michail and his son Dimitar from Samarina, Epirus village, at that time painted the throne icons, the festive icons and the icons of the holy apostles for the iconostasis in the Bigorski monastery. With the accomplishment of the iconostasis, Miyak wood carvers have acquired a reputation of the best and the most wanted wood carvers on the entire Balkan Peninsula. Many scenes, compositions and individual figures have been engraved, being presented in movement and with an expressed dramatics in some scenes, like the scene with Beheading of St John. The beauty of the Bigorski Monastery iconostasis is enriched with many animals and birds, interwoven with floral ornaments with a realistic presentment of a grape vine, flowers of narcissus, garden roses, oriental fruits, as well as the favorite motif of the Miyak wood carvers, cracked pomegranates. It may be rightfully stated that the creations of the Mijak wood carvers on the iconostasis of the Bigorski monastery are in-suppressed either by the ones on the Holy Mountain or the works of the Epirus wood carvers, not to mention the Samokov and Treven wood carvers.

The Serbian tribe of Mijaks – Miyaks in present north-western Macedonia in the Dolna Reka – known as Mijacija – is the Serb ethnic group that for long time resisted Bulgarization and communist movement of Macedonization. Mijaks are organized in tribal communities similar to the original Serbian tribes in Herzegovina, Littoral, Old Crna Gora – Old Montenegro, Brda – Hills, Metohija and Raska areas. Mijaks are also very similar to the Serbs on the other side of the Sar Mountain, in the Sirinic Zhupa of Metohija area, around Strpce and Brezovica settlements. The largest settlements populated by Mijaks are Lazaropolje, Gari, Bituse, Selce, Osoj and Susica. However, today among Mijaks only minority declares themselves as Serbs, while majority delcares them the Macedonians, and those who would consider themselves as Bulgarians almost do not exist.

Built on a steep slope surrounded by dense woods and rocky hills or serene West Macedonia, Sveti Jovan Bigorski Monastery is reminiscent of the cliff top monasteries of Mount Athos in Greece. Since the monastery is dedicated to Saint John the Baptist, the faithful believe that icons with his image are blessed with a miraculous healing power. The monastery of Sveti Jovan Bigorski also houses a small silver coffin containing alleged relics of Saint John and remarkable collection of handwritten manuscripts. On the outer walls of the Sveti Jovan Bigorski Monastery are frescoes painted by the famous Miyak fresco-painters from Lazaropole village, which depict only the Serbian rulers and kings of the Nemanic Dynasty until the Kosovo Battle. The Sveti Jovan Bigorski Monastery complex includes a dining room and old monastic dormitory, a tower, a charnel house and two fountains spilling over with fresh water.

St John Bigorski Monastery is one of the most beautiful monasteries in the Balkans and comprises the unique altar masterly wood-carved in deep carves. The chief master was Petar Filipov from then village of Gari, a representative of the Debar woodcarving school, who, in cooperation with his brother Marko and several other assistants, worked for six years on this masterpiece. The icons in the iconostasis of Sveti Jovan Bigorski Monastery were painted by icon- painter Michail and his son Dimitar. Besides the iconostasis, the wood-carvers also elaborated the prelate’s throne and the abbot’s chair in the church, whose northers features marvelous mural paintings of St. Clement of Ohrid, St. Naum, St. George and other Orthodox saints. The Serbian tribe of Miyaks in the present northwestern Macedonia are the Serb ethnic group that for long time had resisted the Bulgarization and the Communist Macedonization. The Miyaks are organized by the tribal system and clans, likewise the tribes in Herzegovina, the Littoral, Old Crna Gora, the Brda – Hills, Metohija and Raska. The Miyaks have many similarities with the Serbs living on the other side of the Sar Planina Mountain, in the Sirinicka zupa of Metohija, in Strpce and Brezovica settlements. The largest Miyak settlements are Lazaropolje, Gari, Bituše, Selce, Osoj and Sušica. Nowadays among the Miyak population only a small minority declares themselves as the Serbs, as the majority are Macedonians, while those who declare themselves as the Bulgarians – almost do not exist. Every Miyak family greatly respects and maintains the unique custom of celebration of the Patron Saint – Krsna slava or the Sluzba, while the center of spiritual life is the Monastery of Saint Jovan Bigorski. Miyaks had preserved their unique customs and dialect that origin from the Nemanjic Dynasty realm.

Saint John Bigorski – Sveti Jovan Bigorski Monastery is the shrine frequented by numerous visitors to Macedonia and the Balkans.