Veljuša Monastery

Built on a rocky plateau, Veljuša Monastery or the monastery of The Holy Merciful Mother of God Eleusa is located in the village of Veljuša, about 7 kilometers west of Strumica, in the very southeast of Macedonia. There is the beautiful view of the Strumica Valley from the Veljusa Monastery which is place of prayers, worship and tranquility.

The Veljuša Monastery was founded in 1080 by the monk Manuel, who spent most of his ascetic life in Asia Minor and upon arrival to Veljusa village later became Bishop of Strumica. There are numerous written sources about this monastery, most of which are kept in the archives of the Iviron Monastery on Mount Athos. Out of the many written documents and existing sources the two most prevalent are the marble plaques on the lintel of the entrance door of the Veljusa Monastery. These marble plaques are of recent date due to the fact that during World War I the original ones were taken to the Archaeological Museum in Sofia. The other important documents are the charter of the Byzantine emperor Alexius I Comnenus dating from the July 1085, by which the Veljuša Monastery was granted autonomy and the status of a royal monastery and the Rule /typikon/ of Manuel I Comnenus of 1152 which has also survived. The later documents on the land property granted to the Veljuša Monastery contain an inventory of monastery possessions dating from 1164, where all valuables of the monastery were listed. However, in the 13th century the Veljuša Monastery lost its autonomy and until 1913 was under the authority of the Iviron Monastery on Mount Athos. In 1913, having decided to abandon the Veljuša Monastery, the monks set it on fire which resulted in damage of the fresco painting to a great extent. However, the monastery’s original architecture has been well preserved and it represents a rare example of architecture of the 11th century in present Macedonia.

Veljuša Monastery is a four-apse structure with three domes, embellished with ceramic and poly-chrome decorations. The exo-narthex of the southern porch of the Veljuša Monastery shows the Cross of Veljusa as well as the figure of Saint Onophrius in the desert when visited by the monk St. Panfnutius. The exo-narthex displays the figure of Manuel holding the Veljusa monastery in his hand. The fresco painting had been done in three phases: the first one in 1081, the second one in 1164, and the third one, considered non canonical, in the 19th century. The fresco in the dome represents Christ the Pantocrator /”Almighty” or “All-powerful”/ and the fresco in the nave portrays the Holy Mother of God – “Theotokos Oranta”- flanked by St. John the Baptist, two archangels and four prophets. The altar space of the Veljusa Monastery shows the fresco of the Holy Mother of God – Theotokos Nikopoia and Christ enthroned are depicted in the altar space as well as the liturgical service of the holy hierarchs with the Hetimazia (the Sacrifice of Jesus). The north apse shows the Descent of Christ into Hell, the east one the Holy Mother of God with Christ, the south one the Annunciation, and the west one The Meeting of our Lord. The southern chapel, which is dedicated to St. Savior, shows Jesus Christ Emanuel as a twelve-year-old child. The eastern wall shows Jesus in Glory together with a portrait of St. Nyphon; the western shows Saint Panteleimon. The naos of the Veljuša church contains a reconstructed marble altar partition while the floor is decorated with mosaics that form geometrical shapes.

Today the Veljuša monastery houses the monastic dormitory of Strumica sisterhood. There are auxiliary buildings around the monastic church within the complex including a clock tower /added in the 20th century/, a bakery, an inn, and a small chapel dedicated to the Apostle and Saint Paul and to Saint Gregory Palamas.

At the time of construction of the Veljuša Monastery church, the village was called Paleokastro, but later it got its present name after the monastery of Veljusa (derived from Eleusa – the Merciful Goddess). The rich historical documents originally preserved in this monastery are available in Monastery of Iviron on Mountain Athos. The monastic Veljusa Church – of Holy Merciful Goddess Eleusa takes the most significant place in the ecclesiastical and cultural history, not only in the south-eastern part of Macedonia but also in the Balkans.