Monastery of Saint Naum

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September, 2019

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Whilst staying in North Macedonia on “Lake Ohrid”:, we visited the Monastery of Saint Naum, near the Albanian border. Although it’s a popular boat trip from Ohrid, we opted to go by road, setting off with our driver, Edmond, and guide, Lyupcho. The 30-minute journey, southwards and in a clockwise direction around the lake’s edge, took us past the Gorica Peninsular where former President Tito had his summer residence. The restricted area is used by the current Government for entertaining visiting dignitaries. Following a long strung out line of lakeshore hotels, holiday apartments and camping sites, we stopped at a Bronze Age Stilt Village in the Bay of Bones. The village, built on stilts over the marshy lake edges when the waters were not as high as their current levels, was discovered by scuba divers in 1997.

We moved on swiftly as it was cool on the lakeside in the early morning, passing the entrance to the limestone Galicia National Park, which we drove through the following day on our journey to “Albania”:

On arrival at the monastery, we parked and walked along a path with souvenir booths on one side and the lake on the other. Although there was a sandy beach, the waves were strong and with a cold breeze it wasn’t inviting at 9.30am. Crossing over a bridge we noticed a visual oddity: one side with its calm, pond like surface, and on the other, a raging torrent.

The monastery has only one resident monk, but other volunteers stay nearby. The only other inhabitants are several peacocks, including an unusual albino pen.

The present 16th century church, in the monastery courtyard, was built on top of the original 10th century building, which contained the tomb and relics of Saint Naum. Passing the baptismal font at the entrance to the church, we tried lifting the heavy wooden lid. Inside, the frescoes were not as stunning as some we’d seen, with Lyupcho commenting wryly, that the artist was a great believer, not a great painter. The iconostasis, or altar screen, was created in 1711 with gilded shallow wood carvings. As is the tradition in Orthodox churches, the icon of Mary with Jesus as a child was on the left-hand side, with Jesus Christ on the right.

Saint Naum, the miracle worker, was credited with healing many alignments of the mind, as well as providing speech to the mute and helping physically disabled people to walk again. The border, therefore, was crossed even by Muslims from Albania who came to pay respect and seek help for their troubles. Today, thousands of pilgrims flock to the church on Saint Naum’s feast day, 3 July.

In a side chapel, the tomb of Saint Naum was covered with a red cloth and gold cross. We were told to place our left hand on the cross and make a wish, which if realistic, may come true. Legend has it that if you kneel and put your ear to the cross, you can hear the heartbeat of Saint Naum. There are possible explanations for this: it could be your own heartbeat, or the water of Lake Ohrid crushing against the rock formation below. If you don’t believe the heartbeat story, it’s said you will bump your head on the low doorway as you leave.

There were several frescoes in the side chapel including one of Saint Naum ‘healing’ two young boys with mental issues who had their feet tied to a wooden plank (the equivalent of a strait jacket) and another where a key was put in a large vat of water for 24 hours, with the ‘holy’ water then being used. We heard the story of a miracle where a bear ate an ox belonging to a peasant. Saint Naum hunted the bear down and made it pay a penance by serving the peasant. A bear in the yoke of an ox was depicted in a fresco, although we thought it looked more like a dog.

Back outside, we wandered through the grounds, where you can take a boat trip on a body of water known as the springs with huge pockets of water which change colour as the vegetation grows. It would be easy to spend a whole day here as there is another church, hotel, restaurant, the souvenir stalls and the beach for better weather.
On the return journey, Lyupcho amused us with jokes about the Balkan people, similar to ones about an Englishman, Irish man etc. Many focused on the supposed traits of the lazy Montenegrins and stupid Bosnians.

Two Balkan heads of state agreed to meet at the border to resolve their differences. Unfortunately, they met 200 miles apart.

Two Montenegrin men stood by the lakeside and noticed a woman in distress. One said to the other, ‘is she drowning?’ ‘Yes, I think she is’. ‘Well what are we doing standing here?’ ‘You’re right, let’s sit down instead’.

During the recession, the Macedonian tourist information predicted an influx of tourists from Montenegro, as they’d heard there were no jobs available.

Customs at the Montenegrin border said you can’t bring those coffee spoons into the country; they look like shovels.

A Bosnian went for a job interview and was told he couldn’t have the job as he was from Montenegro and they are renown for being lazy. No, I’m from Bosnia, we’re the stupid ones!

All in all, an entertaining day, in many respects.

Helen Jackson

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