Today I visited the Church of St. Dimitrija in the old town part of Skopje. While this is the site of a 14th century church, St. Dimitrija dates from the 19th century. Some of the icon frescos are about 100 years old but some were repainted just after the destruction of the 1963 earthquake. I came because I had heard about the miracle of the "phenomenon of fresco self-cleansing." Local clergymen announced the miracle earlier this week and since that time, thousands of people have flocked into St. Dimitrija to witness the event. Here are some photos from today:
I've been in this church before and I've never seen more than one or two people inside. This is the same story for all the churches I've visited in Macedonia--so this crowd is unusual. The frescos do seem lighter than the last time I was inside. In fact, it seems almost like someone has polished the golden halos and other accents. Or maybe the frescos are lighter now because all the lights are on.
"Church priests say this is a miracle, meaning people should turn towards God more often." Dimitrija was doing a brisk business today selling candles, collecting money left on icons, and blessing believers. There were lines to buy candles, lines to have the priests inside the church bless the candles, and lines to leave the church in order to light the candles. To preserve the frescos, all churches allow candles only outside the church. There are two trays for candles. The bottom tray is for candles lit for the deceased, and the top tray is for the living.
Inside the church there were boiled eggs dyed red (red symbolizing the blood of Christ) and a table. Both are involved in some kind of Easter ceremony, but we haven't yet verified or witnessed the reason.
Tomorrow we are going to Ohrid for the Easter weekend. The Easter "weekend" is actually four days here because, if you are of the Orthodox faith, Good Friday and Monday (because Easter is on Sunday) are also holidays. If you are not an Orthodox believer, you don't get Good Friday as a holiday. We return to Skopje on Sunday.
Ohrid is described as the Jerusalem of the Balkans. It is said that at one time there were 365 churches in Ohrid--one church for every saint which is the same as one church for every day. Presently, only a few of the 365 survive.