Classical Tour of Albania

Day 6 - Christian Churches and Onufri Museum


The population of Berat were Christian and there were many churches.


The population of Berat castle was Christian and it originally had about 40 churches. Eight still survive. The Christians were allowed to worship during Ottoman times and build churches, but there was an agreement that the church should not be visible from outside. They had to be surrounded by a wall and were not allowed bell towers. Tourists are not allowed into the churches, except for the Cathedral of the Assumption of St Mary which is now the Onufri Museum.

Holy Trinity Church is built on the hillside below the citadel and dates from the C13/14th. It is a small cross shape building which would have been walled. It was preserved during Communist times when the outer walls were removed.
 
Holy Trinity Church, Berat,
                Albania

The Church of St George near the far end of the citadel was originally a monastery style church surrounded by stone walls. This was taken over in the 1980s as the government tourist residence. The upper part of the church was demolished and rebuilt to resemble a typical Berat style house. After the fall of Communism, part of the lower floor was used as a church again. The rest of the building is now empty and under the control of the ministry of Culture who are still deciding what to do with the building. In the meantime it continues to deteriorate and part of the  roof collapsed in 2016.

St George's Church, Berat, Albania

St George's Church, Berat, Albania

The Cathedral Church of the Assumption of St Mary is off the main road leading to the Citadel. Hidden away behind a wall it is easy to miss.

St George's Church, Berat,
                Albania

Inside the gateway is a large courtyard area with a small shop selling books and icons.down a side road. A passageway leads round the church to another gateway through the walls.
 
Berat castle, Albania

The church was built in 1797 on the foundations of an earlier church. It is a typical orthodox church with a colonnaded porch. Above the doorway is a fresco.
 
Cathedral Chuch of the Assumption of St Mary,
              Berat Castle

Cathedral Chuch of the
                Assumption of St Mary, Berat Castle

Inside it is a three naved church with two rows of tall stone columns with carved capitals.These still have traces of paint on them and there are the remains of frescoes on the domes.  The original wood pews can still be seen. On the left is the carved and painted pulpit. On the right is the bishop’s throne. At the back is a gallery which was used by the women.

The wonderful wooden iconostasis is covered in gold leaf and glows in the dark. To the left of the central Royal door is an icon of the Virgin Mary with the Assumption of the Virgin beyond it. To the right is an icon of Jesus Christ Pantokrator with John the Baptist beyond him. Above is a row of prophets. At the top is Christ crucified on the cross with smaller figures of the Virgin and St John on either side. The smell of incense keeps spiders at bay.

Cathedral Chuch of the Assumption of St Mary,
              Berat Castle

The two smaller doors lead through into the sanctuary with the altar. They have paintings of archangel Michael and Archangel gabriel who are guardians of the sanctuary. Only the clergy were allowed into this area. On the wall of the apse are original frescoes of saints.

Two very important Codices dating from the C6th and C9th were kept hidden in the church and were not discovered until the 1960s. They are now kept in the National Archives in Tirana with copies available for students to study. Scholars in London are using them to try and produce a Bible acceptable to both Orthodox and Catholic churches.

A series of rooms behind the church now house the Onufri Museum of icons. Onufri was a very well regarded icon painter in the C16th and particularly regarded for the depth of his red pigments.

Onufri Icon

Examples of his work are on display along with that of other painters. As the icons no longer regarded as items of worship and are not kissed or touched, they are not protected by glass. They are a wonderful representation of religious art. Photogrpahy is not allowed in the museum. There are other examples of his art here and here.

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