Saint Jovan Bigorski Monastery

Saint Jovan Bigorski Monastery


Location: road between Debar and Gostivar


Saint Jovan (John) Bigorski Monastery is devoted to Saint John the Baptist. The term "bigorski" means "tuff rock" in Macedonian. The monastery was found in 1021 by first Archbishop of Orchid Ivan I Debranin who found an icon of Saint John. The Ottoman invasion in the 16th century did spare the monastery. It was burned down and monks killed. An icon that was the soul of the monastery has vanished. New live of the Bigorski monastery started in 1743 then monk Ilarion came here and started restoring cells. It grew even further in the years of 1812- 25 then much of the structures you see today has been built under leadership of archimandrite Arsenius. It was around that time that the original icon of John the Baptist resurfaced. Whether it was hidden in a cache, or kept by local family or even painted again is not known, but it is still venerated as miraculous. Its silver decorations have been in added in 1885.


According to the Bigorski monument, the monastery was founded by the monk John in 1020, and in the 16th century the monastery was destroyed by the Ottoman government and the whole complex remained only as a small church. It is also known from the monuments that the monastery was rebuilt in 1743, by the hieromonk Hilarion who was also the first abbot of the Bigorski monastery in recent times.

The name of the monastery comes from the fact that the building was built of limestone. The Bigorski monastery consists of the monastery church dedicated to John the Baptist, the ossuary, located next to the church, the Sejm tower, the complex of monastery lodgings, as well as the newly built guest lodgings.

Church "St. John the Baptist ”- the main monastery church;

Upper Palace;
Lower Palace;
Boys' lodging;
Sejm Tower;
Monastery ossuary;
East Palace;
Monastery bottle;

General information
Monastic fraternity
The monastic life in the monastery was restored in 1995, with the arrival of the current abbot Archimandrite Parthenius. Today the fraternity numbers about 25 monks, who live according to the social rules of Mount Athos.

The main holiday of the monastery, the monastery glory, is the Beheading of St. John the Baptist, on August 29 in the old style, ie September 11 in the new style. Smaller celebrations are the Birth of St. John the Baptist, on June 23 / July 7 and the Memorial of the miracle of the Most Holy Mother of God with the icon "It is worthy", on June 11/24. In addition, the feasts of the Assumption of the Most Holy Mother of God are celebrated solemnly on August 15/28, the name day of the abbot Archimandrite Parthenius, on February 7/20, and the Resurrection and Nativity of Christ are celebrated in a particularly solemn manner.

The interior arrangement and decoration of the church was started by Abbot Arseny in 1810. Towards the end of his life, Abbot Arseny will become the most deserving of hiring icon painters and painters.

The most beautiful decoration in the church and what is most famous for this temple, is certainly the beautiful and unique of its kind in Orthodoxy - iconostasis, a masterpiece of Mijak woodcarvers, who, due to their woodworking skills, have remained unsurpassed to this day. These are the famous Petre Filipovski - Garkata from the village. Gary, with his gang and Makarij Frckovski from Galichnik. They completed this monumental work in an astonishingly short time, from 1830 to 1835.

In terms of its architecture, it is similar to the two-storey iconostasis, which we find first on Mount Athos (Mount Athos), and then throughout the Balkan Peninsula. Arsenius wished - the iconostasis of the monastery to be one of the most beautiful until then. So he decided to hire the best Mijak woodcarvers and the best painters of that time, which contributed to the iconostasis surpassing all others with its uniqueness. This is confirmed by Damjan Arsov, a former resident of Debar, who in 1895. stated that as the iconostasis in the Bigorski monastery did not even exist on Mount Athos, he went around the whole.

What makes the iconostasis unique and unrepeatable is the use of the human figure. Here the Mijak woodcarvers showed all their skill, placing, in a relatively small space, a considerable number of scenes from the Old and New Testaments. These scenes are presented in such a way that the drama of the whole situation is conveyed to us, as if it is alive and real, as if it is taking place before our eyes.

In addition to the human figure, in the decoration of the iconostasis there are various animals, as well as floral motifs. All that intertwining is realized in a pleasant harmony, through the previously prepared drawing - plan of the Mijak carvers. Their patience to dig deep into the woods and to carve out so many Scriptural scenes in such a small space arouses real admiration among the people. What these carvers created can not be found either on Mount Athos, or in the Epirus carvers, and at least in the carvers from the Balkan carving schools.

The iconostasis is adapted to the dimensions of the church. That is why there are three rows of icons, which is a rare case, because iconostasis with only two rows of icons is more common. It resembles the Mount Athos iconostasis from the 19th century, with centrally installed royal doors and two side entrances, on the south and north sides. The royal doors are double-winged and richly filled with carvings and icon painting with a representation of the "Annunciation". In addition to the "Annunciation", the master carvers made another composition from the life of Christ, then one of his miracles - Healing of the blind, as well as "The expulsion of the merchants from the temple."


The carved rectangular boards under the throne icons are the most beautiful part of the iconostasis in Bigorski. These boards confirm the virtuosity of the Mijak woodcarvers, their unattainability in carving. Here, in this area, where more than five hundred human and about two hundred animal figures are represented, the Old and New Testaments are illustratively represented. From the Old Testament stand out: "The Sacrifice of Abraham", "The First Sin" and "The Persecution of Eve and Adam from Paradise", "The Murder of Cain" and others. The New Testament begins with the second board, with the life of the Mother of God. The Mijak woodcarvers from the tribe of Petre Filipovski who worked on the iconostasis, as if they wanted to express all their benevolence and respect for the Mother of God - the Mother of God, making fourteen scenes from her life. On the second board, the central place is occupied by the Mother of God with Christ. To the left of it is the "Annunciation", and on the right is the "Worship of the three eastern kings", who bring gifts and worship before the Mother of God. The "Escape of the Mother of God in Egypt" is also shown quite impressively here. In the expression of the persons from this scene, the psychological element in the drama that befell the children of Bethlehem, slaughtered by order of King Herod, is handed down.

The following tables show the life and sufferings of our Lord Jesus Christ. The "Last Supper" is presented in the center, the "Jewish Betrayal" and the "Prayer in the Garden of Gethsemane" are on the left, and the compositions continue on the right half:

Under the throne icon of St. John the Baptist presents several scenes from his life. Here are shown "The Nativity of St. John "," Herod's Birthday "," Salomia's Dance ", etc., among which the" Beheading of the Forerunner "is best presented.

In the space under the throne icon "Council of the Apostles" the carvers, in their own way, displayed this same icon in carving. Here Christ is represented among the apostles with a model of the church, held by two angels, with the apostles Sts. Peter and Paul in the foreground, as founders of the Church. In fact, all the icons have their own parallel representations in carving, which are located just below them.

The upper part of the iconostasis is one of the most impressive and it is decorated with a large cross from the Crucifixion of Christ and its accompanying parts. This cross is common in carved iconostasis in the post-Byzantine period, especially in the XVII, XVIII, and XIX centuries and is a symbol of faith, salvation and victory. The dragons represented at the foot of the cross symbolize the evil defeated by Christ.

Icon of St. John the Baptist
Besides the iconostasis, the monastery is also known for the icon of St. John the Baptist who is believed to have miraculous powers. According to legend, the icon was found by the monk John in 1020. She came to the place where the monastery was later built and floated above the sources of the river Radika. In the 16th century, during the reign of Sultan Selim II, the Ottomans set fire to the monastery, and the icon mysteriously disappeared and then, even more mysteriously, returned undamaged. In the monastery records it is written that the icon of St. John the Baptist was not protected for 35 years and that only in 1885 the icon was covered with silver armor. The icon shows John the Baptist as a saint-trident. The lottery hand is believed to be auspicious and the icon helps parents who are unable to have children.

Icon "Worth It"
On the north side of the soles caresses the gentle face of the Most Holy Mother of God. This icon of hers is a faithful copy of the icon Dignified Est, the largest Mount Athos shrine. At the special request and commitment of Archimandrite Parthenius, in 2009 it was made and brought to the Monastery after being blessed at the original of Mount Athos.

According to the legend, a bey from Albania came to the monastery for worship during the 16th century. The following year he had a son and donated all his property to St. John. He also promised to send olive oil to the monastery because such oil was produced on his property. Today, the locals believe that there is a board on the bey's property on which the name of the saint is written.


Holy relics
In the nave of the great ark, made in 1834 by order of the abbot Arseny, there are parts of the relics of:

St. Marina
St. Paraskeva
St. Eustatius
St. the great martyr Panteleimon
St. Jacob brother of the Lord
St. John the Baptist
St. Trifun
St. Charalampius
St. Kirik and Julita.

The relics were brought from Constantinople by Hadzi Nake from Belchica in 1820. The ark also contains a particle of the honorable cross, brought in 2000.
The relics of:
St. Agatangel of Bitola
St. Clement of Ohrid
St. Clement of Rome
St. Serafim Sarovski
St. John of Russia
St. Barbara
St. Lazarus Four-day
St. John of Shanghai
St. Stephen the First Martyr
St. Nectarios of Aegina
St. Nikolai Mirlikiski
St. Boniface of Fulda
St. ap. Lynn (one of the seventy apostles)
St. Joachim (father of the Most Holy Mother of God)
St. Anna (mother of the Most Holy Mother of God)
St. Irina
St. Ekaterina
Elder Ephraim Katunakiski
St. Jakov Hamaturski

Chapel "St. Nikola ”;
Chapel "St. Gjorgji Kratovski ”;
Chapel of the Holy Annunciation;
Methodists and Scythians
Metoh St. George the Victorious - Rajјica
Metoh Saint Achilles of Larissa - Trebishte
Scythian Saint Seraphim of Sarov - orchard of the Bigorska Family
Scythian St. Cyril and Methodius - Bituse
Metoh St. Archangel Gabriel - 5 km north of the villages of Modric and Drenok
Metoh St. John the Baptist - Nebregovo

Monastery complex
An "Gallery of Icons" has opened in the monastery complex. The gallery has about seventy icons on display and they date from the XII century, XIII century and XIX century. The gallery began with icons from the first half of the 17th century, and is followed by the life of Christ from the Annunciation, from the Nativity, the baptism of Christ, the Transfiguration, the entry into Jerusalem, the crucifixion, the resurrection, the ascension and the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin.

In the custody of the church in 1871 were the frescoes of St. Kliment Ohridski, St. Nahum, St. John Vladimir, St. Cyril and Methodius, St. Tsar Boris and St. Tsar Ivan Shishman of Bulgaria. According to Bulgarian journalist Svetoslav Terziev, today the names of Bulgarian rulers Boris and Ivan Shishman have been changed to Stefan Decanski and Lazar Hrebeljanovic, during the Serbian rule of Macedonia in 1913-1941.

In the Bigorski monastery there are remains of the church that originates from the XVI century, ie from the XVII century and XVII century, from which the big icons are still kept. The oldest, more precisely from the 16th century, are being restored in the Republic Institute for the Protection of Cultural Monuments.

Interesting facts
The Macedonian film Miss Stone was shot in the monastery complex.

The fire in the monastery
On September 30, 2009, a fire broke out in the monastery complex, completely burning the old quarters, the upper palace, two dining rooms, the guest room, the kitchen, the library and the monastic dwellings.