HOW TO REACH THE MONASTERY
The monastery dedicated to Holy Mother of God – Immaculate (Sv. Borodica Prechista), or better known as Kichevska, is a spiritual center of Kichevo and the region. It is located south of Kichevo, in Drugovo municipality on the slopes of Cocan Mountain, at an altitude of 920 meters.
In order to reach the monastery, once you have left Kichevo go to the south, follow the national road to Bitola and Ohrid and the monastery is at 5 km south of the city. The monastery is known as Krninski monastery, named after the village of Krnino (although there are not written records about this village) which does not exist today.
HISTORY OF THE MONASTERY
Local legend about Prechista Monastery
There is an interesting legend about the foundation of this monastery, and there is a same legend regarding another monastery that is close-by. It was God himself who determined the site for construction of a new monastery complex. According to the legend, at the place where the local inhabitants decided to build a monastery, they left an icon overnight. However, when they came in the morning to start the works, the icon was not there. They were trying to find it for a long period of time until they found it near a spring. Then, they returned it to the old place. Nevertheless, the next day, the same thing happened. The icon was flying over in a blaze and arriving near the spring. As a sign of God, they decided to build the monastery near the spring, instead at the original place. That spring exists in the monastery church even today, as well as the silver icon dedicated to Mother of God that is kept in a small altar.
Founding and activity. The first church
The Monastery of Sveta Bogorodica Prechista was established in 1316 and its building was completed in 1320. The Byzantine tsar Andronikos II Palaiologos and his co-ruler Michael IX Palaiologos were its founders. These tsars had very close relations with Ohrid Archbishopric, they were supporting it and were founders of several monasteries in that region.
Several very ancient monastery manuscripts used by the monastic brotherhood during the religious services originate in the monastery: a XIII-XIV century manuscript Minej for September-October and a XIV century manuscript The Four Gospels which is in Belgrade library today. A XV century Book of Psalms is also preserved, which proves the monastery’s continuity in the first years of the Ottoman rule.
The first written historic sources about the monastery Prechista date back to the XVI century. The monk Antonij from Krnino monastery was registered in the beadroll of the Zograf monastery on Mount Athos from 1527 for donating 10 silver coins to the Mount Athos monastery. The monasteries on Mount Athos, especially the Slav ones, in the period of the Ottoman rule, had close relations with the Ohrid Archbishopric, with the heads of the Archbishopric, as well as with the reputable monasteries and church centers of the Archbishopric that achieved a notable spiritual and cultural-educational progress in the XVI and XVII century, Prechista Monastery being among them.
One year before the monk Antonij from Bogorodica Prechista, Krnino, was registered as a donor to the Zograf monastery, in 1526, the Ohrid archbishop Prohor, along with the archpriest Gavril from Mount Athos, who had previously spent a longer period in Ohrid or had origin in Ohrid, became founders of the chapel St. John Pretecha in the cathedral of Protatonot in Kareja on Mount Athos.
Very important data on Prechista Monastery were obtained from a letter received by the archpriest from Kratovo, Luka, who in 1542/43 addressed the monks from Slepche monastery with a request for compiling a beadroll in which all activities related to foundation of churches or monasteries by the Kratovo duke Dimitar would be registered, along with the names of the nun Ana and his brothers Grigorij and Nikola Pepic. The letter clearly indicated that such beadrolls had already been created by the monastery brotherhoods of the monasteries Treskavec, Toplica, Bogorodica Prechista and Pantelejmon monastery on Mount Athos. It revealed master Dimitar, the duke of Kratovo as one of the most significant donors (or founders) of the monastery Prechita, who was also a founder of the monasteries St. Nikola Toplicki, St. Jovan Prodom in Slepche, Treskavaec and St. Panelejmon on Mount Athos. It is a testimony to the rise of the Monastery Bogorodica Prechista and the other mentioned monasteries.
Dimitar Kratovski was one of the most significant financiers of the Ohrid Archbishopric in that time. He was donating to the monasteries in Kichevo and Demir Hisar areas in agreement with the archbishop Prohor, and after his death in 1550, he was an economous of the most holy Archbishopric – a prestige title in the Archbishopric, among the five most influential.
The famous Kichevo Anthology originates in the Prechista Monastery, from the time of the archbishop Prohor and today it is a part of the Hlaudova Collection in Moscow. The use of such anthologies spoke about the great spiritual elevation, theological level and education of the brotherhood from Bogorodica Prechista in the mid-XVI century. Many monasteries of the Archbishopric used such anthologies which was an indicator of the educational role the monasteries played at that time.
The names of the monks Neofit, Zosim, Simeon and Joakim were written in the beadroll of the Slepchenski monastery along with the name of Pafnutij from Krnino monastery who supported Slepche monastery with their donations.
The Monastery earned respect beyond the booundreies of the Ohrid Archbishopric, too and carried out constant correspondence with a great number of secular and church persons, with monasteries on Mount Athos, and even with offices of Christian rulers – Vlach-Moldavian voivods. For the purposes of such correspondence, the monastery used a letterbook, epistolary which is the only one preserved up to date from our medieval literary inheritance.
Economically strengthened with the donations of duke Dimitrija Pepic Kratovski, with the testaments of the Christian landowners from Kichevo area and of the numerous believers that arrived in the monastery leaving donations, with a brotherhood of around fifteen monks which were donating to the monasteries of Mount Athos and the neighboring monasteries in the area, the monastery captured the attention of the Ottomans.
First destruction of the monastery. Second church.
In 1558 they brutally destroyed the monastery with the church and the lodgings. Three monks from the monastery brotherhood Evnuvij (Evnuvius), Pajsisj (Paisius) and Averkij (Averkius) perished as martyrs.
It happened in the course of the fifth week of the Holy Forty Days, while the brothers in the monastery were performing the holy Liturgy. The news on the arrival of the Ottomans frightened the monks who, taking the holy dishes, completed the liturgy near the monastery and received Communion. They were twelve. The monks Evnuvij, Pajsij and Averkij decided to remain and perished as martyrs. Their brothers found and buried them in the locality “Gospodinec”.
This event was recorded in a form of a chronicle in the book “Akatist of Holy Mother of God” by the fellow brother in the monastery, the monk Pahomij. In 1564 the brotherhood managed to build another church of finely carved stone, which was described by the abbot hadzi Teofil in the mid XIX century. A testimony to that great artistic and construction undertaking was the stone plate set on the lintel of the western wall above the entrance. There was a text engraved on it indicating that the church was renewed in 1564 at the time of the Ohrid archibishop Sofronij, Kichevo episcope Gerasim and with the efforts of the abbot, the monk German, during the time of the sultan Suleiman. It was picturesque and was ornamented by the icon-painter master Onufrij. The icon-painter Onufrij who painted the frescoes in the renewed church was the best icon-painter that worked in the middle of the XVI century in the diocese of Ohrid Archbishopric. In addition to having painted the frescoes in the monastery church of Bogorodica Prechista, he also painted the figures of the prophets David and Solomon, apostles Petar and Pavle, as well as the composition of Annunciation on the excellently carved holy doors on the iconostasis, exhibited today in the gallery of icons in Skopje. They are among the most beautiful ones that are derived from the carving school of Slepche. The archpriest’s throne was made in the same spirit and with the same artistic achievements.
One of the founders of the new (second) church was probably the duke Dimitar Kratovski who was mentioned in 1564 as the economous of the most holy Ohrid Archbishopric.
The Ottoman tax registers give evidence of the financial situation after the renewal in 1564. In the inventory register from 1568/69 for Kichevo district, monks from Bogorodica monastery were registered, who gave their fees and taxes to the mosque of Mehmet Han in Kichevo. The monks were paying for half of the mill at Belica River, fee for the vineyards in the location Pavli Dol, for the property of Tocil, that entered within the boundaries of Kichevo, and a fee for the fields and roads, in a total of 400 akchi (silver coins).
The rise of the monastery continued in the XVII century, when icons and other works of art and items for religious services and liturgies were ordered for the newly-built church. One of those icons is processional, painted on the both sides, dating back to 1642, with representation of Christ on one side and Mother of God on the other. This icon has an interesting history because it is one of the rare examples of our medieval art on which later interventions were made by icon-painters, but the old icon painting was preserved and only partially renewed and additionally painted. That intervention was made by the great icon painter Dicho Zograf, as he wrote “to his eternal memory”. The carved wooden icon of considerable dimensions dates back to the end of the XVII century on which, most probably, the representation of Deesis with the apostles was painted.
The period of the XVIII and XIX century may be characterized as one of the most dramatic and most difficult ones, both regarding the church life in the churches and monasteries of Ohrid Archbishopric, but also with respect to the overall life of the Christian population in those areas.
The end of the XVIII century and the first decades of the XIX century was a period of deep crisis in the Ottoman Empire. On the other hand, the pressures from the Constantinople Patriarchy, supported by the authorities, led to revocation of the autocephaly of the Ohrid Archbishopric in 1767. Its eparchies were under the rule of the Phanariotic patriarch from Constantinople. There followed the process of enforced Hellenization that covered all segments of the previous structure of the Archbishopric, church life stagnated, church activity was reduced, churches were rarely built and the old ones were ruined.
The monastery of Sveta Bogorodica Prechista went through such difficult period as well, but it continued with the church life. The brotherhood was active, and icons and carvings were being ordered and created, whereas the monastery administration made the new monastery stamp precisely in this period. In 1737 the carved lintel was made and the composition “Christ the Non-Sleeping Eye” was painted. The great icon of Christ’s warrior and martyr Grigorij with scenes from his life dated back to 1763 and the wonderful monastery stamp with representation of Annunciation in the middle and inscription of the year (1763) was created. The monastery library was enriched with new religious books, printed in Kiev – printing typography and Moscow.
In the period of the clash between the feudal lords (Ali Psha Janinski, Bushatliite from Skadar, Hamza Pasha from Kichevo) with the central authorities, and the barbaric acts of the gangs from Kachanik, the monastery Prechista suffered damages on several occasions. However, that was one of the motives for the monastery to prosper, along with the Bigorski monastery “St. Jovan Krstitel” (St. John the Baptists) into one of the centers of the revival that led to big historic upheavals at the end of XIX century.
During the time of abbot Gavril (1824-1840), the renegade beys from Debar attacked the monastery, stole the valuable objects and set fire to the lodgings. It took several years for the monastery to revive. Abbot Gavril was taking care of the monastery and was dedicated to maintaining the continuity of the synodial and liturgical life. At the same time, he became known as a bookbinder who took care of the old monastery books and saved a large part of them from being ruined, binding them among new covers made of thin wood covered in leather. In 1840, abbot Gavril passed away and he was succeeded by abbot hadzi – Teodosij (Teofil) in whose term the reputation of the monastery was restored and he gave the first impulses for the revival that culminated later during the time of the abbot Kosma. However, in Tedosij’s time, the great demolition of the monastery by the renegade citizens of Debar took place in 1843. Of the monastery complex, it was only the old monastery church that remained, and it was partially set on fire.
The second big demolition of the monastery. Burning the monastery library. Third church.
Abbot Teodosij, first of all with his own funds collected during his service in the small church of Prechista in Gostivar, renewed the burnt monastery lodgings and the remaining facilities, and in 1864 the small monastery church was torn down and he started building the today’s temple of impressive dimensions, with a great assistance from Christ-loving and holy Christians, and with the help of the cattle breeders Mijaks and from Mala Reka Gjurchin Kokale, Sardzo Bradina and Tomo Tomoski. The new temple was finished in 1848.
The fresco and mural area of the newly-built church, as well as the icons on the iconostasis, throne and festive icons and apostles were pained by Dicho Zograf between 1848 and 1866. Several families from Krushevo were donors and the icons were ordered by Christians from Kichevo, Kichevo villages Brzhdani and Judovo as well as Jovan Harmosin (Ivan Genadiev) from Ohrid, son of the archbishop Genadij from Debar, who spent several years in the mid of the XIX century in the monastery Prechista, as well as the monk hadzi Simeon S’lzdanoski from Lazaropole. The iconostasis was made by Dojchin Zulafa, also from Lazaropole. Later on, in 1880/81, the fresco in the dome and naos (shrine) of the church was made by Avram Dichov, Dicho Zograf’s son, who also pained several festive icons, as well as one very rare icon on canvas with a representation of the trial of Jesus Christ before Pontius Pilate and Pharisees.
The monastery in this period faced another disaster – all books in the monastery were burnt by order of the Greek archbishop Meletej from Debar in 1850. Only one book, which was accidentally saved, and later on given as a gift to the Consul Aleksandar Hilferding- A Code of Religious Services and Anthem Texts from the XVI century reveals the small segment of the values that were destroyed then.
In 1870s, under the leadership of the young abbot Kozma Prechistanski (known to the people from Kichevo as Grandfather Kozma, born in Orlanci), a grandson of Teodosij (Teofil), the monastery has become a core from which the national tendencies and aspirations for revival radiated, being in favor of holding services and studying in the vernacular, of an independent church and renewal of Ohrid Archbishopric. In 1874, at the great church-folk gathering in Prechista, the people and clergy from Kichevo area declared that they were in favor of rejecting the spiritual and administrative supremacy of the Constantinople Patriarchy and the Greek Archbishop from Debar, Antim. These decisions were supported by the newly enthroned Ohrid archbishop Natanail (1874-1877). Under a strong pressure of the Debar Archbishop Antim, the abbot Kozma, as his uncle – abbot Teodosij ten years ago, was expelled in captivity on Mount Athos. After the great endeavors of prominent activists from Kichevo, Ohrid, Bitola and Debar, Kozma was released from captivity and ten years or so afterwards, in changed historic circumstances, he returned as archbishop of Debar and Kichevo. In the second half of the XIX century, a school was opened in the monastery Prechista in which both religious and secular subjects were taught. There were around thirty students that attended regularly and the monastery administration and abbot Sofornij (1883-1911) hired several prominent teachers, such as Josif from Krushevo, who later remained there and became a monk in the monastery being in charge of the monastery school up to 1902. The monastery has strengthened economically as well, and the old monastery St. Jovan Prodrom in Slepche became a part of it.
The Revival. The Monastery Prechista a Core of the Revolutionary Actions in Kichevo area and West Macedonia.
The monastery played a significant role during the Ilinden Uprising. Local squads found shelter in it. The actions during the Ilinden Uprising were planned there. The monks assumed active role during the uprising and the monastery itself was attacked and taken when the uprising was suppressed. The monastery also played role during the attacks of the foreign propagandas, especially the Serbian. Luke Dzerov wrote in his memories:
„There was a deacon Josif, a monk in the monastery Prechista, which is in the city of Kichevo. That deacon, born in Krushevo, was an ideal boy, smart, honest, fully committed to our idea. We considered ourselves subordinated to the Central Committee and acted in accordance with the Constitution. The Monastery Prechista was of the greatest importance for the success of our deed. The population considered deacon Josif as a saint to whom it believed a lot. He agitated during the liturgy, everything based on the Gospel. People went there often, oaths were given there, we made the first warehouse for arms foreign propagandas, it is from there that it was distributed at the beginning, etc.
There were four monks in the monastery and two priests who did not participate in our work. The abbot Sofronij is also a saint, born in Vraneshtica, Kichevo area. He was also involved, helping with money, advice, allowing for activities to be carried out in the monastery, helping with advice, with prayers. Everybody loves and respects him even today. With the help of the deacon and the indirect help of the abbot, the deed was a success. The next year I went to Kichevo as a teacher and at the same time I was a secretary to the newly-appointed bishop Kozma. He was a president of the municipality before that. In Kichevo, I found a committee organized by the dean and the teachers. I remained during 1897/8, and in the school year 1898/9 and 1899/1900 I was an inspector of the village schools in the entire eparchy. I was visiting the villages in Kichevo and Debar area. During that visit I was spreading the idea, mainly among the teachers.”
Macedonian Orthodox Church – Ohrid Archbishopric
There was continuity of the monastery life after the Balkan Wars and the First World War as well. A new spiritual momentum was provided to the revival by the Russian monks, expelled by the Bolseviks that continued the traditions of this century-old Macedonian church center in the next decades. Part of them rest in peace in the monastery cemeteries, near the monastery.
In 1937, the nun Diodora, in great schema Maria, came to Prechista monastery with 30 more nuns and stayed there until 1950s when she went to Bulgaria. Several of her spiritual children remained in the monastery, among which, the nun and later on, abbess of the monastery Salafaila (1890-1988).
Thanks to their monastic deed and prayers, the church and spiritual life in the monastery has continued up to date via their spiritual children, especially the nun and abbess Agnija.
The great significance of this spiritual temple is confirmed by the fact that the first Archbishop of the renewed ancient Ohrid Archbishopric, Dositej, was admitted to priesthood precisely in Sveta Bogorodica Prechista in 1924. In 1964 he, already an Archbishop of Ohrid and Macedonia, admitted to priesthood and inaugurated as deacon the current metropolitan Mr. Kiril. In 1981, the current metropolitan of Debar and Kichevo, Mr. Timotej was ordained as monk here.
In the seconds half of XX century, there was a fire in the monastery and a part of its lodgings were destroyed. Within the monastery complex.
pressed against the south walls of the church Sveta Bogorodica – Prechista, the small monastery church is found dedicated to Saint Father Nikola. Although it is situated in the same complex, for many people it is unknown, because the grandiosity of the church dedicated to Holy Mother of God has overshadowed it completely.
On 2 August 2012, the Macedonian Orthodox Church – Ohrid Archbishopric for the first time since the revival, at a great people’s celebration, canonized as sacred the Martyrs from Prechista Pajsij, Evnuvij and Averkij who perished as martyrs in this monastery in 1558. The same day a corner stone of the monastery lodgings was consecrated and laid with a chapel dedicated to the Martyrs.
The monastery of Sveta Bogorodica Preschista is a women’s monastery today. One part has remained without frescoes where non-baptized believers are allowed to pray, and is visited also by Muslims. 21. September- the day when Virgin Mary was born is the Day of the Monastery. On the occasion of this holiday, a lot of people are gathered in the evening of 20. September.
The Monastery has its Facebook page, so please, join: http://www.facebook.com/SvBogorodicaPrecista
Taking photos and filming is forbidden in the monastery church unless a special permit is obtained from the abbess. Finally, enjoy the photos of the monastery and find time to visit it!