The Virgin Mary of Ljeviška, a Prizren temple protected as a World Heritage Site, badly damaged in the pogrom of 2004, has not yet been restored. In a city that shines as Las Vegas, Virgin Mary has been without power for a decade and a half. Belgrade is also turning its head. But while waiting for help, the Serbian shrine shines even without electricity.
Prizren, the imperial town of Bistrica, is full of life. Crowded shops and cafes. They say they live well. Bright windows, washed consulate building of Turkey, Sinan – Pasha mosque.
Only the Cathedral Church of the Virgin Mary of Ljeviška, one of the most beautiful and valuable monuments of Serbian medieval art and culture, and a peer of the Paris Cathedral of Notr Dam, wrapped in wire, at night in complete darkness. It shines only with beauty and marvelous energy. And the reflections of the mobile phones of pilgrims, tourists.
Just as the Church of the Virgin Mary is wounded, so are the few Serbs who have returned to Prizren.
We could barely summon the young priest, Djordje Stefanovic, because he and his wife and baby were staying behind the rusty barbed wire that KFOR wrapped around the temple.
This young smiling Valjevac describes his and the lives of a few Serbs in Prizren with just one sentence:
“No Serbs – no problem!”
“When the Serbs were expelled, since 12,000 lived in Prizren municipality, and only a few remained, then the neighbors said, no more Serbs, so no problem.”
The most beautiful temple in Prizren, a UN-protected building, was fired at fifteen years ago and then burned. The famous portraits of Nemanjić in the parish, the painting of the dome and the nave, which is unique in the fresco of the Virgin Mary of the Ljeviška, are badly damaged.
A firestorm devoured the altar as well, a painting that houses the oldest frescoes from the third decade of the 13th century. Then the church bell fell, the lead roof was stolen.
The restoration and cleaning of the murals, which were completely black, was done by the Republican Institute for the Protection of Cultural Monuments, and the money for the restoration was provided through UNESCO.
However, even 15 years later, the altar of the Wounded Virgin hides the darkness of the soot.
Father Đorđe says the church sought help from those under whose umbrella this cultural monument, a heritage significant to all of humanity.
“It’s their fault, but it’s our fault,” he says.
“UNESCO has requirements, but it does not trigger anything. But there is also the Institute for the Protection of Belgrade Monuments, which I can say openly, is not at all interested in such a church, however rude it may sound. We also have a problem because Kosovo’s cultural heritage makes the church its own. If the final restoration begins, their opinion will be sought, nothing can be done without their approval, ” said this priest.
He adds that another problem in the reconstruction of the church is money. If the Serbian side finds it, it is UNESCO who manages the restoration.
“We started the story on multiple fronts for the church to be rebuilt, but everything should fit in, all the permits should be obtained first and then the finances. And really, now when you look at it, the church looks very sad. It is not an ordinary church in a village 20 years old, but a church built on the foundations of a Byzantine temple, from 1307 to 1309 built and painted. ”
Not only in painting, in all this temple is beautiful and special. In the heart of Prizren, built of siga, and as we stand in front of it, we get the impression that it is covered by some unique Virgin Mary’s cover.
The church is attacked by the moisture and roots of the plants from the port, which Father Đorđe cannot visit without the permission of UNESCO.
Still, the church is alive – it is served daily during the feast of the Virgin. And full because, although it is not too safe, it is filled by students of Prizren Theology. Father Đorđe opens the door for anyone who wants to see her priceless wealth, for every group of pilgrims and tourists who reveal the face of the Virgin and other saints with the lights of cell phones.
It is not a coincidence that a bright young priest is sent here, where he really needs to exist in a terrible place. And especially with a young child. It must take at least an hour to reach the first hospital.
“Not to sound like I’m saying it’s all dark and negative. I function very well with my neighbors, we socialize, we play football, but, as Dis would say, it’s still different when you are among your own. ”
Shooting neighbors he spends time with was – an impossible mission. Our interlocutor also regrets this, as he believes that most news from Kosovo and Metohija is pumped politically. And there is no political talk with neighbors.
“Most of the ordinary world thinks more or less the same. When it comes to the field of politics, everyone goes to their people. But we can sit down for coffee, go skiing, help each other … There are, as Bishop Grigorije said, people and innocents, wherever. ”
This young priest invites all who are able to help discover the beauty of the altar of the Ljeviška, which is covered by the grime, but also to come and feel the beauty of this place. When asked how safe it really is, because it does not depend on good neighbors, he replies:
“Any action in the north will be a reaction here, so I can’t say how safe it really is. But one should not despair. We are gathered in and around the church and we feel joy and peace daily with worship, we do not feel fear, that is the most important thing. ”
The darkness descended upon the Church of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin, but when the sun touches her the next morning, she will wake up and shine her cover again.
We are leaving Prizren with the hope that the conscience of those who can help to prevent the brilliance of this gem, important to all humanity, will awaken.