By Sinisa Jakov Marusic
Frescoes that appear to have changed colours overnight have attracted thousands of Orthodox believers to the St Demetrius church in Skopje – though not everyone is persuaded it really is a miracle.
Long lines of people from all parts of the country have appeared since Monday in front of the church in Skopje, waiting to witness what they believe was a miracle.
The five-centuries-old church, especially known for its ancient wall paintings, has become the centre of attention since a TV news report about the unusual event this weekend.
The gold aureoles around the painted saints on the church walls became brighter overnight, local clergy claim, while the paint itself is noticeably sharper than before.
“I’ve worked as a priest for 26 years but I have never witnessed a miracle like this,” Fr Dragi Trpeski said.
Some local clergy link the miracle to St Demetrius, the church’s patron, a famous warrior saints. They believe he is unhappy about the recent sharp drop in visits to the church caused by nearby construction sites that since last year have blocked its main entrances.
The clergy say that before the construction sites were opened they hosted up to 20 weddings a week while now they cannot reach that number in months.
Immediately after the news got out on Sunday, Archbishop Stefan of the Macedonian Orthodox Church also visited the church. He gave no statement.
The Macedonian Orthodox Church is the country’s principal religious community.
Macedonian Prime Minister Nikola Gruevski on Monday also briefly visited the church, lit a candle but gave no statement.
Valentina Bozinovska, the head of the Commission for Religious Communities told local Kanal 5 TV that “This is a message that we must immediately return to moral values, family and children, to preserve ourselves from the decadence we are facing”.
While believers have been praising God and the patron saint, others say the sudden change in the frescoes might have been caused by a chemical reaction, or was even a deliberate hoax designed to attract people’s attention.
“I am happy to be here today. This is truly God’s message and a blessing to the people,” Stavre Dulakovski told Balkan Insight while waiting in line to enter.
But Nikola Mojsoski an elderly pedestrian on the nearby Macedonia Aquare was not so convinced.
“I believe there is a reasonable scientific explanation,” he said smiling, “I do not wish to believe that priests would deliberately swindle people like this.”
Meanwhile, the National Conservation Centre has taken samples from the frescoes and says it is conducting analysis to see whether some atmospheric changes or change in the walls humidity might have been the cause.
The church, located in the old Jewish district, between Skopje’s Stone Bridge and the entrance to the Turkish Bazar is one of the oldest existing churches in the city.
Believed to have been erected in the 16th century, the church gained its modern form in the 1890s after a thorough reconstruction.