The group walked up a slippery cobblestoned road and entered the citadel district of Berat that has splendid orthodox churches, the Onufri Icons museum (named after a famous 16th century master painter of icons and murals) and impressive castle. The Castle of Berat hovers over the Osum River and is one of the most massive historical monuments in the Balkans. The internal entrance tower is built with stone blocks that belonged to Illyrian fortifications dating back to from the 4th-2nd centuries B.C. while the external wall is surrounded by 24 towers.
Women sat inside the entrance selling lace tablecloths, place mats and doilies that either hung from stone walls or were displayed on the ground….View image. Florian immediately led us up a side street to the Cathedral of The Sleeping St. Mary, the most important sight inside the Berat Citadel.
The Cathedral of Sleeping St. Mary is also known as the Dormition of St. Mary and to make it even more confusing, the National Museum Onufri. The outside entrance led into the main section of the church with its incredibly ornate, wooden iconostasis built in 1806. This iconostasis was filled with beautiful icons painted by Onufri in his unique red and Johannes Cetiri. Onufri was the greatest of the Albanian icon painters in the 16th century. Construction began at the end of the 17th century, and was completed in 1797 in typical Ottoman style with a basilica and three cupolas.
The church/museum complex had a main nave, altar area, and annexes filled with more icons and metalwork…View image. Much of the metalwork and church relics was done in silver and gold…View image. The inside of this combination church/museum was so colorful and intricately decorated that we didn’t know where to look…View image, or what to photograph first…View image. And then Florian said that all of this was not the most significant part of the church.
Two manuscripts known as the Codices of Berat and Purple Codex were buried behind the altar….View image. These laws and codes of procedures were created by the Byzantines who then distrbuted them to the local churches. First hidden during the Turkish occupation, and then again during World War II by the monks. They are two of the oldest books existing in Albania and are conserved in Tirana.
Gorgeous church that I still don’t know where the name of “Sleeping St. May” came from….