Did you know that Macedonia has its own christian cross? The so-called Macedonian Cross! No? Then you’ve come to the right place, because below we will tell you more about this Christian symbol which can only be found in Macedonia.
The Macedonian cross is a variation of the Christian cross primarily associated with Macedonia and is an official symbol of the Macedonian Orthodox Church (Makedonska Pravoslavna Crkva = MPC).
This symbol is actually a lush two-piece braid depicting an ornate cross-shaped ornament. Since this cross is an official symbol of the Macedonian Orthodox Church – Archdiocese of Ohrid (MPC-OA), it is also depicted on the Coat of Arms of the Macedonian Church. The border of the coat of arms is decorated with 33 representations of this particular cross. This cross is also the main symbol of the Throne Medal of the Holy Macedonian Cross.
The Macedonian cross was discovered on a wall of the main monastery church of the Holy Mother of God Eleusa (Merciful) in the Veljusa Monastery. That is why the cross is also called Veljusa Cross (Вељушки крст, Veljuški krst) or Strumica Cross. The church was built in the eleventh century. The founder of the monastery was Manuel, then Bishop of Strumica.
Unknown master created the Macedonian cross
An unknown master created the cross on the facade from small red bricks, so that it resembles a square, the four sides of which form the basis on which a cross with equal sides is built.
This cross is the first Christian symbol of Macedonia to receive international recognition as the Macedonian Cross. Confirmation came from phaleristic organizations from several countries. Mainly after the depiction of the cross on medals with which the MPC awarded to prominent figures.
The phaleristic organizations concerned with the study of decorations accepted without objection that the original cross was thus called the Macedonian Cross.
Initially, this cross was a “local symbol” for the monastery itself and the Strumica Diocese. Later it was used more and more by the church and became a common symbol of the supreme church in Macedonia.
Many countries with a predominantly Christian faith have their own special crosses named after a country or city. These are, for example, the Russian cross, the Greek cross, the Roman cross, the Jerusalem cross. The Macedonian cross found its place in the Christian world. However, it does not enjoy as much popularity as the crosses mentioned before.
It is known that the Church of the Most Holy Mother of God Eleusa was built in 1085 and that its founder was Manuel, then Bishop of Tiveropol.
At the end of the 19th and beginning of the 20th century, the Macedonian revolutionary and teacher Georgi Trajchev from Prilep wrote down the local legends according to which the monastery was founded by the disciples of Cyril and Methodius. Methodius himself preached in the valley of Bela Reka for ten years.
On a marble tablet above the front door there is an inscription, it says: “This temple of the Most Holy Mother of God, the monk Manuel, who became the bishop of Tiveropol, has been completely restored“.
In 1088, an unknown master created the cross on the facade of the church on a square base using small red bricks.
In Macedonia ornamentation it is often present for aesthetic decoration in Macedonian churches. Rhythmic compositions of linear-geometric images or motifs from nature. This style, developing in the Macedonian church centers, differs from the art that developed in the Bulgarian, Serbian or Russian schools.
Monastery Church of the Mother of God Eleusa (Merciful) in Veljusa
The monastery, which is called “Sveta Bogorodica Eleusa (Milostiva)” in Macedonian, is located in the village of Veljusa, about 7 km west of Strumica. The church is built on a limestone cliff. The monastery was founded from the own funds of the monk Manuel, who later became the bishop of Strumica.
Built over the picturesque village, the monastery exudes special beauty, brilliance and priceless sanctity.
According to the rich historical documentation kept for this monastery (in the monastery of Iviron on Mount Athos), this church occupies one of the most important places in the ecclesiastical and cultural history of Macedonia.
It means, according to the surviving records of the two architraves deported to the Sofia Archaeological Museum by the Bulgarian authorities during World War I, the church was built on the northern slopes of Mount Elenica by an unknown monk on a rocky cliff.
Later, Bishop Manuel of Strumica completed the construction in the 1080s and then founded the monastery a little later. He came to Veljusa from the Chalcedonian monastery of St. Auxentius in the Vitina region of Asia Minor. From the mentioned sources we learn that the Monastery of the Holy Mother of God Eleusa (Merciful) was built over the former village of Paleokastro in the Byzantine theme of Strumica.
The monastery is also mentioned in the letters of Byzantine Emperor Alexius I. Komnenos in 1085. In 1091 or 1094 this monastery church was even personally visited by Emperor Alexius I Komnenos, who expressed in written sources a strong admiration for its beauty. It is mentioned in the typicon of the monastery, written by the founder Manuel between 1085-1100. In several documents of the Byzantine Emperor Manuel I Komnenus in the practice of 1152, and in two decrees of the Serbian Tsar Stefan Dušan of 1346, which were given to the Iviron Monastery.
The fresco painting of the church was carried out in three periods as follows: in the altar, in the cupola in the nave and on the walls, the concaves and the chapel, in 1085. In the porch from 1164, and in the nave in the 19th century with some paintings by local painters.
The fresco ensemble in the church has iconographic symbolic content and representations from the Old and New Testaments: liturgical service of the holy hierarchs with the Hetoimasia (Christ’s sacrifice) and the Mother of God with Jesus Christ seated on a throne. Jesus Christ the Almighty is painted in the central cupola (see picture). While underneath on the walls of the drum (tambour) are the following representations: The Most Holy Mother of God Shirshaja, St. John the Baptist, two archangels, four prophets (Hezekiah, Habakkuk, Jeremiah and David).
In the north concave is the descent of Jesus Christ into Hell and the assembly of the Lord is depicted in the south concave. In the southern chapel in the dome, Jesus Christ the builder Manuel is represented by Jesus Christ, on the east wall Jesus Christ in glory and the portrait of Saint Panteleimon on the west wall.
On the southern facade under the porch there is a composition of St. Onophrios in the desert and that of the monk St. Paphnutius. Stylistically and artistically, these scenes and motifs are close to the Nerezi frescoes from 1164. The church in Nerezi is said to be the forerunner of the Renaissance, even before the paintings of Venice!
In the nave, the marble altar wall with stylized plants and geometric motifs in low relief has been preserved. The floor mosaic has geometric motifs and follows the foundations of the concaves in the central part of the nave, the nave and the south chapel.
The construction of the Veljusa Monastery is characteristic of the very pretentious desire of the founder: not with the dimensions, but above all with the artistic values and the rich treasury of precious works of art to overshadow all existing artistic achievements of the churches in the Strumica area.
On one of the walls of the church there is a representation of the Macedonian cross, as you can see in the last picture.