Jovan Bigorski Monastery is located near the main road Gostivar – Debar. Two kilometers before the village Rostusa, separates minor road of one kilometer in length, which leads to the Monastery of St. John (Jovan) Bigorski.
The road surrounded by trees and rocks of limestone (bigor – after which the name Bigorski comes) rises slightly on a hill and ends at the main entrance of the monastery.
The monastery is located in a rarely beautiful place, with natural beauty landscapes. Built on the slopes of Mount Bistra, surrounded by lush forest and below the monastery, it in adjacent vicinity flow the clear waters of the river Radika, rich with diverse fish, mostly trout.
From the monastery spreads a beautiful view of the mountain Korab with its peaks Mal (Small) and Golem (Large) Krcin, as well as picturesque villages Rostusa, Velebrdo, Bituse and Trebiste placed in its surrounding rich with forests and meadows. Here adjacent are the villages Tresonce, Gari, Osoi, Galičnik Lazaropole, places from where originate a plead of engravers and painters from XVIII and XIX century.
With these villages are also tied the names of famous carvers Petre Filipovski called “Garka” and Makarie Frckovski, author of the iconostasis in the church St. Spas (Holy Salvation) in Skopje, the monastery church Gavril Lesnovski and St. John (Jovan) Bigorski monastery.
The monastery St. Jovan Bigorski seem important not only for its beautiful carved iconostasis, but also for the monastery quarters, the work of a master-masons from this region, which in that time were in groups as painters, engravers, painters and craftsmen-masons.
The iconostasis was made between 1830-1840, by the famous masters Petre Filipovski and Makarie Frckoski. Iconostasis in the monastery church of St. John bigorski is a remarkable masterpiece of the master Petre Filipovski. The method for processing the iconostasis, the wealth of figures and compositions with motifs from the Old and New Testaments, rank the iconostasis among the best achievements of carving in Macedonia and the world.
It can be said that the history of monastery St. John Bigorski begins with the miraculous icon which is today kept in the monastery.
Namely, according to legend, at the time of the rule of Tsar Samuel (976 – 1014), on the beautiful and mystical slopes of Bistra mountain, lived a monk named John, who came from the Debar region. Once, in the forest, near the spring, John saw a light among the trees which arises at the sky. When John approached the light, he had seen a hovering icon depicting St. John, surrounded with radiance. Astonished and horrified, John fell to his knees and he thanked to God and his Baptist. Monk John immediately made sure to build a house for the icon – Temple for St. John the Baptist (Forerunner). Thus, John made a small chapel in which he placed the icon and every day he prayed and thanked the Lord. According to some sources, it is believed that this holy icon came to this region from the East, from where it originated. Due to the sacking of the monasteries of the Christian East, many icons were moved to the West (the Balkans), and were carried either by the angels of God, or the people. Also this holy icon of St. John, after its miraculous way it was found here. According to the legends, many miracles have occurred and are occurring connected to this sacred Icon.
In 1018 after the appointment of the monk John (1018-1037) for Archbishop of the Orthodox Ohrid Archbishopric, thanks to St. John, he said, six years after he found a miraculous icon, ie in 1020, where he found it, he built a larger temple, where later the monastic brotherhood started to gather. With that, John from Debar became the first patron of the St. John Bigorski monastery.
During its existence the monastery survived many miseries. Most suffered during the Turkish rule, when it was repeatedly destroyed and burned. But St. John the Baptist did not allow his holy icon to be destroyed. Thus, twice when the monastery was to the ground destroyed, miraculously the icon disappeared and moved elsewhere not to fall into the hands of the wicked. The first time the icon is moved to a monastery between Struga and Debar, where today there is also a church called “St. John Bigorski”. The second time, the icon found its temporary home in the village Slatino, Debarca, where today also exist church named St. John Bigorski. The icon again returned to the monastery at the time when the monastery was built again by the Abbot Hilarion (Ilarion) (1743 – 1781/2).
Because the location of the monastery was such, located in the region of Western Macedonia which was full with robbers and bandits, there were numerous dangers for the monastery and some say only thanks to the wonders of St. John, the monastery survived.
According to the legends, in year 1814 wonderful miracle occurred: against the holy brotherhood has raised some Turkish local ruler, which intended to destroy the monastery and transform it into a tekke (Muslim object). He was Yusuf Bey from Debar an enemy of Ali Pasha from Yannina. On September 8, Yusuf Bey was wounded and on 21st the same month he died. When he was buried from heaven fell strong storm and awesome thunders that killed 20 people Yusuf Bey. Frightened, the remaining soldiers fled, and thus the monastery was saved.
Towards the middle of the XIX century St. John helped a Turkish bey from Albania, which had a sick child. The Bey so in his dream St. John who called him to come to the monastery and to wash his child with the miraculous water. Bey has listened and together with the child went to the monastery and did as he was advised. And behold a miracle! The child was fully healed! The Bey recognized St. John from the icon and a big thanks, he gifted to the monastery olive fields in Elbasan. For long time monastery was supplied with oil from these properties, but in 30 years of ΧΧ century rev. Athanasij (pop Tashko) from the village Bituse sold these fields.
Another time, however, Albanian bandits robbed the monastery wagon with mules carrying food for the monastery. After this crime, the leader of the robbers fell gravely ill. Afraid of his life and God’s punishment, he freed the caravan and people, and moreover he donated a large amount of oil for the monastery. Since then, no one has dared to attack or mischief any people from the monastery, any of its properties. Monastery enjoyed great respect among people from other religion, because monastery doors were open day and night for all to come, regardless of religion and nationality. All of them have found coverage and comfort in the home St. John the Baptist.
Many people say that the miracles of the icon of St. John never have stopped. Due to the excessive love of God to man and advocacy of St. John the Baptist they are still happening today. Indeed, large is the number of those who felt the assistance of St. John in our days.
History of the architecture
Because the monastery through the past was repeatedly ruined, there is nothing left of the first buildings from the days of John from Debar. The only thing that remains from that period is the miraculous icon of St. John the Baptist. Today’s monastery temple dates back to the late eighteenth and the beginning of the nineteenth century. Its construction is associated with name of abbot Mitrofan (Metrophanes – 1796-1807). However, perhaps most significant for the present look of the monastery is the abbot Arsenij (Arsenius – 1807-1839), which called the famous Miak masters for the making of the famous iconostasis and renewal of the old mansion.
At that time the monastery quarters consisted of few buildings. The Monastic quarters, next to the church, known as the “Upper Mansions”, were built in year 1814. “Upper Mansion” was unique for its picturesque architecture. Most striking part, which gives the spirit of the entire building, which was skillfully worked loggia, outdoor issued stairs connecting the two floors of the residential quarters. First of all ground floor consisted of rooms that were used for the economy of the monastery (the production of cheese, etc.). Later, before the fire, there were in the monastery kitchen and storages. Monastic cells were deployed on the balcony two floors. Besides them there are bishop’s rooms, common room for the monks who until recently served the same purpose, office premises with archive and library with richly carved wardrobe books and stitching place, which was later remodeled in cell for monks.
Special and memorable mark on the third floor of the quartes, were the former abbot room and bishop’s chambers, because of their protrusion from the inn. Thus the quarters thanks to its architecture, unique in this region, plundered its archaic charm, which cherishes the heart of the pilgrim, to awaken nostalgia for the past.
North-west of the church was in the inn with dining rooms, which was built from 1820 to 1825. Here housed were male dining room and later a small dining room, and just below them were female dining room and archondaric room. Former women’s dining room, which was located just below the male become rich gallery, where was located the monastery treasury. Here were deployed rare icons from the XVII, XVIII and XIX century, ancient religious objects, fragments of carvings, old liturgical vestments, old crosses and other items of historical value.
Of special beauty excelled male dining room, the room “sinodikon” and the “archondaric” room. The Male dining impressed with its size and internal fresco written walls and ceilings decorated with impressive carving. Dining room until the fire was in its original state when it fulfilled its purpose. Archondaric chambers, however, are characterized by beautiful carved ceilings – rosettes and embedded carved details on the walls. Later one room served as the guest reception room and was enriched with a collection of portraits of old abbot of the monastery. This collection was made by order of the current abbot, Archimandrite Partenij (Parthenius), as a token of love and gratitude to his predecessors wished to preserve their images for future generations, paying tribute to those that his life was incorporated into the foundations of this Monastery.
Among the inn with dining and “Upper Mansions” was located the former monastery kitchen, with auxiliary oven. The kitchen with its large domed fireplace and a small built-in oven, until its end, it had maintained its authentic look and purpose, and under it was the big oven and the storages.
On the west of the church was located “Momochki konak (inn)” which was built in 1870 at the time of Abbot Archimandrite Michael (1870-1894), and was intended for living of the monastery assistants (momoci). Ground floor of the inn served as a laundry, because of its proximity to the taps and floor were living rooms. The appearance of the residential quarters, was characterized with striking between floor wooden construction which ended with many issued a shed, making the inn perfectly fitted in the monastic setting. However, in the 60-ies of the last century, for unknown reasons, the inn was demolished and today here is spacious concrete plateau, which the visitor opens the view to the picturesque mountain hamlets. Right behind “Momochki inn” located is the “Sejmen Tower”, where the guards (sejmens) lived. Today the tower is reallocated a small chapel dedicated to St. George from Kratovo.
Another impressive building which is located south of the church is the monastery ossuary made from green formed stone in 1827. In it were the skulls of dead monks, who at the time of Communism were hidden in the foundations of the ossuary. With the renewal of monastic life, the monastery brotherhood miraculously discovered the skulls, exactly opposite the day of dead. On some of the skulls is a registered name and location from where came the monk.