A small tour of wood carving pieces

Artistic expression in Macedonian culture takes many shapes, forms and mediums. One very characteristic shape of artistic expression here is wood carving. Here you will find one the oldest and most beautiful wood carvings on the Balkan Peninsula. Although art pieces carved in wood are hard to preserve unlike stone or metal, still there are plenty very well preserved wood carvings, especially in churches and monasteries which are worth seeing. If you are a lover of art and your spirit is at least a little adventurous, hop in your car, and create your own route through Macedonia to visit and admire the beautiful wood carvings and iconostasis in the medieval monasteries. 

This very old type of artistic expression has evolved in time and you can notice byzantine and other influences, but the end result will amaze you.

This hard craft uses old and well dried soft wood, for example walnut wood. The plan is drawn with a pencil and then carved with chisels in different shapes and sizes. The craftsmen choose wood in one piece to ensure their work will be long lasting. They usually work in groups and create incredible pieces.

The first stop is the church of Sveti Spas in Skopje or church of Ascension of Jesus. It holds one of the oldest preserved iconostasis from the 14th century. The wood carving is 10 meters long and approximately 5 meters high and depicts the crucifixion of Jesus Christ in the middle where the highest point reaches 7 meters height.  There are also other biblical scenes with people dressed in traditional Macedonian clothing and objects carved in wood such as the throne and columns.

The oldest preserved wood carving in Macedonia can be found in the church of St. Mali Sveti Vraci in Ohrid. It is also known as Church Sts. Kuzman and Damjan.  It is not known when it was built but here you can see a beautiful iconostasis dating back to 1352. Two columns from this iconostas carved in wood can be seen today in the house of the Robevci family in Ohrid. Above the iconostas there is a cross depicting the crucifixion of Jesus Christ which was probably created in the 17th century.

If you want to visit the Polog Monastery and the church of St. George (Sv. Gjorgi) you need to travel 20 km away from Kavadarci. A two-hour boat ride though the Tikves Lake will lead you there. This is the least accessible monastery in this small list. It dates back to the 14th century and if you decide to come, you will see incredible wood carving, of not just the crucifixion of Christ, but also 3 doors with intricate carvings, and well as a hegumen’s chair. 

Next on this list is the church of Sveti Nikola Slepce in the Prilep built in the 17th century. This church is not in a very well condition although it is very valuable. Here you will see astonishing wood carving, the workmanship of very talented craftsmen. 

The monastery of St. Jovan Bigorski in Debar -1830-1840 is very well known, or St, John of Bigor. The craftsmen who did the carving for this monastery created their own self-portraits in the wood as well as a carving trick. If you touch a specific place on the iconostasis a specific sound is created. Still, touching it is not allowed due to the danger of damaging. 

In the past, and today people used wood carving for decorating different objects. In the past only rich people’s houses were decorated with wood carving, but you will find beautiful woodcarving in mosques and mansions too. The craft of woodcarving is well preserved today. You can purchase this art and decorate your own home with flora and fauna, dragons, ornaments, Christian motifs, lions, snakes, flowers or mythological creatures carved in wood. This way you will bring the magic of wood carving into your own home.

bigorski wood carving

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