April 12, 2012

Scientists Ponder Fresco 'Miracle' in Skopje

Experts say analysis should shed some light on the alleged miracle in St Demetrius Church in Skopje where frescoes that appear to have changed colors have drawn thousands of Orthodox believers.

Sinisa Jakov Marusic
April 9, 2012
Balkan Insight

Macedonia's National Conservation Centre says it will release the results of analysis of the frescoes next week, after Orthodox Easter.

“We have taken samples from the church walls and from the frescoes and they are currently being subjected to analysis to see what might have caused this,” one official told Balkan Insight.

He said he “does not wish to speculate ahead of time” about what might have caused the frescoes to change colour and tone.

Orthodox believers continue to flock to the church in Skopje to see what they believe was a genuine miracle. Long lines of believers have appeared since Monday after a TV report on the occurrence was aired the previous day.

The gold aureoles around the painted saints on the church walls have become brighter while the paint itself is noticeably sharper than before.

Kosta Balabanov, an art historian, says the apparent cleansing of the frescoes might be due to increased humidity, which could have caused condensation on the walls.

The slick golden surface of the aureoles was most noticeably cleansed of decades-old deposits generated by smoke from candles, he notes.

He says that the cleansing effect is less visible on the wall paintings, which may be because the deposits penetrated deeper into their surface, making them harder to clean.

“This occurrence is well known and documented,” he says. “Certain interventions from the human factor most probably helped speed this process.”

Experts from Macedonia's Directorate for Cultural Heritage Protection have also taken a look. Pasko Kuzman, head of the Directorate, made no predictions.

“I do not wish explanations offered by experts to infringe on people’s belief in a miracle,” Kuzman said.

After initially proclaiming the event a miracle, the Macedonian Orthodox Church, the country’s principal religious community, is now sounding more cautious.

“Time will tell if it’s a miracle,” said Bishop Petar, a spokesperson for the Church, “but I don’t think anyone came in at night and cleaned the frescoes, especially those located high up on the ceiling.”

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.

The frescoes have been a matter of discussion between Macedonian President Gjorge Ivanov and the Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew of Constantinople at their meeting on Tuesday in Istanbul, the President’s office said.