The historic post-Byzantine monastery of St. Athanasios in Kato Lesinitsa, southern Albania, located just 4 km from the Greek-Albanian border, has collapsed after decades of neglect.
|The Byzantine monastery of Agios Athanasios has been declared a cultural monument by the Albanian ministry
Built on the slope of a hill in 1797, the monastery of Agios Athanasios – reads the inscription above the entrance – is the only one in the whole region that is entirely decorated by the renowned hagiographer “Lazaros and two disciples of the Upper Soudenes of Ioannina” (today’s Ano Pedina).
Over the last ten years, the 70-80 inhabitants of Kato Lesinitsa saw the catastrophe looming and despite their efforts and constant appeals to the local authorities, nothing has happened and most of the monastery has since collapsed.
The monastery’s outer walls have crumbled, a large part of the stone-built roof has receded, while the internal walls have been destroyed and their frescoes badly damaged and faded.
Little is left standing of the once impressive domed monastery, a post-Byzantine structure that has been declared a monument of culture by the Albanian Ministry of Culture.
Until 1930, the monastery of Agios Athanassios was a place of religious and spiritual tradition, as it operated a Central Urban School and library. It had two watermills, lawns and several monks, while three large bridges that were built in the area were made with expenses of the monastery.
The last monk left shortly after 1930 and since then the inhabitants of Kato and Ano Lesinitsa, as well as the local priests, maintained the historic structure. The winter this year, however, was extremely difficult, with severe weather and snowfall that lasted several days causing irreparable damage to the monastery.
Greek churches plundered in Southern Albania
The religious and cultural monuments of southern Albania are constantly looted and vandalised, while attacks on Orthodox churches are common throughout the country.
A few years ago, vandals completely destroyed the only surviving icons painted by Onoufrios, the most important 16th century hagiographer for all of Southeastern Europe and a distinguished representative of medieval art in Albania, from the church of Agia Paraskevi in the village of Vals in central Albania.
According to a 1990 survey there were more that 12,000 icons and a multitude of sacred items of historical value documented throughout Albania, but today no-one knows exactly how many of these remain.
In the villages of Southern Albania, where the Greek minority lives, church burglaries are almost a daily phenomenon, culminating in the emptying of the church of Agia Marina in Lambova, where the perpetrators seized 18 Byzantine icons, the fate of which is unknown.
In another incident of unprecedented violence, Albanian officials, under the pretext of collecting old debts, seized icons, sacred vessels, even a bell, from the Holy Temple of the Assumption of the Virgin Mary in Premeti.