Strumica is a nice city, but not one with a huge range of touristic sights. We spent our first day scouring the streets for things to do, but everything was closed. Everything except for one lonely church hidden in Strumica’s Turkish quarter: the Sveti Petnaeset Tiveriopolski Sveštenomačnici, or Church of the Fifteen Holy Martyrs.
In the 4th century AD, Christianity was spreading like wildfire across the Balkans. This did not please the Romans, who controlled most of the region, including Strumica. In order to stall the advance of the upstart religion, fifteen Christian priests from Strumica were beheaded, and their remains were fed to dogs. A grisly fate, but these fifteen men have since become the patron saints of Strumica.
Throughout the centuries, the Church of the Fifteen Holy Martyrs has gone through a few iterations. The current construction dates from 1974, but excavations have revealed older buildings which date from the 1920s, the 9th century, the late 6th century, and the original basilica which had been built atop the graves of the fifteen priests in the 5th century.
In the basement of the modern day church, there’s a small icon gallery. It’s not the most exciting collection of artwork, but is worth visiting if only to help brighten the attendant’s day. Sitting alone in the basement of a little-visited church in the Turkish quarter of Strumica, I’d be surprised if she sees more than one set of tourists a month.