Found in the hills of Kriva Palanka, Sv Joakim Osogovski is one of the country’s most popular monasteries, and on Sundays is packed with worshipers from both Macedonia and nearby Bulgaria. But we were visiting on a quiet Monday afternoon, when the only other people present were the priest and a few workers cleaning the church’s carpets.
The three-kilometer road from the town of Kriva Palanka to Sv Joakim charts a course high into the forests of the Osogovo Mountains. Along the way, there’s a break in the trees where, across a steep ravine, the monastery suddenly comes into view. As far as church settings go, it’s hard to imagine a more awe-inspiring one than Sv Joakim’s.
The monastery was first built in the 12th century, though nothing of the original structure remains. Today, there are two churches within the complex: the older is the Sv Bogorodica (Holy Mother) and dates from the 14th century, while the newer, 19th-century church is dedicated to Saint Joakim, father of the Virgin Mary. Also within the grounds of the monastery are a bell tower, a large dormitory-style building in which visitors can stay the night, and a residence for church officials.
The Sv Joakim has some delightfully horrific frescoes, depicting bloody scenes from the coming Armageddon. Man-eating monsters with seven heads, grinning devils seated atop thrones, and the dismembered bodies of sinners provide plenty of gruesome entertainment. In the disinfected, kid-friendly age in which we live, everyone tends to forget that Christianity has a dark side… but the Sv Joakim remembers. And it has no problem reminding us that, someday soon, we’re all going to burn.