St. Demetrius (St. Dimitrie, Macedonian: Св. Димитрие) is a church in Gradesnica village (село Градешница), Municipality of Novaci (Општина Новаци) – Mariovo region. According to some sources, the church dates from the 14th century. Located at the entrance of the village, beside Gradeska River, this church is widely known for its iconostasis made of stone, which is a real rarity.
One of the more extensive papers for this church is written by Olivera Makrievska from the Institute and Museum Bitola in 2014. This paper is presented in full in this post.
There are nine churches in the village of Gradeshnica. One of the oldest is the church of St. Demetrius which some authors date back from XIV or XV century. The temple of St. Demetrius, regrettably, was very little researched so far, although in 1992 a decision for a status of immovable cultural monument was issued.
In the past, the team of the Republic Institute for Cultural Monuments Protection has made a record of the monument of culture in Mariovo area, including basic data only. In the course of 2000 NI Institute for Culture Monuments Protection and Museum Bitola undertook some preventive measures relating to the architecture and wall-painting.
Some authors date the wall-painting of the church from the end of XIV and beginning of XV century, but other authors’ researches date a part of the wall-painting and built iconostasis at the beginning of XVI century.
The church of St. Demetrius is located at the entrance to the village along the road leading to the village. The church has been constructed as one-nave building with a rectangular base having an entrance on the west side and apse on the east side. It has been built of cut stone and semi-cut stone blocks which also has been used for the semi-circular vault.
At the entrance on the west side in a concave niche St. Demetrius, the church’s patron has been depicted. The wall painting is not entirely preserved. The interior almost all of its area (east, west, north, south wall, the vault, and the built iconostasis) has been wall-painted on a surface of lime plaster. Today the wall-painted areas are not entirely preserved because of the damages incurred on the church construction over time.
Church St. Demetrius in the village of Gradeshnica
Quite impressive is the massive stone iconostasis separating the nave from the sanctuary. In the nave, marble pillars are set one on the north and one on the south side of the nave. Through the pillars and the iconostasis, three blind arches have been built above which the stone vault arises.
Some authors declare that the frescoes in the nave of the church and the iconostasis evidently differ from frescoes in the apse and date the built iconostasis in the XVI century. But, according to our conclusions based on certain indicators, we date the painting even earlier i.e. in the period to the end of the XIII century.
Fresco painting in the church of St. Demetrius
Perhaps future conservation and restoration researches using other disciplines will allow us to confirm our assumptions.
We were unable to provide more detailed information about the iconographic program because of the non-perspicuity of the wall painting from various reasons. According to previous observations our thoughts go in two directions: the frescoes belong to two different time periods, where the older frescoes were painted by a particularly skillful and talented painter, but more likely is the assumption that the fresco painting is the work of local monastic enclave.
During the wall painting assistants worked alongside the master, the upper portions were done by the assistants, while the master in the first areas in the nave, altar and iconostasis. There are also some modifications such as retouching of more recent times, perhaps modifications dating from an older period. However, in order to confirm these assumptions, additional researches are needed supported by other scientific disciplines.
A special place in the church takes the iconostasis. The iconostasis of the church belongs to the type of built ones that appear the earliest on territories under Byzantine domination in XIII century. In the Republic of Macedonia, there are several churches with a built iconostasis, they appear in XIV, XVI and XVII century, as it is the Church of St. George in Old Nagorichine, Church of St. Nicholas in Shopsko Rudare, church of St. Athanasius in the village of Sloestica, Demir Hisar.
The iconostasis of the church is built of semi-cut stone, bonded with mortar separating the altar through the entire width of the nave. The entrance to a sanctuary is located centrally.
In the upper part, it is vaulted. There is an entrance from the north side leading to the prosthesis that is also vaulted. The iconostasis is decorated with fresco icons instead of icons painted on wood. In the lower part i.e. the baseboard drapery is painted in lighter and darker nuances of yellow ochre, decorated with vegetable motif depicted in red and black color. The end of the drapery is depicted with wide red ribbon. Above the drapery on the south side of the iconostasis bust of Jesus Christ, the Saviour is painted who blesses with a right hand and holds an open Gospel in the left hand. Jesus Christ is depicted in deep red chiton and whitish himation. Next, to him, bust of the holy warrior Demetrius is depicted. St. Demetrius wears army clothes, holding a sword with right hand and short knife in the left. St. Demetrius’ head is decorated with ceremonial diadem decorated with precious stones- pearls. On the left from the warrior a round-shaped shield is depicted. The shield is painted in purple and red shades and decorated with vegetable ornaments and one anthropomorphic detail.
The garment i.e. the cloak is painted in olive-green color, the red color was used for the tunic, while the armor is depicted with grayish nuance. Towards the north side of the central entrance to the altar, in a niche, the most impressive scene of Theotokos is depicted of type Eleusa or Theotokos the Merciful. Theotokos holds little Jesus in her arms, caressing him with her cheek. She is painted very emotionally expressing human traits. Theotokos is painted in lavish maphorion in dark carmine color lined with yellow-reddish nuance of ochre, while the little Jesus is depicted in short hiton in yellow ochre shades.
On the ultimate northern side to the entrance of prosthesis bust of St. Nicolas is depicted in white poly-staurion decorated with black crosses and omoforos with red crosses. The Saint holds closed Gospel in the left hand, which is depicted with red ochre and decorated with pearls and blesses with right hand, which is fragmentary preserved. The Saints deployed on the place of throne icons are put in frames in the form of ribbon with width of 4 cm., both sides emphasized with thin white line. The image of St. Nicolas is placed in rectangular depicted frame while the others are in the form of arches in the upper part or like semi-circular niches, except the image of Theotokos Eleusa which is depicted in a niche and additionally stressed with red ribbon. This image is being emphasized with another decoration in a form of zig-zag painted ribbons that follow the shape of the niche.
In the lunette above the image of Theotokos cryptogram text has been written. The background of the images is in light grey-blue color, while in Theotokos’ image the upper part is in light grey-blue color, while the lower in green shade.
The Saints’ nimbi are depicted with yellow ochre, highlighted with thin white lines. Their faces are depicted stratified in yellow ochre in graded shades, green shadows and whitish accents. Signatures are written in white on Greek Byzantine language.
The architrave which extends along the entire length of the iconostasis in a rectangular field limited with red stripes (top and bottom) are painted busts of the twelve apostles. Over the heads of the apostles separated by bordure there is an inscription along the entire length of the iconostasis. Apostles Peter and Paul are depicted centrally. Behind Peter the apostles Luke, Mark, Andrew, James and Bartholomew are depicted, while behind Paul the apostles Matthew, John, Thomas, Simon and Philip. On the side of Peter, the apostles holdt Gospels, and the side of the Apostle Paul the apostles hold closed scrolls.