Church of St. George

Kliti Kalamata

Managing Director

"The Past for the Future” Foundation

Str. “Midhi Kostani” P.3, B.3, Korça

Shipcka, Albania
European Union Prize for Cultural Heritage / Europa Nostra Award 2011 - Conservation (Members Choice Award)

Challenging borders for the love of a common heritage

Shipcka is a poor village in a mountainous area in South-East Albania, about 25 km west of the town of Korccedil;a. The village is inhabited by vllahs, a special autochthonous Latin population very much spread on the area between Albania, Greece and FYROM. By the name "Shipiscka" and other indirect evidence it is supposed that the settlement dates back to the early Byzantine period of the Emperor Justinian. The origin of the name itself is an old Slavonic plant named Schipak = the red rose. The "red rose" (a wild rose bush) was a prevalent local plant, and its flower was dried and used to produce a local drink.

Being a close neighbor of Voskopoja, or Moschopoli (a center which was very famous in the Balkans for its development during 17th - 18th c.), Shipcka was an important center of cattle breeders as well as merchants. During the 17th c. the population grew up to 8000 inhabitants. Nevertheless, the very rapid growth of Moschopoli must have influenced later the migration of the population from Shipcka to the nearby town, as the records tell for a reduction of the population in Shipcka and abandonment of the old part of the village. With the passing years, the village became nearly empty, especially recent decades when most of them migrated to Greece for a better condition of life. Very few families continued to live there trying to survive and taking great care for the most valuable memory they had inherited from the past - the church of St. George.

The church of St. George in Shipcka is a three-aisled basilica with a roofing system made of arches, barrel vaults, vaults and cupolas. Its space consists in a naos, a narthex, a porch and a bell-tower. This special type of basilica began to flourish in this region by the end of 17th and beginning of 18th centuries.

The statically conditions of the church were casting down from year to year. During the winter of 2002, the main vault of the narthex fell down, seriously risking the demolition of the whole church and the disappearance of this monument. It was in this moment that Mr. Ioannis Averoff, a Greek from Metsovo, came for the first time in Shipcka. He saw the church and fell in love with it. He decided to save it and he did.

The first step was the consolidation of the naos. Its North and South walls, which had the inclinations toward outside, were tight by four metallic rails. The vaults and cupolas were strengthened and consolidated. The buttresses were restored, too.  A new roof saved the same slope and it was covered with stone plates, as before.

Apart of statically problems, the narthex had changed through times. Parts of the fresco paintings in it, where is a representation of "The Last Judgment", were uncovered after removing some later-added walls. Its West wall, which was inclined toward the porch, disputing its existence and a large fresco painting over the door, was consolidated, pushing it by jets but without removing the painting from the wall. This painting depicts the donators, a couple, a man and his wife, donating the church to the Saints George and Demeter, respectively on white and red horsebacks. The narthex came to its original shape.

For the consolidation of the mural paintings several professional restorers were engaged. This work not only saved these frescoes, but brought in evidence their quality, too. All the work was very careful done encouraging every scientific result.

As the work was going on and the building was safe, the project was extended even more and all the other parts and furniture of the monument were included in the process of conservation. No other monument in Albania has been previously restored in such a complex way that this church of St. George was. This was a unique case and everyone fell in love with the work. The project continued by including all the architectural elements and every detail in and outside the building. Some specialized institutions and professionals were involved to ensure a high quality restoration. So it was the conservation of the iconostasis, icons and wood elements in the naos.

The beautiful templon, or the iconostasis of this church is built after the typical style of 18th c.; a half-flat carving, painted with a gold-like color. Specialists and restorers from the Museum of Medieval Arts in Korccedil;a came at this church and worked for the restoration of this templon. They restored also all the other wood elements of the interior like: four beautifully carved wood candlesticks, two book holders and a fine carved prosqinitarios. The original icons of this iconostasis were taken out from it two decades before in order to save them from rubbery and they were stored in the Museum of Medieval Arts in Korccedil;a. Several icon painters were engaged to make copies of them. Thrones and seats of the naos, which had very interesting decorations, were restored, too. The restoration preserved the original elements and decoration. The big Cross, over the central part of the templon was damaged and made very dirty by the time. It was dismounted and sent to the laboratory of the Museum of Medieval Arts in Korccedil;a. A careful work brought in sight a wonderful 17th c. art-work.

A small chapel dedicated to St. Nahumus was added to the South wall of the naos of St. George. There are few chapels dedicated to St. Nahumus in this region and this one, joined to the church of St. George in Shipcka, is very important historical evidence. There is a wonderful fresco painting in the apse still preserved. A group of young restorers from the restoration school of TEI in Athens took over most of the processes for paintings restorations.  

Outside the church territory, near the main road, there was an old barn, which was restored and used as a cafeteria, for the visitors of the church. Now the church of St. George in Shipcka is one of the best attractions of the cultural itinerary of all touristic agencies in Albania. A growing number of visitors are coming and enjoying, not only the values of the church, but also the characteristic cooking of the village. This restoration of the church of St. George was the greatest event that the village Shipcka had in several decades. The number of its inhabitants had grown after this restoration. Several refugee families have returned from migration. They have begun to reconstruct their once-abandoned houses. Others are planning to come. The church, by preserving its values, has evoked its revival.


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