Intricate Opulence: The Nuns Making Bishops’ Miters In North Macedonia

The Rajcica monastery complex sits in a bucolic part of North Macedonia, just a few kilometers from the border with Albania. Members of the religious community spend much of their time in prayer, but they are also devoted to a highly skilled craft: making elaborate bishops’ hats, or miters, one of the symbols of the Orthodox Christian Church.

Photo: Georgi Licovski (EPA-EFE)

A nun prays in the Church of St. George the Victorious, part of the Rajcica monastery.
Sister Efimija (left) refers to the hats created here as “our crowns.” Miters like these are worn by bishops in the Eastern Orthodox, Catholic, and Anglican churches, and by Orthodox patriarchs.
A nun sews precious stones and small icons into a miter.
A nun uses software to design a miter. The most common style of miter in the Orthodox Church is based on the closed Imperial crown of the late Byzantine Empire.
A nun feeds thread into a machine used to embroider the damask fabric of the miter. Each headdress is usually decorated with four icons depicting Jesus, Mary, John the Baptist, and the Holy Cross.
A nun checks the embroidery on the fabric of a miter. According to Sister Efimija, miters from North Macedonia are worn by bishops and archbishops in Russia, the United States, Eastern and Western Europe, and Africa. She says the lavish Byzantine style is highly valued in the Greek Orthodox Church.
Nuns at the monastery are involved in the preparation, design, embroidery, and other decoration of the miters. “It’s our main vow and the greatest part of our existence here in the monastery,” Sister Efimija said. “We have created more than 1,600 miters. Each one is unique, because every bishop has his own style, his own requests, and we try to meet their demands.”
Within the monastery are churches dedicated to St. George and St. John Bigorski. “The temple of our patron, St. George, was built in the year 1835, but it was built on the foundations of a church from the 16th century, which was also dedicated to St. George,” explains Sister Efimija.
The complex includes four distinct monasteries, home to around 40 monks, out of a total of around 200 in North Macedonia.
The relics of St. George are kept at the church, where pilgrims come to pray for miracles.
Nuns sing religious songs during morning prayers.
The Macedonian Orthodox Church is the largest Christian denomination in North Macedonia. It has been independent from the Serbian Orthodox Church since 1967.
Despite its prominence in North Macedonia, the Macedonian Orthodox Church is not recognized by other Eastern Orthodox churches.
A nun prays in the Church of St. George the Victorious. This monastery and others were practically deserted during the communist era in the former Yugoslavia, but they have since regained some of their former beauty.