High above the city crowd, nestled in the untouched upland scenery, the St Jovan Bigorski Monastery (dedicated to St John the Forerunner, or St John the Baptist) is fantastically placed. The monastery is 2 kilometers from Rostushe, a village in Debar, and 740 meters above sea level. It is built from the impeccable limestone rocks of the Radika river valley, and embraced by the thick forests of Mount Bistra.
This world-renowned Macedonian Orthodox monastery was built in 1020 on the ruins of an older sacred church that had been destroyed.
The modern monastery complex consists of a church, an ossuary, a seymen defense tower, the complex of monastery cells, and some newly-built monastic guest rooms that offer a chance for any visitor, under certain conditions, to stay longer and enjoy the splendid sunrises that adorn this celestial place.
The element that makes the monastery famous around the world is the iconostasis in the monastery itself, which dates back to 1830 and was made by Perte Filipovski Garkata, who came from the village of Gari. He didn’t make the iconostasis alone: there were some other famous wood carvers, belonging to the Mijak and Debar schools, who spent six whole years helping to carve it so that it could be one of the most beautiful iconostases in the Balkans.
According to the carvings, it was created with great love and patience, being unique in the world. The iconostasis is considered to be one of the most valuable carved works of art in Macedonia, and one of the best kept as well.
There is an amusing story about Saint John the Baptist’s icon. It mysteriously disappeared during hard and tremulous times for the monastery: the place had been set on fire twice and was largely destroyed. The icon is believed to have incredible healing powers for everyone: the ill, the healthy, the young, the old, the orthodox and even those believing in some other religion.
As it turned out, an Albanian bey had felt miraculous power and seen Saint John’s apparition while praying at the monastery, so he sent St John to his home to cure his sick child. As a symbol of gratitude for his cured child, the bey gifted oil trees to the whole property.
In the monastery complex there are several fountains with taps which run with clean, cold, mountain water, and one of the taps is said to have healing properties. The complex also has a great number of monastery cells so that believers who feel the need for spiritual ascent, relief from tension, worries and problems, or simply want to discover themselves and feel at peace, can have some privacy during their stay.
The natural beauty of the area just serves to fill out the overall picture, and lends to the sensation that the unrepeatable and imposing greatness of the monastery will stay in your thoughts and memories forever. This is the only place where you can feel a spiritual peace that slowly spreads all over your body and takes over your soul, making you want to visit this small paradise on Earth again and again.