Пештерска црква Свети Атанасиј

Pesterna Crkva Sveti Atanasie - Cave Church St. Athanasius

Useful Information

Location: Kalista, Struga district.
Access from Elen Kamen or Kalista monastery. 500 m south of the monastery Kalista, 100 m walk from road.
(41.140135, 20.647970)
Open: no restrictions.
Fee: free.
Classification: SpeleologyKarst Cave ArchaeologyPainted Cave SubterraneaCave Church
Light: n/a
Dimension: A=707 m asl.
Guided tours: self guided
Photography: allowed
Accessibility: no
As far as we know this information was accurate when it was published (see years in brackets), but may have changed since then.
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1370s frescoes painted.


The Пештерска црква Свети Атанасиј (Pešterska crkva Sveti Atanasij, Cave Church St. Athanasius) is located at the nortwestern shores of lake Ohrid, not far from the border between Macedonia and Greece. There is a narrow stripe of flat pastrue from the shore to the foot a limestone cliff face, with almost white limestone with some typical red stains caused by iron oxide. In the middle of the cliff there is a huge shelter which was used to build a small church inside, the back wall formed by the cliff face. This cave church is dedicated to Athanasius, the Archbishop of Alexandria, who lived in the 4th century.

Inside are famous frescoes from the second half of the 14th or first half of the 15th century. Most likely they were painted in the 1370s, when the church was erected by monks from the nearby Kalista monastery. There is no written documentation about the frescoes, they were dated due to their style. The painter is noted for his skills and painted several churches in the area. He has a keen sense of colour contrasts, the paintings have a vivid expression and the draperies fall freely. During the 17th century the paintings in the sanctuary were enriched with images of several prelates. The cave church was renovated in the 19th century and there are numerous artworks from this time too. Unfortunately a part of the fresco ensemble was painted over.

The apse shows the Holy Virgin Orans and below the scene of the Sacrificed Christ. On the south side are depicted St. Clement, the patron of Ohrid, followed by the hermit monks Ephtimius and Anthonius, the holy healers Cosma and Damianos, the warriors Demetrius, George, and Theodore Tyro, Archangel Michael and St. Nicholas the miracle worker. On the north side shows the Deesis, the cycle of the Great Feasts, the Nativity, the Presentation in the Temple, the Crucifixion, and the Myrophores at the Empty Tomb of Christ. On the west side is the Dormition of the Holy Virgin shown. In the sanctuary are the Annunciation and the Ascension. The patron of the temple, St. Athanasius, is portrayed above the south door.

The cave church is easily reached, but as it is surrounded by hotels it might be a little tricky. There are actually three possibilities. Go through Hotel Izgrev (Sunrise) to its beach and follow the trail at the south end of the beach. Go through Hotel Makpetrol, at the far end of the swimming pool there is a trail down to the southern end of the Hotel Izgrev Beach. The small village Elen Kamen has a road along the beach, follow this cul-de-sac to its northern end, then go ahead on the trail. The church is higher than the lake, a few years ago a stone staircase was built up to the church. The entrance is gated with an iron bar gate, entering the cave church is only possible during services.