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New Europe

Day Thirty: Prilep

St Bogorodica's day 
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St Bogorodica's day at the Treskavec monastery. The bishop offers the bread he's just blessed.
Michael Palin - New EuropeAfter a two-hour morning mass has been sung, specially prepared bread and cake is set out on a platform in the grounds. Preceded by a black-robed nun swinging a censer, the prodigiously bearded and pony-tailed bishop, in an embroidered cope and bejewelled mitre, blesses the food, water and wine. He's accompanied by three young men who sing lovely, mellow chants. Afterwards they tell me, with some pride, that these are recently rediscovered eighth- and ninth-century Byzantine Macedonian works.

Another symptom of resurgent Balkan nationalism you might think, but these singers are not little Macedonians. They speak excellent English, are huge fans of Pink Floyd and very excited at the visit of the Pet Shop Boys to Skopje in two weeks' time.

Today's celebrations are by no means solemn. This is as much a community as a religious event and the meal that is now served up is prepared and paid for by a local family. I'm invited to sit at the top table with the bishop, the deacon and 'Kalist', as they all call him. A homely atmosphere as fathers, mothers, uncles, aunts and lots of children wait on some 250 of us at a single long table.

We're served a thick bean soup, with coleslaw salad, cold fried fish, freshly blessed bread and sweet cake. The bishop offers me red wine, made in the monastery. A huge glass is poured, Kalist looking on rather apologetically. 'Not quite up to standard yet,' he mutters, and he's right.

Next to me is a burly tank of a man, who's the head of a construction company which has done a lot of work in the rebuilding of the monastery and he and his family will be next year's sponsors. He's an Alexander the Great fan, and talks of his frustration at the richness of the archaeology in Macedonia and the difficulty in raising money to preserve it.
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  • Series: New Europe
  • Chapter: Day Thirty: Prilep
  • Country/sea: Macedonia
  • Place: Prilep
  • Book page no: 72

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  • Eating
  • Day 5 
  • Around the World in 80 Days
  • Day 3 
  • Full Circle
  • Day 6 
  • Pole to Pole