The Holy Mother of God Eleusa

The monastery of “The Holy Mother of God Eleusa” is built on a rocky plateau and it is located in the village of Veljusa about 7km west of Strumica. The monastery was founded in 1080 with the personal means of the monk Manuel, who later became episcope of Strumica. He arrived in Veljusa from the Chalkedon monastery of St. Auxentius in the Asia Minor region of Vitinia, where he spent most of his ascetic life. There are numerous written sources about this monastery most of which are kept in the archives of the Iviron monastery on Mount Athos.

Out of the many written documents, two that stand out are the marble plaques on the lintel of the entrance door of the monastery. The first one reads in Greek: “This church of the Holy Mother of God the Merciful (Eleusa) is built from the foundations by the monk Manuel, who became episcope of Tiberiopolis in the year 6588 (1080 A.D.) indiction 3”; the second one reads: “Since I have placed my entire hope in You, oh immaculate Mother and fountain of mercy, I, shepherd and monk Manuel, Your servant, offer to You, Sovereign Lady, this temple”. These marble plaques are of recent date due to the fact that during World War I the original ones were taken to the Archeological Museum in Sofia. The second important document is the Gramota of the Byzantine Emperor Alexius I Comnenus (1081-1118) of July 1085, by which the monastery was granted autonomy and the status of a royal monastery. The Rule (typikon) of Manuel in 22 points has also been preserved. It talks about the founding of the monastery, about Manuel himself, about the codes of dress, the codes of taking meals, and other duties of the monks. The Rule (typikon) of Manuel I Comnenus (1143-1180) of 1152 has also survived. It documents the land property granted to the monastery, and contains an inventory of monastery possessions dating from 1164, where all valuables of the monastery were listed. However, in the 13th Century the monastery lost its autonomy and until 1913 was under the authority of the Iviron monastery on Mount Athos. In 1913, having decided to abandon the monastery, the monks set it on fire. This event damaged the fresco painting to a great extent.

Today, the monastery’s original architecture has been preserved and it represents a rare structure of the 11th Century in Macedonia. The monastery is a four-apse building and has three domes embellished with ceramic and polychrome decorations. The exonarthex of the southern porch of the monastery shows the Cross of Veljusa as well as the figure of St. Onuphrius in the desert when visited by the monk St. Panfnutius. The esonarthex displays the figure of Manuel holding the Veljusa monastery in his hand. The fresco painting had been done in three phases: the first one in 1081, the second one in 1164, and the third one, considered non canonical, in the 19th Century. The fresco in the dome depicts Christ the Pantocrator, the one in the nave portrays the Holy Mother of God - Theotokos oranta, flanked by St. John the Baptist, two archangels and four prophets. The altar space shows a fresco of the Holy Mother of God – Theotokos nikopoia and Christ enthroned, and a liturgical service of the holy hierarchs with the Hetimazia (the Sacrifice of Jesus). The north apse shows the Descent of Christ into Hell, the east one the Holy Mother of God with Christ, the south one the Annunciation, and the west one The Meeting of our Lord. The southern chapel, which is dedicated to St. Spas, shows Jesus Christ Emanuel as a twelve-year-old child. The eastern wall shows Jesus in Glory together with a portrait of St. Nyphon; the western shows St. Panteleimon. The church’s naos contains a reconstructed altar partition from marble, and the floor is decorated with mosaics that form geometrical shapes. Today, the monastery is the home of the monastic sisterhood of Strumica. There are auxiliary buildings on the premises including a clock tower, a bakery, an inn, a small chapel dedicated to the Apostle and Saint Paul and to Saint Gregory Palamas.