Endangered Special Protected Zone of the Hermitage of St. Peter of Korish
Diocese of Raška-Prizren, MP, 13 May 2021.
St. Peter of Korish Hermitage is one of the oldest and largest, Medieval hermitages of our Church in the wider region. It is located a few kilometers east from the city of Prizren, Kosovo and Metohija. The Hermitage was constructed in the beginning of the 13th century and is particularly well known for St. Peter of Koriš, the saint from that time, who lived in one of the caves. As it was usual, his disciples gathered around the gave of their elder and constructed a Monastery in a remote area. The Hermitage consisted of a church in the rock, monastic cells, a refectory which remain in ruins. Fragements of frescoes are dated to 1220 and are still partially preserved showing the similarity of the Serb-Byzantine style of other Serbian Orthodox sites of the Nemanjić dynasty period.
The Hermitage was in particularly close connection with the Serbian Monastery of Chilandar, Mount Athos (Greece) and apparently had some lands which were assigned by the ruler to sustain the life of the community. The monks obviously lived a solitary life as no traces of other farming activities are found because the monastery is located in a remote mountain area and is not easily accessible. Between the 13 and 15th centuries the monks constructed a number of cells on several floors. In Ottoman times the community got deserted and the relics of St. Peter which were the main treasure and the object of veneration were tranferred to Crna Reka Monastery near Novi Pazar (central Serbia) in 1572 where they remain today in a similar hermitage-monastery with a church in a cave. Archeological research and architectural and conservation works were done by the Institute for protection of cultural monuments of Serbia in 1961.
Although in ruins the monastery suffered additional damage from local K/Albanians after 1999. In 2009 Kosovo police arrested a group of local K/Albanians who were digging tunnels in the hermitage allegedly searching for "a hidden treasure". Since then the frescoes have suffered additional damage. Orthodox Christian pilgrims don't feel safe enough to visit the hermitage regularly although the Diocese of Raška and Prizren takes care to follow the developments and compile the photo archive. During the recent visit of our priest from Prizren and a journalist Mr. Živojin Rakočević it was found that additional KLA graffiti were written on the images of the saints. In order to prove "to whom the hermitage belongs" the vandals placed a flag of the Republic of Albania above the Hermitage although it is a Special protective zone and an archeological site. The obsession with search for valuables is a pretext for further vandalism of this valuable historical and religious site. Apparently, although listed amid the 40 Special Protective Zones the area around the hermitage and the its buildings themselves are left without any protection. In fact, this sad picture which can be seen by any visitor to the site is a picture what is happening with the Serbian Orthodox cultural and religious heritage in Kosovo and Metohija today.
The photos from the recent visit follow. On one of them an Albanian flag in the Hermitage compound is clearly visible. The last photo shows an Albanian ethnic flag over the ruins of an old Serbian Orthodox church in Korisha village. The questions naturally come:
1. Why would those who claim these sites to be "Albanian churches" or heritage destroy this and many other sites throughout Kosovo and Metohija?
2. How can those authorities who let such vandalisms of the religious sites continue particularly in the last 22 years be able to protect the sites as they claim if they keep silent on their destruction and turn the blind eye.
3. Since the mechanism of the protection of Special Protective Zones according to the current Kosovo laws is continually obstructed by the Kosovo side in several locations how soon can we expect this Special Protective Zone get more attention?
Of course, the answers are not difficult to give. Serbian Orthodox Church was granted by the Ahtisaari Plan Annex V "full discretion and management of its property and sites" especially in SP Zones. Any kind of reconstruction or conservation work without the permit of the Church will be illegal and would constitute an additional step in abduction of the Serbian Orthodox Heritage in Kosovo which has been going on for years. Our Church remains fully resolute to struggle for her rights and will find ways to preserve its heritage while the international and local authorities are obliged to provide adequate security for the works as well as the visit of pilgrims to our holy sites, which is not the case at the moment in many locations througout Kosovo.