Kosovo's refuge: worship & life in a war zone

The Decani Monastery in Kosovo's western Prokletije mountains is one of the latest added to the World Heritage List of the United Nations Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization (UNESCO). Meanwhile, "the monastery's cells are brimming," reports The Christian Science Monitor. "Days are busy with farming, writing, icon-painting, translating, woodcarving, and more. For the first time in decades, Decani is thriving."

The monastic life at Decani has rarely been happy—or safe. The monastery faced lootings in the 16th and 17th centuries, and persecution from Albanians in the 19th century and the Bulgarians, Albanians, and communists of all ethnicities in the 20th century.

During the Kosovo conflict of the late 1990s, the Serbian Orthodox monastery became an important refuge for Muslims and ethnic Albanians even as shocks from nato bombs threatened its fragile onyx sculptures. nato forces still guard the site and its 30 monks, and anti-Serb demonstrations from ethnic Albanians threatened the monastery as recently as last March. "We are living in this monastery like in a prison," Father Nektar told Voice of America (VOA) in October.

It is the 14th-century Byzantine-Romanesque architecture and ancient icons that attracted UNESCO, which notes that the monastery "represents an exceptional synthesis of Byzantine and Western traditions," and "exercised an important influence on the development of art and architecture during the Ottoman period." That makes it, art historians told VOA, "the most significant medieval structure in its part of Europe."

That history can unite Kosovo's warring ethnicities, says Father Sava Janjic, the monastery's deputy abbot. "These places where the beauty ...

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