This morning we went to Gracanica, a short drive from Pristina, to see the town’s Serbian Orthodox monastery dating from the fourteenth century. It’s a stunning building, covered with murals of mournful saints with fabulous cheekbones. Stage-managed shafts of daylight stream down from Christ Pantocrator in the ceiling of dim side chapels.
Justifiably, the monastery has UNESCO World Heritage Site status, and it is slowly going the way of all World Heritage Sites with the opening of a cluster of gift shops in the monastery grounds. I’m happy about that – when I first visited the monastery five years ago, it was still being guarded by international troops to whom you had to show your passport to gain entry, and you were watched suspiciously as you gazed up at the wall paintings. Giftshops, and the welcome to the foreigner which they communicate, are definitely a mark of progress.
Particularly when the gift shops are stocked with honey. I bought a pot today of the honey made by the monastery’s bees.
It’s whipped honey, a sandy colour exactly the tone that the halos round the saints’ heads are painted inside the monastery. You can smell the beeswax in it – the same smell as the lit candles which drip and droop at the entrance to the monastery. And it tastes great – a hint of malt, and caramel.
I’ll have it today on toast for Sunday afternoon tea, around the time that Songs of Praise is on the telly in England; we all have different ways to represent sanctity.