77 year-old man takes care of old Berat church

Tirana Times
By Tirana Times January 11, 2019 12:53

77 year-old man takes care of old Berat church

Story Highlights

  • Over the years and until Pjetri returned, the church seemed to have been forgotten by the authorities. Pjetri said that when he returned from immigration, the church had a broken roof, lacked electricity, a toilet, and stairs. As he considers the church a holy place, he gathered some money and made some repairs by himself.

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Jani Pjetri is a 77 year-old man from Berat, who though retired, is independently working as the caretaker of the St. Mary Church in the village Sinje of Berat. Pjetri returned from immigration in 2010, to find the church abandoned and with a broken roof from stone rocks.

The St. Mary Church is built around 12th or 13th century at the entrance of a cave. It is located in a difficult rocky terrain and is a pilgrimage location for the local and pan-national orthodox christians. In 2015 the Church was declared as a first category cultural monument.

There is a legend for its construction. Legend has it that the entire village got together to built this church, but as the walls were erected during the day, they would crumble during the night. Its foundations wouldn’t hold. So the villagers tried all sorts of locations for constructing the foundations of the church’s walls, but they still collapsed at night.

One night, an old lady saw a dream that a fire ignited at the orifice of a cave underneath the cliff. The villagers went to built the church there, and that’s where it has been residing for past seven centuries.

Over the years until Pjetri returned, the church seemed to have been forgotten by the authorities. Pjetri said that when her returned from immigration, the church had a broken roof, lacked electricity, a toilet, and stairs. As he considers the church a holy place, he assembled a few money and made some repairs by himself.

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However, he couldn’t manage to complete all the repairs himself as he didn’t have enough money, he created an association within the village, and individual contributors have donated money to complete the necessary restoration of the church.

Pjetri goes each week at Sinje to take care of the church. He deals with lacks of funds from the respective authorities, such as the municipality of Berat, the Ministry of Culture, or even Mitropolia in Berat who is supposed to supervise the building.

Apart from lack of fund Pjetri also has to deal with vandalism. On a Nov. morning, Pjetri found out that the charity box and the electricity supply cable were stolen from the church. He wasn’t much worried about the box, as it collects very little money, but he was worried about the cable. ‘’The last time I went to the church, I saw that a part from the [electricity] cable was stolen from the pillar, so immediately went to the store and bought a replacing cable with the last five thousand leks left from my pension. Now I am waiting for someone to connect it,’’ said Pjetri.

When he saw the stolen cable and bought a new one to replace it, he notified the Metropolia of Berat to send someone to connect it. The Mitropolia administers a considerable amount of churches spread around the district. With its funds, it can only pay one person to take care of the church. Pjetri said that when he asked for help from Mitropolia for the broken roof, they said they didn’t have economical capacities.

Afterwards, Pjetri went to the Regional Directory of Culture to ask for funds, but they helped them in very moderate amounts. Officials from this directory said that after St. Mary Church was declared a first degree cultural monument, there have been some minimal interventions with their funds.

In 2017 the directory intervened to fix the roof of the church, after a stone had broken it. An official said that the Ministry of Culture has promised investments on this church in fixing the roof, as it is in risk of crumbling due to the stone falling from the cliff. However, when this restoration will begin is uncertain.

So far the church has only had Pjetri and his friends taking care of it, even though Pjetri is a permanent visitor to the institutions. In a wall placate at the church, it lists Lili Devole, Llazar Lacka, Kristaq Mjeshtri, Arqile Shtyti, Nasi Ferro, and other departed villagers as contributors in keeping the St. Mary Church standing.

At the center of Sinje village, Pjetri is always invited for coffee. Other villagers give him coins or candles for the church, as they have no time to go up there. They consider him as the man who returned the church its missed attention.

‘’This man did what neither the municipality, nor Mitropolia, or any one else have done so far,’’ said Ilirjan Toska, village chief of Sinje.

Everyone in the village regardless of their religious faith, hold the church as a holy place. Pjetri has occasionally asked for help from the villagers for the church. They have helped him not only due to their respect for the holy place, but also from their respect for Pjetri, who though old, he comes in summer and winter to take care of the church.

‘’This church is holy, all the residents believe in its legend and uncle Jani its keeping it alive. We will be grateful to him all our lives,’’ said Fatmir Sakaj, resident of the region.

 

Tirana Times
By Tirana Times January 11, 2019 12:53