The sun pushes its rays through the evergreen trees and makes a beautiful backdrop of crystal blue sky and equally perfect snow. Peace and tranquillity rule over the small valley in midst of mountains. In the centre of it, yellow walls of the Serbian Orthodox Monastery of St. John the Baptist, near the village of Gomirje, invites us to be humble and enter the realm of spirit in Gorski Kotar.
As it turned out, we almost didn’t come to this place. Snow was falling heavily last few days and the decision was made in an instant. A good decision, of course! Gomirje is the westernmost Orthodox monastery in Europe and, as such, a goal for hordes of Orthodox pilgrims and tourists on the Adriatic coast, mostly Russians and Ukrainians. Between yellow walls of the beautiful St. John the Baptist Church and cloister, roam several elderly nuns and one archimandrite, Father Mihajlo.
It is not easy to reach Father Mihajlo. The doors and the garden of the monastery are carefully kept by dog Medo, meaning Teddy Bear, but we instantly dropped this “teddy” out of our minds. A large mountain creature attacked us in a playful way, especially our female guest that had a fur coat. Somehow, we managed to reach the kitchen, where Father Mihajlo and the nuns were sitting, drinking morning coffee, and chatting about the everyday chores in the monastery. Abbot’s smile behind his beard is bright, his attitude welcoming, and his jokes totally relaxing.
He wears traditional Orthodox monastic robes, long black coat (and sometimes a black cap with a cross) which could not be described as perfectly clean. Father Mihajlo acknowledges this and says it is difficult to stay clean when one has to care for so many animals. The monastery is known for its husbandry, taking care of sheep, cows, and chicken. Hens give eggs every morning when people from the village come to buy their breakfast. It is good for the monastery’s economy, but the priest rightly points to the fact that many people in the village don’t want to have their own domestic animals anymore. What a shame, as Gomirje is the perfect place for herding!
Jokes abound, but when we heard a nun saying that she knows Mihajlo since he was a small kid, we started to realise how life is enriched and long in this silent corner of the Croatian highlands. Then, Father Mihajlo took us to the church itself. With the arrival of the Orthodox population at the end of the 16th century and beginning of the 17th century, the monastery was also founded in 1600. In 1621 local nobleman Vuk Krsto Frankopan erected a tower next to it which in 1719 was turned into a bell tower, and thereafter a church was attached to it.
The monastery is a three-nave structure with a semi-circular apse, a bell tower at the front and a cupola. The interior is divided into the parvis, the nave and shrine whose cross vaults are illustrated in the baroque style. The story of the origin of the monastery says that with the first of Gomirje settlers there came one monk who was quite old and wasn’t able “as a military priest, which was then the custom, to go with the army against the enemy and be there for the soldiers for religious consolation”. So, the people of Gomirje in that time accepted “about seven”, according to others six, monks who they themselves brought from the Dalmatian Monastery of Krka, a region that is assumed to be the origin of the Gomirje settlers.
The church is adorned with beautiful iconostasis and icons of various Christian saints and in midst of an enchanting atmosphere akin to the Orthodoxy. We can only imagine choral singing of the Orthodox monks at times of great celebrations here when frankincense fills the air, and the believers tremble before the pictures enlightened by the numerous candles. It is indeed a sight when people go silent, reminded of the temporary amount of time here on Earth.
We return to the kitchen, sipping some homemade rakija, and looking at the preparation of lunch. Time passes slowly here; if it passes at all. The rules are followed, but there is some easiness in every move the nuns and abbot make. Plain discussion fosters more thinking and invites us to come again in a more pleasant time. In summer, the area is lush green, and the garden full of beautiful flowers. Father Mihajlo says he had travelled all around, but his home is this small part of Gorski Kotar, where earthly and heavenly combine almost instantly. Indeed, it is a sense we all could feel in beautiful Gomirje!
If you want to visit Gomirje without being eaten by Medo, you should first contact the Monastery itself on following phone numbers: +385 51 875 984, +385 51 878 188, +385 91 7814 314.
To reach the monastery, exit the Rijeka-Zagreb highway in Vrbovsko, and turn right (opposite from Vrbovsko itself). A cosy road will take you through the woods and signposts point to the monastery which suddenly appears on the right hilltop.