The village of Lešok is located 8 km from Tetovo, on the road Tetovo - Jažince, on the southeastern side of the mountain Šar Planina. It has a beautiful natural surrounding, rich with clean mountain air and wonderful scenery. Its good climate makes it one of the nicest and healthiest places in Macedonia. This was the rationale behind building the lung disease hospital 50 years ago. The famous Lešok Monastery is situated in the so-called Gorno Lešok neighborhood, 610 meters above sea level. In its complex are the churches of St. Atanasius and the Holy Mother of God, as well as the grave and memorial room of Kiril Pejčinović, one of the most famous Macedonian educators from the 19th Century. With his arrival from Hilendar in 1818, the monastery dormitories were redecorated, the monastery library was founded and Lešok became a literature and educational center.
There are two churches in the village of Lešok that are dedicated to Saint Anastasius, one of them being older and the other from a more recent date.
The old church is ruined and can be approached by the road that leads to the village of Brezno. It dates from the 14th Century. It was built preserving Byzantine style of stone, brick and lime and has marble floors. Several marble columns from the iconostasis with capitols decorated with pictures of human and animal heads are kept in the Tetovo museum. The church was painted immediately after its construction. The more recent church was built in 1924 and is located in the monastery, next to the church of the Holy Mother of God and the dormitories.
The exact time of construction of the church of the Holy Mother of God is unknown. The oldest information about it is from the first half of the 14th Century, 1326, but it is believed that it was built before the 14th Century. The church is in the shape of a triconhos, with three-sided conches on the outside and a narthex that was added later. There are three layers of frescoes on the walls from different periods. The bottom layer is from the time of the construction of the church, the second one is from the 17th century and the last layer is from 1879. The last fresco-painter of the church is the painter from Galicnik, Mihail Gjurcinov, who is also the author of several icons from its iconostasis.
After the bombing of the Albanian terrorist, that tried to delete, the presence of the Orthodox Christians in this part of the world, archaeological Excavations at Monastery of Lešok - Mediaeval Graves with Elements of Byzantine Period Excavated
(text obtained from Dnevnik, 27.09.2002) - According to the findings, the village of Lešok stretched in and around the present-day courtyard of the Monastery, and St. Holy Mother was a village church in Mediaeval times, explains archaeologist Lilcic. Archaeologists have discovered around 15 Mediaeval graves with architectural elements of the Byzantine period (under Komnen Dynasty, 12th and 13th centuries) at the compound of St. Holy Mother, the Mediaeval church in the compound of the Lešok Monastery, Tetovo area. The place is likely to have even older layers, but this could be proved if it was explored more thoroughly, say archaeologists in a team exploring the monastery compound.
Dr. Viktor Lilcic, the head of the excavation team and Professor at the Art History and Archaeology Department with the Faculty of Philosophy in Skopje, says that they found strong evidence of life in Mediaeval times around the church. Some of the graves were destroyed at the times when the present-day hospital was built.
“Most graves are located around the altar apsis. We didn’t open them nor did we explore them because such an action needs more resources. We should open larger tubes around the church in order to define some entity. We also found roof tiles from the Komnen period. Probably, there are even older layers but we didn’t go that deep, explains Lilcic.
The findings so far have led to the conclusion that the village of Lešok stretched in and around the present-day courtyard of the monastery, and St. Holy Mother was a village church. Because of the Šar Planina mountainous heavy rains, the population climbed down to the valley.
“These are only assumptions. We should select the findings and make more comprehensive studies if we want to get to a more serious scientific conclusion, says Lilcic.
Archaeologists installed a three meter deep tube in the ruined church of St. Atanasija in the naos (the middle of the church). So far, they have defined three horizons – late Mediaeval, Mediaeval, and ancient.
“There are probably older layers but when we got to the depth of three meters we came across some gas, probably from underground water. We stopped the excavations to protect our team against suffocating, adds Lilcic.
Srecko Jovanoski, Director of the Museum in Tetovo, says the excavations should be completed these days. “Office” research will follow – selection of the material and coming to concrete conclusion. Restoration of the church should start next year after the winter, but this is dependent on the European Reconstruction Agency, which is financing the project. The reconstruction is performed by the Republic Institute for Protection of Monuments.
The excavations of the compound of the monastery at Lešok are the second phase of the project for reconstruction and restoration of the monastery church St. Atanasija, funded by the European Commission for Repair of Damages inflicted during the armed conflict in the country. The project was initiated after Albanian terrorists booby-trapped the altar of St. Atanasija and blew it up last August.