Onufri painted some of the most important, divine, and beautiful religious painting in Albania, and there’s nowhere better to see his unforgettable tones of colour than here in the churches of Berat, and the museum dedicated to this artistic legend.
As you embark on this artistic pilgrimage, prepare yourself to witness some the most beautiful shades of red and gold you have ever laid eyes on! The Cathedral of the Assumption of St. Mary and the Onufri Museum, situated in the same complex, combine the traditional gold with a dazzling red that is unforgettable to visitors.
Built in 1797, this cathedral is situated at the highest altitude of the Berat Castle, though it can be a little difficult to find. While the Ottomans were Muslim, they allowed Christians to continue practicing their faith and build churches, though not very visibly. This cathedral is one of them, a typical church of three naves and two rows of tall stone columns. Inside, you initially find yourself facing the Holy Altar with masterful engravings and paintings of Bible scenes in the incredibly lavish and ornate iconostasis of the Cathedral – the only one to have survived from the former metropolitan complex. The iconostasis, created in 1807, the most eye-catching part of the interior of the church, is considered one of the greatest accomplishments of the 19th-century Albanian wood-carving masters. It stretches along the entire interior of the cathedral and includes twelve royal icons as well as twenty-seven small festive icons. The royal icons, objects of reverence and worship, carved in wood and covered in gold, are simply magnificent!
Stepping out of the main altar, you enter the Onufri National Iconographic Museum, built in 1986. The Museum’s name honours the Albanian master painter of the 16th century, Onufri, who is responsible for a rich legacy of iconography in the country. The museum contains an immense collection of one-hundred and seventy-three select objects from Albanian churches and monasteries. This museum is spread throughout the many church spaces. The different rooms showcase the best works by the most renowned artists such as, Onufri, Nikolla, Onufri’s son, Onufër Qiprioti, David Selenica, and many more, including some anonymous painters. These are some of the most beautiful works in the country, ones that truly symbolize divine inspiration!
However this trip inside the Onufri Museum does not end here! Visitors coming out of the Cathedral are continue to seek that unforgettable “Onufri red”, whose special formula the master painter never revealed, and one whose influence is spread across almost every church within the Castle of Berat!