From 27 february 1986 Onufri National Museum is located in the inner part of “Saint Mary Church” in Berat Castel.
The Museum is called “Onufri”, in honor to the Albanian painting Headmaster of XVI Century. The Cathedral is rebuilt during the 1797, and it is the most representative monument of post Byzantine architecture in Berat town.
The museum collection is constituted with 173 objects chosen from a fund of 1500 objects, belonging to the fund of Albanian Churches and Monasteries as well as to Berat, where you can find 106 Icons and 67 Liturgical objects, created from Albanian Iconographical painters during XIV-XX–th Centuries: Onufri, Onufri’s son, Nikola, Cypriot Onufri, David Selenica, Kostandin Shpataraku and Cetirs (Gjergj, Johan, Nikola, Naum and Gjergj junior) and from a lot of anonymous painters. Icon holder of Berat Cathedral is inscribed by master Naum from Lavdar, Opar and master Stefan Braka from Misras, Opar in the middle of XIX-th Century.
The Iconostasis of the Cathedral “Assumption of Saint Mary” (1806) is among the best achievements of the nineteenth-century Albanian wood-carving masters. The iconostasis is placed in all three parts of the nave on the interior of the cathedral. It has two rows of icons (12 large royal icons and 27 small festival icons) and three gates (entrances). It is carved in wood, gilded and composed as an architectural façade. The leaders of the group that completed the carving of the iconostasis are documented to be two masters, Masters Andoni and Stefani, while the ‘Grabovar’ iconographers from the Çetiri (or Katro) family, under the leadership of the master iconographer Johan Çetiri, completed the 27 small (festival) icons and 7 large (royal) icons.
In the iconostasis, the principle of symmetry is preserved, and the soft and pliable wood material has given the possibility of blending and harmonizing many various plant, animal and human motifs.
The iconostasis was introduced into the Christian Church after the Seventh Synod around the eighth century, which is known for the restoration of icons in the Church, after it was seen that it was necessary for an object to function as a holder for these icons. The iconostasis of the Cathedral “Assumption of Saint Mary” is divided into three primary belts or parts: the lower belt, the center belt and the upper belt.
The tablets in the first part are the most important element in the constructive-artistic relationship of the composition and contain the basis of the decoration.
The horizontal (or center) belt, upon which are set the 12 royal icons, presents a masterful significance. The royal icons in the iconostasis are objects of worship and reverence and therefore have larger dimensions.
Very important for Christian Orthodox believers are the four central icons, two on the left side and two on the right side of the royal door. On the right are placed the icons of “Jesus Christ Pantokrator (Almighty)” and “John the Baptist” and on the left side are the icons of “Saint Mary” and “Assumption of Saint Mary,” the icon which is dedicated to the Cathedral.
The row of prophets is painted on medallions (icons) in circular form, located in a horizontal frieze, below the festival icons and between the brilliant, stylized ornamentation of vine branches.
The upper part (or upper belt) of the iconostasis, together with its crown, is decorated by 27 small festival icons, worked in a special way, forming a long row of arched scenes, within which the icons are placed according to a set and strict biblical rule.
The crown of the iconostasis, or the central crown, with a large, painted and carved cross has a slightly pyramidal form. Its primary motif consists of two dragons next to one another, while the rest of the crown is adorned with floral ornamentation. Two smaller crowns on the iconostasis, corresponding respectively with north and south, are decorated with floral elements and a cross at the top. The cross of the iconostasis is painted and surrounded by carved framework. At its center is Christ crucified, while on each side of the cross are icons, on which are painted the figures of two familiar characters from this scene, the Virgin and John the Theologian (the Apostle).
On the crown of the iconostasis are set the carved figures of eagles with open wings, from the tips of which are suspended silver liturgical objects that remain in front of the iconostasis.
The Royal Door of the iconostasis of the Cathedral “Assumption of Saint Mary” is the primary door which leads directly before the Holy Altar. It combines both carving and painting and is divided into two parts (the lower part and the upper part); the lower part has a quadratic image and is divided into four scenes, with Gabriel, Mary and other characters painted at the foot. The event of the “Annunciation,” where the Archangel Gabriel brought to Saint Mary the joyful news of the birth of the savior, is the most important scene. The upper part presents more masterful carving, with spaces that are transparent, elegant and fine. The primary motifs are two stylized dragons and trusses of grapes, whereas the corresponding spaces are filled with floral elements. At its peak, the Royal Door ends almost in a half circle, topped by the figure of an eagle with wings together and two heads crowned with the royal crown.
In the iconostasis of the Cathedral “Assumption of Saint Mary,” there are also two side doors, the North Door and the South Door. Here are painted the Archangels Michael and Gabriel (Gabriel on the North Door and Michael on the South Door). They symbolize the strict guarding of the Holy of Holies, also called the Ajovima, and for this reason, they are painted with sword in hand.
The Amvona is a very early podium into which the Deacon climbs to read the Gospel, but from which can also be preached the Word of God. It is found centered on the left side of the church and is often raised upon a column. In many cases, various decrees that had great importance for the believers were read upon the amvona, primarily synodical decrees, but also government ones. The amvona is one of the highest parts of the church, which symbolizes that the words and decrees that are issued from there stem from and are inspired by God. Oftentimes, it simbolizes Zion, the High Mountain of Israel, from which originated the greatest decrees from God in the Old Testament.
This inscription is found carved in wood around the lower part of the amvona, in the Cathedral “Assumption of Saint Mary,” in the castle of Berat.
Master Naumi is from ‘Lavdar of Opari’.30 June 1849, Master Naumi.
The Bishop’s Throne is found on the right side, in front of the psalter. On the Bishop’s (or High Priest’s) Throne, we see the icon of Jesus Christ to remember always that he is the Great High Priest and Lord of Creation. In every cathedral church there are always two primary thrones, one in the center of the church (about which we are speaking) and another in the Sanctuary near the Holy Table. In the old tradition, the Byzantine head priest stayed on the throne behind the altar, while the Emperor, the Byzantine king, always stood in the center of the church. Today, the two thrones are used by the head priest at various points in the Divine Liturgy. Under the throne are often carved two lions that symbolize the power of the king, now the Bishop. Above it is placed a cupola, which symbolizes the Kingdom of God, as well as the divine care that the bishops have. The King’s and Bishop’s Thrones have been in the church since the early Byzantine period, at which time the church took its full form.
The Sanctuary is the holiest place in the church (Holy of Holies), usually found pointed toward the eastern sun. The east is considered the sun of the Mind of God, toward which should be directed the hearts of the believers during prayer. It is called ‘Ajovima’ and comes from the Greek agia,meaning ‘holy,’ and vima,meaning ‘step’ or ‘podium’ because it is always elevated one or more steps above the central part of the church. According to Orthodox tradition, the Ajovima, or Sanctuary, as it is often called, is inaccessible to women, as well as to men who do not have a special blessing to enter. Of course, the heirarchy of the clergy may enter freely. All this care comes on account of the holiness of this place. Therein is performed the Bloodless Sacrifice, the Mystery of Holy Communion, which is one of the primary mysteries (sacraments) of the Christian Orthodox Church. In the Ajovima (Sanctuary) is found the Holy Table (Altar), the Bishop’s Throne and the Oblations (Proskomide), which stores the Holy Vessels, as well as the basin where the priests wash their hands.
The Holy Table is located in the center of the Sanctuary and is the earliest, most sacred and most indespensible object. It is called the Altar because upon it is performed the Bloodless Sacrifice, and symbolically it is called the ‘Pulpit of God, Tomb of Christ.’ The name ‘Holy Table’ is more commonly used because the Lifegiver and Lifetaker, Lord Christ, the Lamb of God, is broken upon it and given as food. In every Orthodox church there is only one Holy Table (Altar), which is considered the most special table of the church, and the Bloodless Sacrifice (the Eucharist) can be held upon it only once in a 24-hour timeframe.The Holy Table has a square or rectangular form, supported on one foot, which symbolizes Jesus Christ, Founder of the Church. It is also seen frequently with four feet, which symbolize the four Evangelists. The Altar is topped by a wooden cover, the dome of which is carved with a cross at the top. This part is alternately called ‘Kuvukli,’ and it simbolizes the Broad Sky created by God. The Altar symbolizes the Tomb of Christ, and the first cover, which is placed on the marble Altar, symbolizes the shroud, the fabric in which was wrapped the body of Christ. This piece is never removed from the Altar.