Read, Write, Run, Roam

Church on Sunday: Ostrog “Cave” Monastery


After a hot morning spent hiking around Montenegro, a big lunch behind us and a long drive ahead, Muz and I thought we’d skip the trip to Ostrog cemetery. Sure, we knew it was the biggest pilgramage site in Montenegro. We’d heard it was one of the holiest places in the Balkans. But we were just…tired.

Then, a nagging voice popped into my head: What if you never return to Montenegro? It could be amazing! It could be the best Church on Sunday ever! What if there’s a travel show contest being hosted there RIGHT NOW?

I hate that voice. But I love that it told me to go.

We thought it wouldn’t take a long time to go from Cetinje (West Montenegro) to Ostroška Greda in the center, but we didn’t account for a winding mountainside road with no guardrails. No wonder this was a holy place–drivers are constantly praying that another car won’t come careening around the corner.

Two churches comprise Ostrog: the smaller “lower chuch” and the cave-set upper church. We were running low on energy, so we drove past the smaller church and kept winding up the highway. The upper church monastery remained fairly hidden from the road until the final turn into the parking lot. When we finally saw it up close, I couldn’t believe how large it was.

The monastery fits perfectly in and with the cave; one does not outshine the other. The monastery was first built in the 17th century, but the current building was constructed after a fire in the 1920s. The building houses two small chapels and scores of monks. There’s a strict no-photo policy at Ostrog, but photos probably wouldn’t do the place justice anyway.

The building felt much smaller from the inside. We walked up narrow staircases lined with mosaic images of saints and past heavy brass doors that depicted biblical scenes.  On an upper floor, the tiny chapel of the Holy Cross is built directly in a cave. Beautifully preserved frescos are directly painted onto the rock walls and ceiling. It’s a primitive setting for such lush iconography. The atmosphere is exactly what I would expect from a monastery: quiet and reflective. People speak in hushed tones when they’re not kissing icons or gently shushing children.

The trip was a bit harrowing, but we were glad we battled our fatigue and crazy roads to come to Ostrog. It’s fascinating to see so many people gather in a post-socialist country to worship, to understand their history, and to find peace. We didn’t find a travel show contest while we were there, but we found something much more interesting.

Besides, I probably would have lost any tv show contest to this worshipper:

Balkan girls have all the legs, I mean, luck…

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