Our Lady of Shkodra Church – Zoja e Shkodres

Our Lady of Shkodra Church

Today marks the 128th Anniversary of the re-opening of Our Lady of Shkodra church. The church is located just outside the center of the city in an area called Bachallek, it is situated in the shadow of Rozafa Castle. The church has a long history, going back through the centuries. However, in all the written histories of the church the fact that it was my great-grandfather, Kapidan Marka Gjoni of Mirdita, who was instrumental in having the church reopened and the first Holy Mass conducted there, after a 410 year period of darkness at the hands of the Turks, is never mentioned. This fact is also proven in the writings of Dom Nikole Kimeza as written in an essay sent to Pope John XXIII in July 1958: “Appunti Albanese, Mirdita e il suo Principe a sua Santita’ Giovanni XXIII”.

Below is a brief history of the church and the events leading up to the first Holy Mass conducted there in 1889.

In 1479 the Turks conquered Shkodra and in their infinite wisdom destroyed the Church of Our Good Council, which is situated between Rozafa Castle and the city of the time, from where the fresco of the image of the Lady of Our Good Council fled miraculously with two men from Shkodra and arrived in Genezzano, Italy on 26 April, 1467; 98 days after the death of Albania’s hero George Kastrioti Skanderbeg. Through the years numerous attempts were made to desecrate the remaining walls of the room where the fresco hung but all attempts were in vain, Our Holy Mother protected it and nothing could damage it further, nor human nor nature. In these holy walls the Turks never allowed another Holy Mass to be conducted.

At the request of some Catholics in Shkodra Kapidan Marka Gjoni, who was involved in activities against the Turks, expressed his opinion to Mons. Doci; to conjoin and reopen the church of “Our Lady of Shkodra” in Bachallek, which had remained closed since Shkodra fell in the hands of the Turks in 1479. Mons. Doci, after a slight hesitation based on good reason as he was being observed by the Turkish government for national activities since the time of the ‘League of Prizren’, for which he was interned, took into consideration the importance of this critical Catholic matter and accepted it.

Thus on April 26, 1889, (exactly 410 years later) he conducted the first Holy Mass. Abbat Doci administered the masterpiece as a religious mission by explaining: “Whenever and wherever it is requested from the people to give the Holy Mass, I, as a religious man, cannot decline.” It was a very important religious and political event of the time.

Marka Gjoni had the support of two people from Shkodra in this movement: Palok Kurti and Kole Deda, of the House of Dede Jakupvet, who was a considerable power among Catholics in Shkodra in the area of Qafe Hardhi, behind Rozafa castle. From there, Marka Gjoni was informed not to go toward the bazaar because a crowd of Muslims from Shkodra lied in ambush waiting for him and that he would be better off to pass via Qafe Hardhi.  They helped Marka Gjoni without shedding any blood.

However, Marka Gjoni did not stop his momentum and we see him again in 1890 leading the clergy and the people to the Church of St. Mark in the village of Vau Dejes, and there among the ruins, the Holy Mass was celebrated.

Subsequently ever since 1889 the Holy Mass is conducted at the Lady of Shkodra church on April 26, where worshipers from all over Albania gather in celebration.

To this date no mention of the importance of the this event, which took place in 1889 led by Kapidan Marka Gjoni and Abbat Doci, is mentioned nor written about nor whispered. It is a shame that Albania is still to this day trying to minimize the importance and influence that my family had in preserving Catholicism in the country, the risks they took and the ultimate sacrifices they suffered.

 Kapidan Marka Gjoni with his guards.

Kapida Marka Gjoni c.1900

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King Zog I – His Summer Villa in Shiroke

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Time was when Albania had a king, King Zog I. He was a self proclaimed monarch and reigned as King from 1928-1939, you can read more on his history at the following link Zog_I_of_Albania.

Today I took a ride to Shiroke  to find his Villa. I heard about it since I have been here but never made the effort to find it. Well, find it I did, and let me just say it was both astonishingly beautiful and depressingly sad. Beautiful because I could envision it at its height, in its grandiose state in the 1920’s-1930’s, with the King and his family strolling the grounds, having tea on the balconies. Sad because of the state it has fallen into. Sad that the country has not restored it to its original state and make a park out of it, a tourist attraction for the world to see, something to preserve the history of her king and the magnificence of his residence. Even if one is not a monarchist this is still part of Albania’s history and should be restored, preserved and exposed to the world.

The grounds are reminiscent of Villa Borghese in Rome, although not as large or grandiose, but on a smaller scale. One could envision a time when the multi level tiers in the gardens were manicured to perfection and  the fountains pouring out their water gently, all the while the birds chirping in the trees. You can feel the nostalgia, the walls calling out to be resurrected once again, the windows to be dressed in flowing chiffon undulating in the wind. The breeze throughout the house is refreshing and welcoming. The balconies begging to serve as a resting spot after an afternoon stroll. Walking among the debris that is left inside one can’t help but wonder where is the humanity? Where is the pride? Where is the Cultural Monument Society? Why has this not been a priority on their projects’ list?

I supposed part of my nostalgia in walking the grounds, maybe, was because I had a short lived connection to Queen Geraldine of Albania. I had the pleasure to see the Queen in New York City in c.1975 at an event held at the Waldorf Astoria Hotel for the anniversary of Albania’s Independence. My mother, Maria Teresa Gjomarkaj, was seated next to the Queen at the head table. It was a very exciting day and we felt very proud to have been in her presence as well as her son’s, King Leka.

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(left to right) Maria Teresa Gjomarkaj, Queen Geraldine, King Leka, Queen Susan and Albanian nationalist Mr. Ago Agaj.

It is a very sad thing to see. All this glamour and beauty just sitting there, rotting away for the vagrants to use and abuse. For the chickens to run around in and mess it up. For Albanians in the North not to have a monument as a reminder of a grander, gentler time; a memento of their King they can be proud of. The opportunities in restoring it are many. It could be a great tourist attraction, one that would certainly drive the tourism up in Shiroke and Shkoder. It would be a wonderful addition to an area which is trying to expand into the international tourist market, it would provide jobs and establish a great resource of income for the area. Albania…think about it!!!

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        Click on the photo for video.

Author Leonora Laçi’s Book Promotion in Shkoder

Today I was proud to show my support for my friend Leonora Laçi on the publication of her two books. The event took place at the Marin Barleti library in Shkoder.  Leonora is a native of Shkoder. She studied at the University of Luigj Gurakuqi in Shkoder receiving a degree in history and later attending the University  of Tirana at the Faculty of History and Philology, receiving her Masters in Political Science in 2015. During her studies she became actively engaged in politics. She began writing opinions for newspapers, both print and online, dealing with historical matters and has been published in: Bota Sot, Gazeta Dielli, Sot, 55, Telegraf, Shqiptarja, and other newspapers and magazine of historic, religious and cultural nature, such as “Jeta Katolike”, “Kuq e Zi”, “Dielli Demokristian”.

She has participated in several political science conferences both at home and abroad. She is Secretary General for the “Trojet e Arbrit” association with its headquarters in Kosovo.

Leonora has proven herself to be a very talented, smart, independent and knowledgeable writer and historian. She has devoted the last few years to the writing of two books:

  1. “Emigracioni Politik Shqiptar Ne Vitet 1944-1955” 
  2. “Veprimtaria e Kolonel Xhemal Lacit (1912-1994) Permes Dokumenteve dhe Kujtimeve”.
  • The first book deals with the political activity of the new Albanian emigration and is focused on the years 1944-1955. Albanian migration, though divided in different parties, tried to join within the National Committee for Free Albania and assumed the role of a government in exile and gathered her most important figures of Albanian nationalism.

  • The second book is in memory to her uncle Col. Xhemal Laçi (1912-1994). The book is a serious study which provides for the first time in detail and relevant scientific context not only the activity of Col. Xhemal Laçi but many aspects of history. Specifically within Company 4000 where, with US support, he helped prepare Albanian paratroopers to land in Albania in an effort to overthrow the communist regime of Enver Hoxha. For 50 years his image was defined as “a traitor of the nation” by the communist dictatorship.  Xhemal Laçi was among those who fled Albania in November 1944 in order to avoid subordination to the communist regime. Col. Xhemal Laçi devoted his life to the national cause of a free and democratic country. This patriot was neglected and deserves greater attention from scholars and historians.

Leonora is to be commended for her great initiative in promoting the efforts of those who had to flee Albania during a horrible time in history and who persevered in exile, fighting, albeit from afar, for a free and democratic Albania.  Their stories are many and they will be told, one by one and they will never be forgotten. They cannot and will not ever be silenced again!

 

Mirdita House of Gjomarku Kanun

After a long year of working on the translation of my father’s book from Albanian into English I am proud to say it is finished! The book was published today and is available on Amazon. This has been a true labor of love and a great tribute to my family. I hope those of you who are curious enough to buy it will enjoy it. Here’s a short tease…

“My father, Ndue Gjon Marku aka Ndue Gjon Markagjoni and Ndue Gjomarkaj, was the second oldest son of Kapidan Gjon Marka Gjoni, the leader of the Gjomarkaj tribe in Mirdita. Their stronghold was Orosh, the seat of their House, which for over 500 years remained vital to the stability, longevity and continuity of the highlander’s way of life. Their story is one of courage, bravery, suffering, triumph, and sacrifice……….”

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A Bat You Say?!

Something funny happened on the way to the Forum….well more like the supermarket. It seems everyone is getting a kick out of my traumatic morning here in Shkodra so I will pass it on and you can be the judge.

I left the house this morning and merrily got on my way to do some grocery shopping. I usually walk along the main road toward the statue of Isa Bulletin aka Albanian hero. As I approached the roundabout I felt something on my right shoulder. I reached over with my right hand and didn’t feel anything, ‘odd’ I thought, but, oh well kept on walking. About five seconds later I felt it again and thought there must be a critter that crawled in from the trees or something, it’s not unusual for a spider or some other small critter to get in your clothes right? I reached over again and this time felt a mushy, chunky something or other. At this point I panicked ever so slightly and silently thought “What the ….. is that?”.

I fumbled some more with the collar of my blouse and felt it even more, I quickly turned the collar over to try and get whatever was hidden in there to drop to the ground and lo and behold…a BAT just flew out into the open sky, a ‘A Bat out of Hell’ I thought in shock and disbelief.

I stood there frozen and just stared at it fly into the sunlight. How the heck did I not feel that when I put on my blouse? I didn’t even have time to really freak out, I was just in shock. No, I didn’t get bit and there are no scratches or wounds of any kind. Just a friggin bat flying out of my shirt. All I could think of was ‘thank the Lord’ I had my hair up and not lose on my shoulders, I can just imagine how that would have gone!

How did I get a bat in my shirt you may wonder. Well, Albania is chuck full of them, they fly around on our property by the dozens in the evening and quite a few times they have gotten into the house. I suppose one got in unnoticed and just went to sleep in our bedroom, in my shirt!

Moral of the story…..shake out your clothes before you put them on and if a bat flies out, well, just look at it in shock and disbelief, open a window and let him out!

Like a bat out of Hell
I’ll be gone when the morning comes
But when the day is done
And the sun goes down
And the moonlight’s shinin’ through

Then like a sinner
Before the gates of Heaven
I’ll come crawlin’ on back to you

I sure hope NOT!!!