These 14th century frescos in Mborja, Albania have something to say about the US election

This Wednesday, November 10, 2016, I finally gave up on  trying to sleep, slammed down two espressos and started looking though images of the apocalypse.  Wednesday morning’s art binge was not out of character, given my love of medieval apocalypse manuscripts and Romanesque church art with all it’s fabulous carvings and frescoes of sinners tormented in hell.  This day, however, I wasn’t indulging my art crush, I was processing the results of the United States election.

The internet doesn’t need any more political rants and certainly there are other more eloquent bloggers to put into words the overwhelming outrage and fear many of us experienced on learning that Donald Trump was selected to be the next US president.  Instead I offer you a lovely 14th century Albanian church with frescoes that illustrate my current identification with medieval torment and horror of pending the apocalypse.

The owner of our guest house in Korce, a university town in Southeastern Albania, offered to drive us to the nearby village of Mborje to see it’s church, but we preferred to walk.  Great decision, taking that walk through a misty morning, up a crumbling sidewalk past a brewery, past children running late to school, stray dogs and man chasing a stubborn donkey.  We’d been advised to stop at a mini-market in Mborje to have the church unlocked and, after we acted out the gesture of a key in lock, the proprietor of the market yelled out to a passing man who yelled something back and rushed down the street.  We waited for about 15 minutes, watching as bread was delivered to the market and villagers stopped in for supplies and gossip.  Two men returned for us and walked with us to unlock the church.


St. Mary’s Church is an cultural treasure from 1390, sadly rare in Albania where so many fine Orthodox churches were destroyed during the 20th century dictatorship.  We were pleased to find the church under restoration since it deserves to be appreciated by many generations to come.



The stone walls of the church are fortified with wood beams which stabilize the structure in case of an earthquake by allowing it to bend without breaking down.



I was delighted to see the interior frescos.


These three dudes have fetching outfits, don’t you think?


The men surrounding Mary with her Jesus-head platter seem to be floating chorus line.


I just adore the garden with its funny Dr. Seuss trees (behind the righteously bearded old men).


A rather sweet Madonna and Child.


Of course the last judgment scene is the most interesting part of the fresco.  Look to the right of the entryway and you’ll see a hand holding a scale, weighing the souls of the saved and the damned.


The sinners are jammed by a pitchfork wielding angel into a Hell-bound red tunnel.  See the face of the screaming naked guy on the right?  That what my face looked like when I realized that the American public had selected a tax-dodging reality TV star with no qualifications (and apparently no knowledge of the US constitution outside the second amendment) over the most experienced candidate ever to run for the office of president.  The jumble of bodies underneath the pitchfork are world leaders, horrified that a thin skinned, climate change denying demagogue will be able to launch nuclear bombs on demand.


Those scared people in the upper left in the little red boat being attacked by wild beasts are my Muslim neighbors, terrified by a future president who, in a parallel to the registration of Jews in Nazi Germany, has stated that he will force Muslim Americans to register with the government.  They are sharing the ship with my Mexican American neighbors who Mr. Trump has referred to as rapists and murderers.


Let’s get a close up on the horse demon: he’s swallowing a human head!  The man being eaten is wondering, like me, how self-described Christians would vote for a man like Trump who rejects suffering refugee children from Syria, while their most cherished religious tradition remains the story of a Middle Eastern refugee family seeking shelter for the newborn Christ child.


That sad naked person, second from the left, raped by the devil while a weighted barrel hanging from his neck?  That’s all the women ready to celebrate the election of the first female president only to find that a man with multiple pending sexual assault charges, including one against a 13 year old girl, a man who bragged on tape that he could grab women by their genitals and get away with it, a man with an unquestionable history of misogyny and a running mate who fervently desires to control women’s gynecological rights, has won the highest office of the land.

Soon enough I’ll have my sense of humor back.  Soon enough I’ll be able to join forces with progressive organizations to protect my country’s legacy of tolerance and civil liberties.  I’ll work towards a more positive future, where my two youngest nieces, daughters of an immigrant from Taiwan, will feel respected and safe, with a knowledge that they could one day be president or whatever else they choose.  After all, optimism is my default state.  Just look at Albania, devastated  by 40 years under a destructive and cruel dictatorship, now preserving it’s cultural heritage including the beautiful, terrible frescos of Mbjorba.




How we got to Mborja: furgon from Gjirokastër to Korce, on foot from Korce to Mborja .

Where we slept: Guest House Bujtina Leon.  Price: €42 for a double. Recommended: yes


  1. Deniseann · · Reply

    That was so lovely. Thank you.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you Deniseann. I have having a tough week and it’s so nice to hear from a kind stranger.


  2. Oh dear…..I have fresco envy, they are a little similar to the ones in the church in Torcello where, it was forbidden to take photos and you were watched all the time. Its so hard to believe that this little church is so full of these beautiful treasures and we are so lucky that you could take some photos and share them with us. Wonderful post, and thank you to the kind people that let you take the photos 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Yes, I’m so happy that at least in one place we were allowed to take snaps and that they opened the door for us. The icon museum in Korce had some of the original icons from this church—no photos were allowed in the museum, but here’s a link so you can see how outstanding they are:

      I want to see that church in Torcello for myself!

      Liked by 2 people

      1. Oh I will be spending a long time on that site, beautiful images. Yes I think you would like the church, maybe one day you will visit 🙂

        Liked by 1 person

  3. While I can tell – and relate – to your despondency, your sense of humor is intact. I managed to giggle at least while reading this. I’m with you.


    1. Thank for the solidarity Tricia. I’m sure you have a uniquely relevant perspective given your time in the Balkans during the violent breakup of Yugoslavia. I’m happy to report me sense of humor is back with a vengeance though I’m still quite upset!

      Liked by 2 people

  4. Incredible frescoes. Like you I am having trouble regaining my sense of humor. So in my mind I put a different face in the horse’s mouth shot and I feel better. 🙂 Love your adventurous spirit.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Hmmmmmm….I can’t imagine what face that might be….:0

      Liked by 1 person

  5. I’ve been more or less catatonic since last Tuesday, but I appreciate these frescoes and your take on them. I guess the lesson is that folks in the 14th century had the same nightmares we have, and some of the same consolations. They also had creativity and a certain optimism, to have built and decorated this church. We need to have these qualities too. Thanks for posting!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank for reading Claudia. This past week more than ever I’ve been so grateful to work in the arts. The creativity of the past and present and the commitment and decency of the people dedicated to preserving the arts does give me hope.


  6. I’m just back home from Myanmar: they went through 60 years of military dictatorship. In your and my part of the world bad times are not so bad, and will pass faster (I hope).

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I hope you’re right!

      Liked by 1 person

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