About 3000 people, mainly Orthodox Albanians, call the village of Lukova (Lukovë), home. The village gets its name from the old Slavic word, lluke, which means green landscape.
I’d mentioned to our guides, We Love Saranda, that I was a chapel chaser, a term introduced to me by a friend in Malta, back when I was a regular visitor there. I use the term chapel loosely, not in the literal sense of it being a Christian place of prayer. I use it to describe any place that has a sense of holiness.
They took us to the Church of St Friday. In Greek, St Friday translates as Agia Paraskevi. In Albanian, it’s Shën e Premtes. I’d never heard of either so was curious to know more.
And there began the confusion.
Is the church in Lukova dedicated to Saint Paraskeva of the Balkans, born in the tenth century near Istanbul who had visions of the Virgin Mary? Or is it dedicated to Saint Friday (aka Saint Paraskevi of Iconium) who was born in Rome around 138 AD and tortured by Emperor Antonius?
While the former might be the logical choice, the icon in the church suggests it’s the latter, given the two eyes in the bowl she is holding.
Paraskevi is the patron saint for health of the eyes, as well as the general health of all. While the saint was being tortured in the later part of the second century, she healed the local ruler of his blindness, the same one who was ordering her to be tortured.
The seventeenth-century church is nestled among olive trees facing the sea.
The basilica has a dome shape and two entrances and six columns, overlaid by arches. Once there was a bell tower as well, which was donated by the King of Naples. Unfortunately the bell disappeared in 1967 during the ban on religion [and mass destruction of churches and mosques that took place under the regime of Enver Hoxha] in the communist era.
The walk took us down narrow cobbled lanes perfumed with the glorious smells I’d come to expect from this part of the world. Those we met were friendly and chatty and seemingly delighted to see us. Albanians are a friendly lot. Happy, too. There’s a curiosity about them that is endearing.
From the town, perched high up on the cliff, a 4-km road snakes down to the beach. It’s a quiet one. There’s not much by way of water sports and such and is all the better for it. The water is incredibly blue and clear.
As we pulled up, the chap from Heaven Beach restaurant came out to meet us. He’d been expecting us. I have 71 first cousins, something that is usually unusual. But not, it seems, in Albania. Everyone is a cousin of a cousin and news travels fast. An enquiry in the morning as to the best place to eat in Lukova led to phone calls and messages culminating in our being welcomed like long-lost relatives and served up platters of fish and litres of wine as and when our little hearts desired.
While at the beach, I spotted another chapel – Kisha Shen Nikoll (Nikollas of Bari, aka Nikolas the Wonderworker, patron saint of sailors, merchants, archers, repentant thieves, children, bachelors and students). This one was much newer, built, according to the plaque on the wall, in 2002 by one Robert Hajdhi.
I was curious about who’d be building chapels in the twenty-first century. So, I checked. I wish I’d left it alone and not bothered.
Because now I’m wondering.
A man called Robert Hjadhi from Lukova made the papers a few years back and not for the right reasons. Even with my wild imagination, I have a hard time putting holy pictures in the same sentence as the Golden Dawn. I’ve zero tolerance for Holocaust deniers. Zero. Perhaps, though, Hjadhi and Hajdhi are as different as Callaghan and O’Brien. And chapel-building Hajdhi is a victim of association.
That said, it’s a simple church, with a lovely view of the sea.
If you want to escape the teeming masses that flock to beaches closer to Saranda, then Lukova is worth a trip, knowing that at the end of it, there’ll be a swim and fresh fish with cold wine.
I spent some time trying to find the backstory to these birds – if there is one. I didn’t find anything of import but did find a Bulgarian-born, NY-based graphic artist by the name of Luba Lukova. One of her posters has a bird thing going on. An interesting diversion.
There’s a rawness about the place, an untouched beauty that in all likelihood will be lost as tourists continue to discover the country and all that it offers. Next time, I’m going to look for that waterfall.