Dormition of the Theotokos Church

Labovë e Kryqit, Albania

The Church of the Dormition of the Theotokos is one of the most representative examples of Byzantine architecture in Albania. The foundation of the church dates back to 6th century at the reign of Byzantine Emperor Justinian (527–565 AD). Justinian erected the church in memory of his mother. The present building dates from the 10th century or – according to another source – 13th century, during the time of the Despotate of Epirus.

The church retained a fragment of the True Cross due to a donation by the Byzantine Emperor. According to another tradition, the Byzantine Emperor donated the miracle-working icon of the Virgin, known as Labovitissa. Until 1967, it was a pilgrimage destination for the surrounding Christian communities. Each year on the day of the Dorminition of the Theotokos a procession of the Holy Cross fragment with the Labovitissa icon took place to the adjacent villages. In 1967, religious activities were forbidden by the atheistic policies of the People's Republic of Albania. Recently a number of initiatives to revive such festivities had limited results. The relic was lost in 1989. According to claims in the Albanian press it was stolen by the daughter of Enver Hohxa former head of the People's Republic of Albania.

The church shares a number of typical features of 9th–11th century Byzantine architecture. The connection of the central aisle to the subsidiary aisles as well as the narthex is ensured through a triple passage (tribilon).

Several architectural elements found at the exterior of the building, such as the dome, the windows and the combination of brick- and stonework, are influenced from contemporary Byzantine churches in western Macedonia. The 10th century dome is the oldest example of circular dome found in the region of Epirus, probably an evolution of the older octagonical style. The fishbone pattern of the exterior is also found in a number of contemporary church buildings in Epirus, western Macedonia and Lakonia, in Greece, although not a quite common feature in Byzantine architecture in general.

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Founded: 10th century AD
Category: Religious sites in Albania

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The choir presents four right-hand bays with ambulatory and side chapels. It is extended towards the east of 3-sided chevet which opens onto a semi-circle composed of five chapels and an apsidal chapel of two bays and a flat chevet consecrated to Our Lady.

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The 19th century would therefore inherit an almost finished but mutilated building and would devote itself to its renovation according to the tastes and theories of the day.