Mark Kryeziu:

A Pastoral Visit to Northern Albania

Mark Kryeziu, known in Italian as Marco Crisio, was an Albanian priest and Apostolic Visitor and Commissioner who reported to the Sacred Congregation of the Propaganda Fide in Rome on his journey through northern Albania in 1653, a period of rapid Islamisation. Report given to the Sacred Congregation of the Propaganda Fide by Mark Kryeziu, Albanian priest and Apostolic Visitor and Commissioner for all of Albania, in the year 1653. I arrived in Albania nine months after leaving Venice on the orders of Your Eminence, not because the journey took so much time, but because the Turks, terrified at the progress being made by the Serene Republic of Venice, were mercilessly slaying anyone from the Christian world who attempted to enter their country under any pretext. As such, after wasting months at the border trying to get into Albania directly via the Kotorr road, I came to the conclusion that this was impossible. Therefore, to execute the commands of Your Eminence, I changed my plan and journeyed to Rugusa [Dubrovnik], Bosnia, Servia and other lands, whence I arrived in Albania at great cost and with unbelievable effort. There I began my visit. Supressing my curiosity about political life, I will concentrate on informing Your Eminence about the state of the churches and churchmen, since Albania, that was last to be subjugated by the barbarians, did not change any of the customs it had inherited from the time of the stalwart Prince Scanderbeg. In public life it is no different from Italy and, although it has a language that is different from those of all the other countries, it holds to the Latin rite in the church and in all holy functions and has never at any time considered anything but the Church of Rome and the Sacred Councils. In line with the provisions of Your Eminence, I will provide notes here below on each of the places I visited. I arrived initially on 24 June 1652 in the diocese of Prizren in Servia, formerly Moesia, where there were three secular priests and their deacons. They were responsible for 960 souls, comprising those in the town and its surroundings. Most of these souls are women because the men have turned Turk, either due to the seizures of property committed by the Sultan or out of ignorance or a lack of priests. However, the few of them who have remained loyal to the faith take the holy sacraments and obey their prelates. Yet I noticed that there are failings among them. Girls and young married women never go to church except during Holy Week. At that time, they confess and receive communion, but do not attend mass for the rest of the year. This is true only for the diocese of Prizren because it was without a bishop for a long time and when they did get one, he was not able to stay since he was not a native of Servia, but came from Chiprouaz [Čiprovac] in the Kingdom of Bulgaria. He was an Observant Franciscan who was about forty years old. He had no income from the town or from other places, just alms that people were willing to give him. The settlements under his jurisdiction are: Towns: Prizren, town of residence with a church Pecchia [Peja], few Christians and no church Jacoua [Gjakova], few Christians with a little wooden church Rogouo [Rogova], no church Villages: Ostrosup [Astrozub] Liubogna [Lubonja?] Jubisda [Lubizhda] Derragni [Derraj?] Gianani [Gjonaj?] Sogagni [Zogaj?] Bekusci [Bekushi?] Scegieci [Shegjeçi?] Noceia [Noçeja?] Setagni [Setaj?] Bekucci [Bekuçi?] On 24 July I arrived in Pullati superiore [Upper Pult], a diocese in Albania that is administered by Simon Suma, the bishop of Sapa. There is a parish priest here and a vicar general – Dom Stefan Jubani, who is an apostolic missionary and secular priest. He is native to Sapa [Zadrima] and is 38 years old. There is also a deacon but no other clergymen, neither secular nor regular. Although he is not particularly well educated, he is fearful of God, has rightful habits, and has 2,680 souls under his care. Indeed he looks after them assiduously and with incredible effort because they are scattered in various settlements in the mountains, that are far from one another. At the end of the month, in mortal peril, I went to Pullati inferiore [Lower Pult] that is under the same jurisdiction as Upper Pult. Here I found no other clergymen than a secular priest who was born there and was extremely ignorant because he did not even know how to read. There were 3,668 souls under his care and it was obvious that they were being lost for lack of clergy. I held two sermons there and provided great spiritual sustenance since young men and women of 23 and 24 years of age came by to confess. They had never been to confession before. When I sang mass, they were amazed and said they had never heard a mass sung and had never thought that it could be sung. No bishop has gone there for the past thirty years and they had not heard a sermon in eight years. Both Upper and Lower Pult live in sin because they have several wives. They throw the first one out and take a second one and, to make things easier, they never bother to marry the first wife in church. They only do so much later when they have gotten to know one another and have had children. The men do this because, quite often, the women run away once they are married and take someone else. Therefore, so as not to be forced by the church to get rid of the second wife, when married to her, they are content to live with her as a permanent concubine, and the ignorant priests before my visit said little or did not coerce them at all. They even heard confession and gave them communion every year as if there were nothing wrong. A mission could have been set up in Upper Pult in a region called Gasci [Gashi], as there had been one there earlier. This would be to the great spiritual benefit of the people of Pult and of many other districts in the region. Otherwise, another clergyman could be sent there, aside from the two aforementioned priests. There were many churches in that region, but they were old and some of them were in ruins. The diocese of Pult consists of 25 villages, whereas the town itself has been completely destroyed both by the passing of years and by the Turks when they conquered Albania. On 5 August, I journeyed to the mountains of Clementi [Kelmendi] where I came upon two reformed fathers, who were apostolic missionaries, and a nurse. They were under the direction of the 42-year-old Father Benedetto Trevisano who has been a missionary for 15 years. He is from the reformed province of Saint Anthony of Padua. They had 2,500 souls under their care and belonged to the diocese of Pult, although they were a good day’s travel away. They had never had a parish priest of their own. The priest of Lower Pult visits them once a year. He found them all in an excommunicated state because of the many intentional killings, robberies, and numerous kidnappings of women. Despite their ignorance, they insisted that he give them the sacraments and I found out that, either out of fear or for some other reason or human interest, he had given them communion without confession first. I scolded him for this and he agreed it was an error, but said that he had only given them confession with unconsecrated bread. From this I realised just how ignorant he was and told him never to do such a thing again. The ignorance of the Kelmendi is so great that they do not understand any of the mysteries of our holy faith and have no church. As such, they are addicted to fortune-telling and all kinds of superstitions. They did not even know that it was a sin to deny one’s faith or to bear false witness in the name of God and the saints. […] After Kelmendi, I was the land of Gruda where the Catholics are mixed with the Orthodox, and there are even some Muslims amongst them. There were 2,450 Catholics in all. They had a parish priest of their own, who was born in the diocese of Sapa. These regions stretch to the south and there are settlements where the clergy rarely go. As such, since the diocese of Shkodra has been without a bishop for some time now, they have had no steady parish priest to keep them on the road to salvation although, on the other hand, they are very peaceful people. On 18 September, having left that region, I arrived in the jurisdiction of Monsignor Benedetto Orsino, the eighty-one-year-old bishop of Alessio [Lezha]. He has 23 priests and 18 deacons in his diocese, as well as a total of 8,000 souls. He has no income because the church lands have been seized by the Turks. The bishop lives off the few alms given to him by the Christians. The people of the plains are very pious, come to the sacraments and respect their prelates, but the people of the mountains are savages because they are bandits and slave-drivers. They marry their own in-laws and keep several wives. On 28 October, I arrived at the Abbey of Saint Alexander in a mountain region called Miriditti [Mirdita], where the sacred head of the aforementioned saint is kept in a silver casket. It is much venerated by all the people there, even though they are barbarians because, although they have their good sides, they are worse than people anywhere else. There are two secular priests and one deacon there, and they have 1,900 souls under their care. The church dedicated to the said saint has collapsed of age and I learned that the abbey, which is empty, was once under the rule of the bishop of Albanense, who is now the Archbishop of Durrës. When a few years had passed, the bishop of Lezha visited the region and, when he saw that the church was in ruins, he came to an agreement with the heads of the said abbey to rebuild the church if they would put themselves under his jurisdiction. They did so a few years later and the monsignor in question began with the reconstruction, but he did not bring it to an end. Therefore, seeing that they had been deceived, the heads of the abbey, in their usual capricious way, turned to the bishop of Albanense, now the Archbishop of Durrës, and promised that they would return to his flock if he finished the construction of the building. He accepted gladly and has now finished all the walls. Only the roof is still under construction. Now, the Sacred Congregation has decreed that the aforementioned site is and must remain under the jurisdiction of the bishop of Lezha, under the concession that the bishop of Albanense made at the time of the late Monsignor Leonardis, the apostolic commissioner for border issues. On 18 November, I paid a visit to the eminent Archbishop of Durrës who received me kindly and with sincere friendship. This helped me forget the endless tribulations I had suffered during my arduous travels in the aforementioned mountains. The said monsignor was a brother in the Franciscan family and is now about sixty years old. There are 43 secular priests, 32 deacons and 14,000 souls in his diocese. There used to be many more, but since they were forced, under Ottoman tyranny, to pay endless amounts of taxes and tribute, they renounced their faith. I discovered that before the persecution by the infidels began, this prelate used to visit his diocese every year although it stretches over a very large territory. Nowadays, he is represented by his vicar, Dom Nicolo Corpeni, in the areas he cannot reach. The latter is an apostolic missionary, an intelligent fellow and very zealous in support of God and in the saving of souls. He never stops preaching and provides the said monsignor with great assistance. However, I also discovered that the said monsignor had earlier given authorization to some very stupid priests. This was a really intolerable mistake because, whether they know it or not, the salvation or damnation of many souls depends on them. […] On the last day of November I visited the diocese of Sapa in my native Zadrima region, which, compared to the other parts of the country, is a veritable garden of Christianity. […] [Extracts from the report of Mark Kryeziu [Marco Crisio], Relatio transmissa ad Sacram Cong.nem De Prop.da Fide da me Marco Crisio Sacerdote Albanense Visitatore ac Commissario Ap.lico totius Albaniae anno 1653. Archives of the Propaganda Fide, SOCG (Scritture Originali referite nelle Congregazioni Generali), vol. 266, p. 197-203. Reprinted in: Injac Zamputti (ed.), Dokumente për historinë e Shqipërisë (1623-1653) (Sankt Gallen & Prishtina 2015), p. 440 455. Translated from the Italian by Robert Elsie.]
Robert Elsie Texts and Documents of Albanian History
Zef Hajdari and his family (photo: Shan Pici, 1929).
Costumes of Zadrima, the garden of Christianity.