St. Mary – Св Богородица, Kožlenski Monastery – Кожленски Манастир, near the village of Kožle (Kozhle), Село Кожле
Many a traveler who have headed south on Highway E-75 from Skopje have driven past St. Mary Kozhle and marveled at the wonderful scenery, landscape, and rock formations along the Pčinja river just north of Veles. Daydreamers who have espied the church whether driving, as a passenger or resting at the roadside stop have embarked on mental journey to hike to this church and explore the surroundings. As these travelers were likely on a time schedule, headed to their vacation destination, headed to the wine region, or whatever, they did not have a couple of spare hours for exploring. Instead, they kept traveling and to pass the time away they enjoyed a fantasy of exploring a church jutting out from a cave at the base of a granite mountain and having a nice riverside picnic on a beautiful day.
Later, at their destination, perhaps while lying on the beach, half-napping in the sun, the daydream and the adventure returns. The fantasy continues. They are further intrigued by what might be inside the cave. Byzantine frescoes on the cave walls? Stalactites? Does it lead to the other side of the mountain? Will they discover a hidden valley? A secret haven? Now they are contemplating or committing to leaving earlier than they plan for their return trip so they can have the extra time needed to explore the church.
Headed north on E-75 after Veles they search and scan the horizon but the church jutting out from the cave is not to be seen. Did we miss it? How could we have driven by it and not seen it? Maybe I missed it while looking at the map. The desire for the real exploration goes unfilled. This is because at Katlanovo the E-75 highway splits in to separate roads with the southbound lanes following the Pčinja river and the northbound lanes on the other side of rocky hilly terrain and the lanes do not merge until you get just north of Veles. You cannot access or even see this monastery while traveling north on E-75.
One day, having a strong desire for adventure, we parked at a roadside stop and took the half kilometer hike to the monastery. It is an easy walk actually but do be a little careful crossing the metal bridge that spans the river. At the monastery we encountered a caretaker who is from the nearby village of Kožle (Kozhle). The caretaker informs us that this used to be a cave church and the church that is here now was built in 1918. A sign on the church (1st gallery below) states that this church was restored in 1976. Another church located in this rocky terrain, but on the other side of the highway is St. Jovan Veterski.
Inside the Cave
The Walk There