Culture & Traditions

Cetrse Is on the UNESCO List of Intangible Cultural Heritage

The celebration of the Feast of the Forty Martyrs popular among all the inhabitants of Stip has become the first Macedonian entry in the UNESCO list of Intangible Cultural Heritage. The ceremony is locally known as Cetrse, which is how ‘forty’ is pronounced in the local dialect. This recognition from UNESCO comes ten years after the signing of the Declaration on the Protection of Intangible Cultural Heritage. Many activities to protect and raise awareness of the importance of safeguarding this type of cultural diversity have taken place around the world during this period. Macedonia has two other candidates on the list awaiting the commission’s decision in the near future: the two-voice singing, and the folk dance “Kopacka”.

The celebration of the Feast of the Forty Martyrs takes place on the Isar hill, which itself is a protected archaeological site located on the western edge of Stip, where a medieval fortified town once stood. The rituals begin in the streets and squares, where participants of all ages, ethnicities and religions gather to start the slow hike up the Isar. The fact that their destination is the upper part of the fortified town testifies to the antiquity of the ceremony. The ritual is connected with the memory of the Forty Martyrs of Sebaste, but also connected with the first day of spring, the 22nd of March, and, thus, incorporates many pre-Christian beliefs. So, the actual scenario of the ceremony combines religious and folk motives. The first destination of the procession is the church on the hillside, where a tribute to the Venerable Martyrs of Sebaste is paid. After that the ascent begins. Every traditional part of the following ritual is associated with the number 40. The participants greet 40 acquaintances and gather 40 pebbles. They take 40 flowers or 40 twigs from the almond trees that grow along the way. When they arrive to the top of the hill, 39 pebbles are thrown into the River Bregalnica, while a wish is being made. The 40th pebble is kept and taken home. It goes under the pillow to help the wish come true. The celebration continues with visits to the houses around the hill, while music bands and orchestras play all around the neighbourhood. Read more…