Sacred Heritage of Kosovo and Metohia
July 25, 1999
The area of the Eparchy of Ras and Prizren has for ages been the central territory of our people and church life. It remainted so even after all devastation, because it is the place of the most important achievements of church architecture, painting and literature of the Serbian people through their historical existence. These testemonies to the Ortodox religion and the tradition of St. Sava are preserved in numerous monasteries in Kosovo and Metohia. These holy places were built with awareness of the unerring and eternal criterion of the value of man and his deeds, as well as the value of nation, established by God`s words on the greatness of serving God and one`s fellow human.
The same awareness, of serving, of serving God and on`s kinsmen, prompted not only powerful and the rich, kings and noblemen, to have churches and monasteries constructed, but inducted common people as well to build them and to restore and construct them again from ruins and ashes.
Long before the battle on the field of Kosovo (1389) our people were thus taught and shown a heavenly understanding of life and death. And this mean that love of God is shown through love for one`s fellow humans, that having chosen the eternal Heavenly kingdom we do not renounce the temporary life on Earth; that, believing in the immortal soul we do not forsake caring for our historical self.
Today, when the skies over Kosovo and Metohia are overcast, we should remind ourselves and others of the truth that we were not asked whether we wanted to be born in this time and as a member of this, or some other nation, here, or on some other soil. We are neither to praise, nor to blame for this. But, whether we will act as humans or not, this depends on, as well as whether we will survive or to vanish as humans or non-humans before God and mankind.
We believe that this monograph, written by Slobodan Mileusnic, entitled The Monasteries of Kosovo and Metohia will help us, as well as others, understand what Serbs created and built in this area, striving for the benefit of all. Because, one should ponder: what would be people of Serbia without these monasteries, in freedom on in slavery? What would be without them, before the world and us?
The inherited homeland of the Serbs, Kosovo is our duty before God and before those long-suffering people who, despite ever more abandoned homes, cherish those holy places belonging not only to Serbs but all of mankind as well.
Spiritual life and organization of the church of Serbian people on the territories of the present Kosovo and Metohija have been historically confirmed and based upon Christian Orthodox tradition. The Serbian Orthodox Church on this territory has been active through the Eparchy of Ras and Prizren (situated in the town of Prizren), which was established by joining two historical eparchies, the Eparchy of Ras and the Eparchy of Prizren.
The Eparchy of Ras
In the 10th century, the Eparchy of Ras was already existent. It encompassed the areas of central Serbia, by the rivers Raska, Ibar and Lim. It was first mentioned in 1020, in the second charter of the Byzantine emperor Basil II (976-1025). At that time, the Eparchy of Ras was within the Archbishopric of Ohrid. Among the first bishop mentioned are Leontius (around 1123-1126), Cyril (around 1141-1143), Euthemius (around 1170) and Kalinik (around 1196). It joined the autocephalous Archbishopric of Zica in 1219, at the time of Saint Sava. On the occasion of declaring the Patriarchate of Pec in 1346, the eparchy was promoted to the diocese of a Metropolitan. The residence of the bishop of Ras was in the vicinity of the church of the Holy Apostles Peter and Paul near the present town of Novi Pazar (formerly Trgoviste), or Ras. It is mentioned in historical sources, according to the names of the places where it was situated, as the eparchy of Pazar, Novi Pazar or Starovlaska. In the second half of the 17th century, the eparchy of Ras included territories of the old eparchy of Budimlje, or the newer Eparchy of Lim, or Petrovac, together with Bijelo Polje. This is why it was called the Eparchy of Bijelo Polje for a while. In the 1789, after the death of the Prizren Metropolitan Eusebius, administration of the eparchy of Prizren was taken over by Metropolitan Joanicius of Ras. Since 1808, the eparchy of Ras was been joined with the eparchy of Prizren as - the eparchy of Ras and Prizren.
The Eparchy of Prizren
The Eparchy of Prizren encompassed the territories of the old Eparchies of Hvosno, Budimlje and Polim, or Petrovac, that is, the town of Prizren with the surroundings, Hvosno (territories around Pec and Decani), and the places around the influences of the rivers Beli Drim and Crni Drim. It is mentioned in 1019, in the first charter of the Byzantine emperor Basil II. In 1219, when the eparchy was included as a part of the independent Serbian Archbishopric, the territory of Hvosno was separated as the Eparchy of Hvosno, situated in the monastery Mala Studenica, northeast from Pec. The residence of Prizren bishops was in Pec in the church of the Most Holy Theoktos of Ljevis. In the 1346, when the Serbian Orthodox Church was promoted to the level of Patriarchate, Prizren Bishopric became the diocese of a Metropolitan.
The monasteries of the Eparchy of Ras and Prizren have suffered from various conquerors and enemies of the Serbian people for ages. Sacrilege and the destruction were initiated by the Turks, and continued by Albanians. During the World War I (1914-1918) and World War II (1941-1945), churches and monasteries from the oldest spiritual territory in Serbia were pillaged and shelled by Germans, Italians and Albanians, as well as the other church destroyers and invaders. After World War II, devastation of Serbian Holy places Kosovo and Metohija was continued by local Albanians.
The Communist Government by no means protected Serbian Orthodox Church and sanctity: monastery property was nationalized, priests were persecuted, and the people of Serbia, who had been expelled from Kosovo and Metohija during World War II were prohibited return to their ancient homes. However, the Serbian Orthodox Church, that is, the Eparchy of Ras and Prizren, has remained the guardian of Kosovo and Metohija holy places and the spiritual heritage which had been created over the centuries, From St. Sava to the present day. Monasteries are the best testimony about the spiritual being and the presence of Serbs in Kosovo and Metohija.
Serbian Monasteries in Kosovo and Metohija
Endowers and founders of monasteries in Kosovo and Metohija were Serbian rulers and members of their families, Serbian Noblemen, church officials, that is, priests and the people. One of the greatest Serbian patrons was King Milutin (1282-1321) who had over 40 monasteries constructed, among which the Kosovo monasteries of the Holy Theotokos of Ljevis (1306/1307), Banjska (1313-1317) and Gracanica (1313-1321).
Monasteries in Kosovo and Metohija were, and still are, of the greatest sanctity, a place for praying and ascetic life. In the past, they were the dioceses of bishops, metropolitans, archbishops and patriarchs. They have bee cultural centuries and places of public gatherings for centuries. Kosovo and Metohija monasteries were the first public schools, scriptoriums where liturgical and other church books were copied and printed, workshops for manufacturing icons and other liturgical objects.
The development of Serbian and Balkan church construction can be traced through architectural forms of monastery churches, living quarters and other monastery facilities, form the Byzantine heritage, through the Raska and Moravska schools of architecture, to the present day. In its day, fresco painting in the churches of the Eparchy of Ras and Prizren represented an exceptionally high artistic achievement in Europe (the Most Holy Theotokos of Ljevis, the Patriarchate of Pec, Gracanica, Decani). In terms of the number, historical duration and artistic value of its icons, liturgical objects and manuscripts, the treasury of Decani monastery is a true and an exceptionally rich museum of outmost importance. Unfortunately, the greatest number of the monastery treasuries was pillaged or destroyed in past by numerous conquerors and invaders.
Monasteries in Kosovo and Metohija are not merrily churches and living quarters, rich treasuries and ancient libraries. Monks, inhabitants of these holy places, building them and spiritually enriching them for centuries are their life force and their spiritual backbone; they are guardians of the monasteries and our books of prayers.
This guide to the Kosovo and Metohija monasteries is a glossary to the spiritual heritage of the Eparchy of Ras and Prizren. Altogether, it consists of description of 27 monasteries: 11 are active, 7 are mainly preserved and sometimes a place of religious service, while 9 are in ruins.
Holy archangels Michael and Gabriel
The monastery of the Holy Archangels Michael and Gabriel is situated in the vicinity of the town Prizren, in the basin of the river Bistrica. The monastery complex, encircled by a massive wall, once consisted of the main church, living quarters, a library, a hospital, a dining room, and the small church of St. Nicolas. The monastery was constructed upon an older church site from 1343 to 1352, as the endowment of Emperor Dusan. Jakov the Elder, later Metropolitan of Serbs supervised the construction. By a special charter, Emperor Dusan donated 93 villages and an iron quarry in Toplica to the monastery of the Holy Archangels. Emperor Dusan was buried in his endowment.
When the Turks conquered Prizren in 1455, the monastery was damaged, and it unavoidably started falling into ruins in the second part of 16th century. In 1615, the Turks used the finely processed stone of the monastery to built Sinan-Pasha`s mosque in Prizren. The monastery of the Holy Archangels remained neglected until 1929, when Dr. Radoslav Grujic started more extensive archeological research. After World War II, the remains of the monastery were conserved.
The main church has the base of an inscribed cross with three altar apses: the middle one is wider and pentagonal from the outside. The large twelve-sided dome rested upon four arches, which were supported by four pillars. The church probably also had four smaller side domes. The vestibule with five openings is located on the West Side. The fašade was covered with white and red marble. The iconostasis was made of stone, while the floor was made of blue and white stone slates with plenty of fantastic decorations representing animal and geometrical figures.
St Nicolas` church is considerably smaller, but it was constructed and decorated in the same way as the big church. It has the appearance of a single-nave building, with the apse on the east, and the open vestibule on the west. The dome rested upon the west side wall and two walls from the altar side. Another dome was placed above the vestibule. The monumental dining room had the base of a free cross with the apse on the south.
The preserved remains of frescoes in the main church point to similarity with the work of artists from the coastal art workshop.
The monastery was revived as monastery in 1988.
The ruins of the fortress of Visegrad, which is also known as Prizrenac or Gornji Grad, are situated on the hill above the monastery.
Holy Archdeacon Stefan
Banjska monastery is situated in the town of Banjska in the vicinity of Kosovska Mitrovica. Banjska was the endowment of King Milutin. It was constructed between 1312 and 1316. The monastery was built as King Milutin`s burial church, and it was thus better furnished and more elaborately decorated than Milutin`s other endowments.
The church of the Holy Archdeacon Stefan was built upon an older church site, where the Bishopric of Banjska was situated in the second half of 13th century. It was during the reign of Milutin`s father, King Uros I. During the reign of King Milutin, Banjska monastery was promoted, and became the fourth among Serbian monasteries. Having obtained approval from Archbishop Sava III (1309-1316) and Jelena (his mother), Milutin assigned construction of this sacred place to his spiritual father, Prior Danilo, whom had come from Chilandar. When King Milutin passed away in Nerodimlje in 1321, Archbishop Danilo II (1324-1337) relocated his body to Banjska. Theodora, Emperor Dushan`s mother, was buried in the north chapel soon after Milutin. Milutin`s relics were transferred to Trepca by monks in 1389, and later, in 1445, they were taken to Sofia, Bulgaria, where they still are. During the 17th century, Banjska was transformed into a mosque. The monastery suffered the greatest devastation in 1689, when Turkish and Austrian armies used it as a fortress during the Austrian-Turkish war. In the same century, monastery floors were dug out, so that the gold mentioned by Archbishop Danilo could be found. In 1915, two rings, a gold one and a silver one, were found in Theodora`s grave. These rings are considered the most significant specimen of Serbian medieval jewelry. Banjska church was restored in 1938.
The church of Banjska monastery belongs to the group of Ras church buildings. It was built according to the plan of the Most Holy Theotokos in Studenica. The base in the shape of a one-nave building with a semi circular altar apse. Choir apses leading to side chapels are north and south from the nave of the church. The vestibule with two domes -belfries- is on the west. It was made of dressed stone in three colors. The most significant item of Banjska sculpture is the Theotokos with Christ, currently situated in nearby monastery of Sokolica.
Only fragments of images of saints in the arch medallions under the dome have remained out of the formerly abundant fresco-paintings in the church of Banjska monastery (1317-1321).
Archeological excavations within the monastery complex started more than two decades ago and have not been finished jet.
Monasteries of Serbia
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