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Studenica Monastery (World Heritage)

The Studenica Monastery, which was built in the 12th century, is considered to be the cradle of the Serbian kingdom. The facility was built by Stephan Nemanja, the founder of the Serbian state. Studenica is the largest and richest Serbian Orthodox monastery. In its heyday, the extensive monastery complex comprised numerous churches and palaces.

Studenica Monastery: facts

Official title: Studenica Monastery
Cultural monument: three churches within a walled monastery complex: the Byzantine Church of Our Lady made of brickwork and white marble and with early Byzantine wall paintings, the Church of St. Nicholas and the Royal Church; St. Sava, first archbishop of the independent Serbian Orthodox Church and son of the monastery founder Stefan Nemanja, whose grave is the Church of Our Lady, lived in the monastery
Continent: Europe
Country: Serbia, Raska
Location: Studenica, near Kraljevo
Appointment: 1986
Meaning: the largest and most richly decorated Orthodox monastery in Serbia

Studenica Monastery: history

around 1190 Establishment and foundation by King Stefan Nemanja
1196 Stefan Nemanja retires to a monastery on Mount Áthos
1208-09 Byzantine wall paintings in the Church of Our Lady
1233/34 Enlargement of the Church of Our Lady with a vestibule
1314/15 Completion of the cross-shaped Royal Church, also Church of St. Joachim and St. Anna, one of the 20 foundations of King Milutin
1569 Wall painting over Stefan Nemanja’s sarcophagus in the Church of Our Lady with the foundation act and the death of Our Lady
1717 Letter of protection from Prince Eugene for the monastery

The cradle of the Serbian kingdom

Located in a wooded mountain basin, the monastery has been extremely important since its inception in the late 12th century and soon became the most prosperous of all Serbian monasteries. In its heyday, the very large complex comprised around a dozen churches and palaces and offered space for a few hundred people within the monastery walls. How did such an impressive ensemble come about in this lonely area?

In the early Middle Ages, Serbia lay between two major power blocs, the Frankish West and the Byzantine East. This forced the Serbian rulers to be skilful political maneuvers. At a time when the Byzantine Empire was weakening, Stefan Nemanja succeeded in uniting the Serbian tribes into a Serbian state. His son, who became known as St. Sava, was the first archbishop to preside over the new Serbian Orthodox Church, which became the mainstay of the young Serbian state. Stefan Nemanja, who abdicated six years after the founding of the monastery in favor of his second son Stefan Prvovenčani, went to Mount Áthos as a monk Simeon. However, he was buried in the Studenica monastery.

Three churches and the refectory (dining room) are still preserved on the monastery grounds, which are surrounded by a circular wall. The center of the complex is the single-aisled Church of Our Lady, which has a twelve-sided crossing dome and its design served as a model for many other Serbian churches. The rich decoration on portals, windows and consoles is strongly reminiscent of Western European Romanesque and is rarely found in this opulence in Serbian churches. The artistically less important outer vestibule, which was decorated with frescoes under Nemanja’s grandson, King Radoslav, covers a little the beautiful late Romanesque west portal, which is adorned by a Madonna enthroned in the arched field as well as by lions and griffins. The interior of the church is covered with wall paintings from three different eras. The oldest frescoes from the early 13th century are only partially preserved, but are among the most valuable works of that century. Presumably a Greek painter from Byzantium worked here who could not use the complicated mosaic technique of the large Byzantine churches, but found a good substitute with his “painted mosaics”. The monumental crucifixion scene on the west wall, in solemn gold and azure blue, exudes sublime grandeur; it is the masterpiece of this unknown artist. The most recent paintings in the chancel and in the nave – they show the death of Mary and the monastery founder Stefan Nemanja – were made in the second half of the 16th century, when the Turks ruled Serbia.

The King’s Church, a small Byzantine domed building, looks much more modest next to the large Church of Our Lady. King Milutin had it built as one of his numerous foundations, which are scattered from Serbia via Thessaloniki and Mount Áthos to the Holy Land. The two court painters Euthychios and Michael decorated the church almost entirely with frescoes depicting the life of Mary, those of the

the most successful and harmonious of the Serbian fresco painting. The well-preserved murals are small-format, full of details and appear as joyful and cheerful as if they were taken from real life: the girls’ figures on the north wall, who take part in Mary’s introduction to the temple, are particularly graceful. On the south wall, they check the temperature of the bathing water for Maria’s son.

Finally, the monastery ensemble also includes St. Nicholas’ Church, built from rubble stones, of which only a few frescoes from around 1220 have survived: on the west wall the depiction of the entry into Jerusalem and women at the tomb of Christ.

Studenica Monastery (World Heritage)