Holy Archangels' Monastery near Prizren, Serbia

"You showed me the church of Yours as the source of health", Dusan's gift charter. -Full reconstruction was interrupted... -In June 1999 a monk from the monastery, Fr. Chariton, was abducted. -Now - a spiritual center gathering the remaining Orthodox people from Prizren and around. The young monastic brotherhood is full of religious enthusiasm and remains confident that one day Holy Archangels will be completely reconstructed.

Sunday, February 26, 2006

History before reconstruction

"You showed me the church of Yours as the source of
Dusan's gift charter

In Prizren where he had frequently resided King Dusan set about founding the large monastery of the Holy Archangels in the spring of 1343, three kilometers south of the town. The very place on which the monastery was being erected - on the left bank of the Bistrica, on an expansive plateau formed in the gorge by the river's fast course - had previously been the site of a church dedicated to archangels Michael and Gabriel. It was shielded by an old fortress towering above it, standing on one of the lowest slopes of Mt Sara. The majority of the monastery holdings spread over the region of Prizren, but a considerable number of them were situated in a broader area, in the environs of Skoplje and Tetovo, in Albania, and on the coast around Scutary. Stefan Dusan's prohibition, to which the lessee of the mine in Trepca refers in March 1349, that lead was not be sold to anyone before the needs of the monastery of the Holy Archangels were met is, therefore, not surprising. The main church, dedicated to the "strategists" and "leaders of the heavenly powers," Michael and Gabriel, was - as evidenced by the ground plan - one of the grandest monuments of Serbian architecture.Holy Archangels is a monastery complex encompassing an area of approximately 6,500 square. It was encircled by massive walls and connected to the fortress of Višegrad, added to the Monastery for defensive purposes in times of war. In addition to the large Church of the Holy Archangels, residential quarters, library and other buildings, within the Monastery there was another, smaller church, the Chapel of St. Nicholas. In the Monastery Charter one can read that a separate building within the complex was designated as the infirmary. The main church is based on the shape of an inscribed cross with three altar apses topped by five domes, which is typical of Byzantine architecture. The "Prizren floor" as the chroniclers named it, is unique in the land of Serbia. Its geometrical ornaments have analogies in the floors, the portals and the stone furniture in the churches on Mount Athos, in Sicily and in southern Italy. Parallels for the figures are to be found in the church of the Pantocrator in Constantinople, in the St. Giovanni Baptistery in Florence and in that city's church of San Miniato al Monte. The emperor's tomb was erected in the southwest corner of the naos. The monumental refectory was cross-shaped with an apse on the eastern side. A bridge across the Bistrica River connected the Monastery with Dušan's castle at Ribnik and the royal palace in Prizren.The monks whose number is unknown to us had their cells in the dormitory riased by the ramparts towards the river. According to the typikon, they gathered twice a day in the refectory. As one might expect of the monumental endowment of the most powerful Balkan ruler of the age, it housed no less than 200 monks and its first abbot, the blessed Metropolitan Jacob, who was responsible for the construction of the monastery.Tsar Dušan was interred in the main monastery church. The reconciliation of the Serbian Church and the Patriarchate of Constantinople, which took place in the Monastery, is the most important event after Dušan's death. The historian Constantine Jiricek wrote that in 1375, after the reconciliation of the Serbian and Greek Churches, representatives of both Churches served a Divine Liturgy at the tomb of Tsar Dušan and on that occasion the Greek representatives removed the anathema from Dušan, Tsar Uroš, and Patriarchs Joanikije and Sava. At one time the Monastery was the residence of St. Jefrem, the Serbian Patriarch in the time of the Battle of Kosovo.During Turkish rule the Holy Archangels, like other monasteries, lost large estates and struggled on the verge of subsistence level. Their misfortune, however, was even greater: at the outset of the 17th century, Sinan Pasha ordered a large mosque in Prizren to be constructed with remarkable dressed stone taken from the churches on the Bistrica. After that, the monastic complex fell completely into ruin, and, in the course of time, became largely covered with earth deposited from the hill-side. The numerous remains of its cross-sections - a large number of which have been incorported into the Prizren mosque - indicate that the drum may have had twelve or even sixteen sides. The windows piercing the drum, perhaps double, measuring almost one metre in width, afforded sufficient light to the spacious and clearly articulated interior. The dome, however, after the Constantinopolitan practice which had left but a few traces in Serbia, was of a melon shape.This appearance of the monastery became deeply entrenched in people's memory and for centuries they concocted legends about it and lit candles on its ruins. Twice a year, on the feast days of the Holy Archangels, in summer and autumn, they gathered from afar at night, and waited for the sunrise praying with priests. One traveller left an exciting descripiton of this ancient shrine in darkness, with the contours outlined solely by the candlelight of the faithful.In 1927 Dr. Radoslav Grujic conducted extensive research and archeological excavations of the Monastery and he transferred the articles found to the present-day Archeological Museum in Skopje.Because of its strong association with Prizren and Tsar Dušan, as well as its unfortunate fate, the Holy Archangels Monastery was a frequent motif in Serbian art. Chroniclers from the 14th century who had the opportunity to see the building in its full splendor claimed that nothing under the sun was equal to it. There are also stories about the suffering and punishment which befell Sinan Pasha for destroying the Monastery.


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