Monastery on Sunday: Studenica, Serbia
In an earlier post, I mentioned we bought rakija from a monastery. What I didn’t mention was that it was one of the most important monasteries in Serbia-and one of our best experiences here yet.
We decided to take the long way home from Zlatibor and see the historic and beautiful Studenica Monastery. The monastery was built by Stefan Nemanja, the first leader of medieval Serbia. Long after Nemanja fought for Serbian independence from Byzantine rule, he abdicated his throne to become a monk at Studenica. Two of his sons became Serbian leaders, and another, Saint Sava, founded the Serbian Orthodox Church.
(To think I was proud of getting the laundry done today.)
We were excited to see it, and plugged “Studenica” in our GPS. We promptly followed the directions- to Studenica, Kosovo. Oops. We figured this out before we got to the border, but it made the trip significantly longer. Studenica’s gates were closed when we arrived.
We were devastated. A passing monk explained that the doors had closed five minutes ago, and asked us about our Belgrade license plates. After we explained our roundabout way home, he said he could show us around a little. We couldn’t believe our luck.
There were once 14 churches in the complex, but now only two remain: Church of the Virgin, and the Church of the King.
Photos of the interior are not permitted, but I’ve pulled some off the net. Trust me, they look much better in person. The frescoes below, from the Church of the Virgin, date from the 1200s. Time and Ottoman forces have damaged the images, but the colors remain vibrant. The image on the right is Stefan Nemajna, from answers.com.
The King’s Church is smaller. It’s not as awe-inspiring as the Virgin’s church, but its frescoes are in better condition. Some of the frescoes featuring the king’s life were even used to teach people about hygiene. I’d love to show a photo, but I couldn’t find one I thought I could use freely.
We admired the marble carvings on the Virgin’s Church exterior. As our host pointed out a sundial carved into a wall, he offered us coffee. He treated us like guests, rather than the gate-crashers we were.
We sipped and watched the sun set on the countryside. The Bishop wandered over to say hello. We talked about our families, our travels, and the monastery. It was a memorable example of the Serbian spirit and hospitality. It was also memorable for another reason; we were able to have this conversation almost entirely in Serbian. At last, we could participate in the Serbian community, not just observe it.
We bid farewell to our hosts and went back to our car. We had a long drive to an apartment, and a city, that felt like home.