Holy Archangels Monastery Prizren
Holy Archangels Monastery Prizren – Manastir Svetih arhangela Prizren is the huge Medieval complex of holy shrines encompassing an area of approximately 6.500 sq m, situated in the gorgeous Prizren Bistrica River gorge, 3 km southeast of Prizren. Holy Archangels Monastery is endowment of the Serbian Emperor Dusan and was preserved thanks to its premium strategic position along the river gorge which leads to the Sirinic and Sredska zupas /parishes/ of the Sharr Mountain /Sara planina/ and further to Kacanik Gorge. The Sinićka Župa is located in the valley of the upper course of the Lepenac River, northeast of the Sar Mountain, in the Autonomous Province of Kosovo and Metohija. Holy Archangels Monastery is situated on the high steep slope of the Sara Mountain and well-kept stronghold surrounded by walls and ramparts around its whole complex, connected with the Medieval Visegrad fortification on top of the safeguarding point which was first recorded in the early Byzantine period of the 4th – 6th century. The bridge over Prizren Bistrica River used to connect the Holy Archangels Monastery with the Ribnik Medieval Castle and the Royal Palace of Emperor Dusan in Prizren, which the royalty used as a summer residence and hunting lodge. The Monastery of Holy Archangels Peter and Paul in Prizren was built on the site of an older church during the period from 1343 to 1352 as the glorious endowment and the monumental burial Church of Serbian Emperor Dusan, the most powerful Balkan ruler of the age and was dedicated to the Holy Archangels Michael and Gabriel. The place was chosen by Emperor Dusan since he got recovered here after very strong illness. Within the vast Holy Archangels Monastery Complex the smaller Saint Nicholas Church was built next to the main Monastery church, as well as the spacious refectory Complex including the large dining place, the large Library and the Hospital to house over 200 monks.
The Monastery of Holy Archangels’ estate stretched in the Middle Ages, during the reign of Emperor Dusan from Sara Planina /Sharr Mountain/ to the Adriatic Sea, comprising 93 villages, mills, an iron mine in Toplica, fishermen village on Plav Lake, fertile land and vineyards and the whole revenue from the rich Prizren market with privileges given to the Monastery by Emperor Dusan founding Charter /probably issued in 1348/ so made it the richest Serbian Medieval Monastery. Cooking oil arrived from Bar and fish from Skadar and Plav Lakes while the salt, the silk, the wine, the honey and selected craftsmen were engaged in construction of this aristocratic place. Among the craftsmen given to the Holy Archangels Monastery by the Founding Charter, there were master builders Petros, Vojislav, Srdan, Nos and Vojhina together with the first abbot, the blessed Metropolitan Jacob, responsible for the master-piece building. The monastery of the Holy Archangels Prizren, for instance, was placed under the jurisdiction of neither the Bishop nor the Archbishop, but of the Emperor himself. When Emperor Dusan died, 20th December 1355, his body was buried in monumental grave within the monastic complex. The reconciliation of the Serbian Church and the Patriarchate of Constantinople took place in the Holy Archangels Monastery in 1375 which was an important historian event when the Divine Liturgy was served at the tomb of Emperor Dusan. The first time Holy Archangels Monastery was heavily damaged was in 1455 when Turks took over Prizren. The following period of Turkish occupation gave evidence of the decline of the entire Holy Archangels Monastery complex, while in the second half of the 16th century begun its complete devastation. The Church was completely destroyed by Sinan Pasha and the material from the the destroyed monastery was used in 1615 for the construction of his mosque in Prizren /the evidences on stones used for mosque building are still easily visible/. After that, the Holy Archangels monastic complex fell completely into ruin, and, abandoned, became largely covered with earth deposited from the hill-side, the holy shrine remained in this condition for three centuries. After all the devastation it had suffered, only the ramparts of the monumental Holy Archangels monastic complex have survived, triangular in base with outer ramparts running along the course of the river. Their appearance has been uncovered in excavations, when numerous architectural elements of exquisite profiles and rich sculptural ornaments were discovered. A careful analysis of all finds gives a complex picture of different ideas and stylistic influences intertwined in a specific manner in the ruler’s mausoleum. 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, a display of the sovereign’s power in the epoch of the huge prosperity of the medieval state. At the same time and in the same fashion, a smaller church of St. Nicholas was erected next to it. With its position and choice of patron it corresponded to the tradition of allowing special space on the southern side – either in the edifice itself /as in the Virgin Ljeviska and Decani Monastery/ or in the form of an added chapel /as in Pec/ – to St. Nicholas, a much revered arch priest and patron whose cult was venerated in wide circles of society. The elevated model that the Emperor harbored in memories of the Byzantine capital was of the renowned, classic cross-in-square type. A large dome resting on tall piers built of stone blocks 160 cm wide topped the central portion of the nags. The numerous remains of its cross-sections – a large number of which have been incorporated 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 meter in width, afforded sufficient light to the spacious and clearly articulated interior. The dome, however, after the Constantinople’s practice which had left but a few traces in Serbia, was of a melon shape. Nevertheless, it is not possible to determine with more precision the height at which it stood, even when the logical proportions of the structure are taken into consideration; in all likelihood, it was not lower than the elegant Decani dome, always referred to as “lofty” /Visoki/ in epic poetry. The upper section of the church, although simply structured, was not only reduced to a high sub-domical area and barrel-vaulted cross-arms. Numerous fragments of carved stone with characteristic profiles suggest that, as in the Virgin Ljeviska and Gracanica, the lower areas, i.e. corners, were crowned with octagonal domes. Finally, one dome, in all probability blind, rose above the central of the three bays forming an open narthex. Between the pillars on the west side, as well as in the north and south, were two-light mullioned windows with parapets in the lower portions, protecting the translucent interior of the narthex on windy and rainy days. The character of the space and its construction scheme were readily distinguishable on the face of the building in a manner characteristic of Byzantine architecture. In the interior, behind the rhythmically arranged pilaster strips were shallow pilasters supporting the construction, or the walls themselves. The arches on the gables presumably marked the construction of vaults spanning the arms of the cross. The base of the entire building was reinforced with a tall slanting socle. It prevented water from penetrating the foundations, thus protecting the interior from moisture which especially threatened the murals. The roofs also safeguarded the frescoes with lead tiles whose forms outlined all elements of the upper construction, primarily the vaults, usually the first to suffer damage. Like other endowments rulers erected with the intention of being buried in them, the Holy Archangels Monastery echoed stone facing and ornamentation in the spirit of western art, a feature characterizing a church built in Studenica by the Emperor’s grandparent Stefan Nemanja. The construction of Dusan’s mausoleum was also entrusted to masons from coastal towns chiefly from Kotor, some of whom had probably been engaged on the erection of Decani as well. However, the facades here did not entirely echo the exterior of that monastery. Characteristic Romanesque blind arcades from the 12th century commonly running along the horizontal and sloping terminations of the walls below the roof are not part of this shrine. In all likelihood they were replaced in the subdomical area by cornices containing densely carved slender, stooping stalks whose fragments have been found in fair numbers in the ruins. A novelty worthy of attention were horizontal, simple projecting cornices whose character and position can be determined with more certainty on the basis of the appearance of the church of St. Nicholas. They heralded the subsequent regular occurrence of cordon bands horizontally dividing the facades of churches within the decorative system of the Morava school of architecture. On the other hand, western sculptural practice introduced rose windows with radial mullions, tripled arches between them, framed with sculptural decoration. The profiles of their fragments suggest that there were two different rose windows, probably adorning the main fronts of the Holy Archangels and St. Nicholas, as was the case with churches on the Adriatic coast. It is interesting that twenty years later, although carved in a different manner, they became a common feature in stone decoration on the facades of a new stylistic trend in Serbian architecture. The portal, the appearance of which is difficult to reconstruct on the basis of surviving fragments, was executed in multicolored stone and broadly developed with projecting door-posts and arch-volts enriched by relief carving, flanked by lions which may have supported free-standing colonettes. The repertoire of ornaments framing the apertures was also characteristic of the long transitional period from the Romanesque epoch to Gothic. Apart from tiers of stylized acanthus, mazes of tendrils with foliage and flowers, bands with vegetative ornaments in shallow relief carving already announcing the approach of Morava sculpted decoration. The Emperor’s sarcophagus was built up and faced with slabs while his life-size reclining figure was posed on the upper stone lid. Regrettably, particulars about his appearance are not known for not all uncovered fragments have survived to the present day. The representation, however, was interesting because it was the first time in medieval Serbian art that a ruler was depicted – after funerary portraits in the West – in high relief. Visitors were most dazzled by the opulence of the stone pavement in the interior; it remained strongly impressed on the memory of those recollecting it from times before demolition. Praising the beauty of the church, the writer of the genealogy of the “Serbian emperors” from the outset of the 16th century stated that he did not know whether any other such church existed “under the sun,” and added, making mention of works elsewhere, that such a floor was nowhere to be found. Large tiles were embellished with massive figures of beasts and geometrical designs of broad bands on a mosaic ground. The general disposition of ornaments was determined by the space structure so that the surfaces of the related sections, the naos and the subdomical area in particular, comprised separate decorative units that render it possible to conjure up with more certainty the relationship between individual elements and their rhythm. Thus, it has been noted that triangular fields bore two figures of lions, birds with the tails of snakes, winged animals and dragons, always confronting each other, and that the space between the pillars supporting the dome was paved with alternate rectangular and square slabs. The representations of beasts, occasionally inlaid into smaller fields within tranquil and firm ornaments, were impressed on the smooth surface with delicate cuts not only defining the contours but also supplementing the shapes of bodies, outlining feathers and marking the eyes. After that, the cut-in, hollowed back ground surrounding them was filled with rose-colored mortar /obtained by adding ground brick powder/, and into it were laid differently cut cubes of multicolored stones. The slabs were predominantly of light-colored slate, but also of one type of breccia of a magenta color, quite similar to that utilized in the construction of Decani. Thus, the whole attracted attention not only with its nobility of form for which the master had found excellent prototypes, but also with its pictorial richness. The church of St. Nicholas, built in the same manner but with more modest stone paving, is in a better state of preservation, thus enabling us to reconstruct its general appearance with more certainty. A simple naos is separated from the bema by two tall columns which, with corner pilasters, support powerful arches and the dome above them. The narthex with openings and leaning arches was also vaulted with a calotte, somewhat broader but certainly blind. Finally, the apertures on the north and south sides – as well as in the narthex of the Holy Archangels – were in all probability divided by columns with arches while its lower portions were covered by tiles in a manner known both in the architecture of Constantinople and Thessaloniki, the latter being closer to Serbia. The parekklesion of St. Nicholas represented a remarkable achievement in the architecture of its kind, intended for special services, and of elegant proportions. Superb masonry work was utilized in its construction. The monks whose number is unknown to us had their cells in the dormitory raised by the ramparts towards the river. According to the typikon, they gathered twice a day in the refectory which distinguished itself by its size and rather rare cruciform plan. Of its walls, only the lower sections have survived, but the dimensions and character of the structure leave no doubt that the spacious central part with a broad apse was roofed by a wooden structure supported on lateral sides – perhaps somewhat lower towards the spaces – by powerful pillars with arches. The style in which the refectory was built, however, was different – it was Byzantine, with blocks of stones, occasionally semi -dressed, interspersed with layers of brick. It is evident that the construction of this edifice, as well as of the dormitory and subsidiary structures, was entrusted to different artists. Formerly, the refectory left a strong impression with its forms and volume, natural in the magnificent surroundings of other structures, powerful fortifications and the rocky mountain with steep sides between which, in the ravine, flowed the Bistrica river. 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 traveler left an exciting description of this ancient shrine in darkness, with the contours outlined solely by the candlelight of the faithful.
During outrageous Kosovo pogrom on 17th March 2004, when the “Emperor’s town” Prizren was burnt and heavily destructed, as well as many other towns and villages throughout Kosovo and Metohija settled by Serbs, The Holy Archangels Monastery was attacked in the most blasphemous manner, destroyed to the ground and set in flame by blasphemous Albanians during the six hours vandal attack, that was witnessed by KFOR forces. Just few moments before brutal attack in order to avoid human tragedy, the Holy Archangels Monastery was evacuated and monks were forced to move to nearby village barracks in the Shar Mountain.
Among many victims of Kosovo and Metohija tragedy there are monks of the Holy Archangels Monastery, Fr. Chariton and Fr. Stefan who were brutally executed by Kosovo Albanian terrorists during the bloody aftermath of Kosovo war. They were abducted and killed only because they were Orthodox Serb monks. With their martyring death they suffered for Christ together with many other killed Christian Serbs and more than 100 destroyed or desecrated Orthodox churches in Kosovo and Metohija. May they rest in peace with the Lord whom they loved so much !
Father Chariton Lukic was a monk in the Holy Archangels Monastery. He was born on November 21, 1960 in central Serbia and became a monk in Kosovo in 1995. Father Chariton was kidnapped by armed persons wearing UCK /KLA/ uniforms and insignia on June 16, 1999 in the streets of Prizren. In the time of his disappearance the German KFOR troops have already entered Prizren area. Unfortunately they were followed by armed gangs of UCK extremists who have killed and kidnapped a dozen of Serbs in the city during the first days. The body of Father Chariton, decapitated and severely mutilated, was found near Prizren in August 2000 and his remains were buried in Crna Reka Monastery.
Along with reconstruction of the dormitory where monks stay, the large reconstruction of the demolished dormitory – hospice started in 2012. Nowadays the Holy Archangels Monastery makes the place of gatherings of Serbs living in Prizren and Kosovo and Metohija, and also the tourist-cultural center which provides comfortable accommodation and food for visitors from all over the world /rooms with facilities and heating, homemade food/. The Holy archangels Monastery makes the particular oasis for the remaining Serbs who now live in the Emperor town of Prizren, besides some thirty students who attend the famous spiritual and theological school of the Serbian Orthodox Church – the Prizren Seminary. Again is the Holy Archangels Monastery place of special interest and worship, guarded by the Abbot Father Mihajlo.
The working group of activists of the Orthodox Association of Saint Sava from Novi Sad visited Prizren from the 13th till the 24th August 2014, with the aim to participate in the clearing of the building remains and regulation arrangement of the yard of the Holy Virgin Church of Ljevis in Prizren. Eight of the activists stayed in the brand new dormitory of the Saint Archangels Monastery, from where they had excellent conditions to carry out planned activities every day. Along their plans, they have finished the clearing of the space around and in front of the Medieval shrine, which was devastated and damaged in the pogrom on the 17 March 2004. The entire monastery complex is under protection of the Republic of Serbia, as a Monument of Culture of Great Importance, and today there lives one an Abbot with few monks, and the Holy Archangels Monastery is under constant protection of Kosovo Police and in a special protection regime.