Holy Virgin of Ljeviš Church Prizren
Bogorodica Ljeviska Cathedral /the Holy Virgin of Ljevish Church/ is the main official Diocesan church of Prizren Orthodox Serbian Bishops and is considered by Orthodox Serbs as a pride of the Royal Medieval city of Prizren. Bogorodica Ljeviska Church was built as the cathedral church in the old part of Prizren which was the capital of Medieval Serbia for a while and beloved city of Nemanyć Family. Remains of the older church buildings dating probably from the 9th-10th century are under the foundations of the present church of the Holy Virgin. The oldest church was a three-nave basilica with three alter apses and two vestibules. This building had the features of Byzantine provincial architecture. It is assumed that the Bishopric mentioned in a charter by the Byzantine Emperor Basil II in 1018, was situated in this church /monastery/. An educated Moslem while was passing through Prizren after defeat of Carigrad /Constantinople/ in the middle of the 15 th century was excited with the beauty of the Church of Bogorodica Ljeviška and left his inscription on the shrine : ” My pupil is your nest. Grant us entering in, as this is your home “.
The original church of Bogorodica Ljeviska was partly destroyed at the end of the 12th century, when Stefan Nemanya occupied Prizren and built a shrine of exceptional architecture. As King Stefan the First Crowned had annexed this area to the Serbian state in 1214, the former Prizren Bishopric was included in the territories of the Serbian church when it won its independence in 1219. This is when the old Bogorodica Ljeviska Church was partially restored, and the walls were decorated with paintings with inscriptions in Old Slavonic. The church of the Most Holy Theotokos Ljeviska was thoroughly rebuilt by the order of King Milutin in 1306-1307 as his endowment. The restoration was supervised by Prizren Bishops Damian and Sava, and carried out by craftsmen and builders Nikola and Astrapa, whose names can be seen in the fresco inscriptions in the exo-narthex. Master Nikola managed to adapt the architectural composition of the new church to the old one, so he created one of the most beautiful Serbian medieval churches, which was not constructed according to another church, but presented an original architectural design : a combination of the original three-nave basilica, and Milutin’s five-dome cross-shaped church with the external vestibule and two level belfry above. This church was the most important monument of a cosmopolitan culture flourishing in the medieval town of Prizren. During the ten centuries of its Christian existence, the Holy Virgin Ljeviška Cathedral was the symbol of the persistence of the Orthodox faith, but also one of the most important monuments of Byzantine art and architecture, the artistic value of which surpasses national borders. Only the side walls remained from the old basilica. The central dome rests upon four pillars, while the small domes are placed diagonally at the very corners. The southern side space is covered with a cross-shaped ceiling, while the north one is covered with quarter-logs. The external vestibule, which was originally entirely open on the ground floor, is covered with a cross-shaped arch ceiling. The church was built from alternate layers of brick and limestone. The surface of the facade is vivid with double and triple windows and niches. Various ceramic-plastic elements are used for decorating the facade. Two layers of frescoes are preserved in the church, but they were severely damaged, when the church was transformed into a mosque. Only three fresco paintings from the beginning of the 13th century are preserved : The wedding in Kana, Healing of the Blind Man, and the Most Holy Theotokos with Christ the Guardian. These paintings are close to works from the Comnene period. The other layer of fresco paintings, which dates from the time of King Milutin, between 1307 and 1313, was discovered mostly during restorative work in 1950-1952, when the layers of plaster which had been applied when the church was transformed into a mosque was removed. These paintings were painted by the famous artists Michael Astrapa with his company. Scenes of the Great Holidays, Christ’s Passion, Miracles and Parables, as well as individual images of the Christian saints are dominant in the nave. Female saints, dressed in contemporary gowns of Byzantine and Serbian noblewomen are presented in the central part of the church, on the first pair of pillars. The Dormition of the Theotokos is presented on the west wall, while the Last Supper, Washing the Feet, and Trial of Christ are on the south wall. All the images were painted quite vividly and in motion. Fragments of the scenes: the Divine Liturgy, Communion of the Disciples and the monumental Theotokos in Prayer are preserved in the altar apse. The cycle presenting the scenes of the life of Saint Nicholas are situated in the south nave. A unique range of Serbian historical portraits is in the vestibule. A bust of Stefan Nemanya presented as Simeon the monk is painted above the portal, kings Stefan the First Crowned and Milutin are on his right, while St. Sava, painted as an arch-priest is presented on his left. A painting of deacon is next to him. A portrait of King Milutin, the endower exceeding life-size is painted opposite the composition on a red background with a long, glorying inscription. The painting of King Uros, which is quite damaged, serves as his counter-part, while Jesus Christ is presented above them in the act of blessing. The walls of the external vestibule are illustrated with scenes describing the Judgment Day and the Baptism. Images of arch-priests, among which there are a number of Prizren bishops, can be also seen here. The southeast chapel contains illustrations concerning the life of Saint Nicholas, scenes from Saint George’s life are in the north chapel, while Saint Demetrius’ life is presented in the south chapel. The intricate iconography topics of these frescoes are considerably different from works in Serbian churches of the 13th century. The appearance of new fresco images, the Creation and the Miracles, the appearance of a large number of figures in scenes, as well as the appearance of a symbolic language of allegorical, personified and metaphoric meaning presents a novelty which will mark the Renaissance of the Peleologues. The figures in the frescoes are of sophisticated expression and positive modeling. From Byzantine times, the church organization retained an episcopate in Prizren and the Cathedral in Ljevisa, a present-day densely populated town traversed by the Bistrica River. The old center was renovated at the time, but only for the needs of the new Eparchical administration. Its appearance was radically altered only later, at the outset of the 14th century. The broad, three-aisle church with external three-sided apses and a narthex open toward the church interior, was lighted by windows above the lateral naves, while archaeological investigations have shown that the western facade had a porch with lateral low spaces similar to those along the narthex. It is difficult to ascertain the date when the basilica was erected despite many analogous examples in the architecture of the Eastern Christian world, because it belonged to a type of much earlier Byzantine traditional structures such as prevailed even after the re-establishment of the Emperor’s authority in these regions. A number of marble fragments from the low altar screen typical of the 6th century testify, as in Hvosno, to the existence of an earlier Christian shrine in this locality. In the 11 th century the church was, without a doubt, the seat of the Prizren bishops as cited in a document of Basil II’s, in which he confirms the rights and defines the extent of the Ohrid Diocese. For their part, the scant but valuable fragments of bas-relief ornamentation carved in the walls were built later, also confirming by their plasticity and style that they belong to the same period. There are no indications that after 1219 the Cathedral, as part of the Serbian Archbishopric, altered its appearance in any essential way. Conservation excavation has indicated only that the church’s lateral aisles previously covered by a wooden construction – were then placed under a single roof. The Church of the Virgin of Ljevisa, on the other hand, was soon afterwards enhanced with new wall-paintings, but the remaining fragments exposed when restoration work removed the outer layers, revealed only a small part of the once elaborate frescoes. A fairly well-preserved depiction of the Healing of the Blind and an image of the Saviour from the Wedding at Cana, were a part of Christ’s Miracles, painted on the western wall which separated the central nave from the southern aisle. In addition, a rare iconograph image of the Mother of God with Child bearing the epithet of “Provider” and holding a bread-basket was uncovered behind a pillar. The representations here are cheerful, of simplified form and painted in light colors, thus demonstrating that they had already moved away from the expressiveness of the late Komnenian period which lasted longer in some of the areas of the Byzantine stylistic circle. Nonetheless, some of the saints’ features and the trembling folds of the draperies indicate that there still prevailed an enduring tradition of the grand, universal style which was gradually transformed in various ways that led to blunting the sharpness of the linear brush strokes and softening the dramatic tensions of the depictions. The particularities of the older paintwork in Ljevisa were not an isolated phenomenon in Serbia. They were similar to the frescoes in the parakklesion of the St. Nichola’s Church in Studenica, and in the diakonikon of the main church of the Moraca Monastery. It may therefore be reasonably asserted that they were the work of master-builders belonging to the same workshop that was active in the second quarter of the 13th century. The Prizren bishop Sava – subsequent Archbishop Sava III – endeavored to restore his cathedral church in the 14th century. The old basilica was no longer used significantly, in the physical sense, except for the lower parts of the walls and the interior piers; its spatial plan and exterior therefore acquired a totally different appearance. This time, the Raska tradition was abandoned with its domed single-nave church, the choir transept and the parakklesia. The broad central nave of the former cathedral was divided by a double row of piers forming a cross-in-square in the style of Byzantine architecture. This notion suggested a more complex interior easily perceived from the outside: the branches of the central and transversal nave were taller than the other parts of the edifice, while a cupola was built at their intersection on a square base. Counter-balance to the dome was achieved by four much smaller cupolas placed toward the ends. Deftly adapting the lower parts of the cathedral, the experienced builder formed a kind of deambulatorium from the lateral aisles and narthex such as were also known to urban and monastery Byzantine builders in various forms. The new entity, therefore, represented a specific, essentially five-aisle edifice with a cross and five cupolas in its central area. This structure, retaining the dimensions of the old basilica, resulted in its elongation, unusual for architecture of this type with added cupolas at a distance from the central one. Its interior divided by piers into a number of segments acquired an exciting rhythm, increased by the mysterious play of shadows and depths resulting from scant sources of light. Of exceptional interest is the exo-narthex with its open ground-floor, also lying on the foundations of the old portico, while on the upper floor are two closed areas of the parakklesion with a raised bell tower. There are numerous instances in the cathedrals of the Raska school of external narthexes added on with one or two lateral or frontal towers, but in Prizren these parts were built at the same time and comprised an integral structure. The bell-tower itself with a wide arched passage on the ground floor and a large two-light mullioned window on the upper level emerges through the body of the exo-narthex to rise, with its free upper section, high above the church’s dome. Open on all sides so that the entire town could hear the church-bells, its light-weight construction and transparency as well as sturdy proportions embrace the ceremonial western side of the complex. Today, however, like so many other monumental facades it is obscured by a network of narrow streets of the thickly populated quarter “on the Ljevisa,” as this part of the town was known in the Middle Ages. The variety of the construction elements used in rebuilding the Prizren cathedral can readily be noted in its interior arches adequately following the nature of the available space. But the real wealth of forms and architectural texture is most obvious in the facades, till then unknown to Serbian architecture. In keeping with Byzantine building methods, the facade was made of blocks of warm-toned bricks of different shapes and shades and broad sculptural clasps, altogether creating rich surfaces and warm color blends. The facade itself is highly diverse with its apertures, lunettes and arch-volts, shallow pilasters and niches. Some of them, especially elements of the arches, were made exclusively of bricks in multiform sequences and free motifs without regular repetitions, ranging from decoratively disposed elements to a series of delicate surfaces except in the center where a representative of celestial powers, a six-winged seraphim, blocks the entrance of the evil powers while reminding the approaching believer that his heart must be pure. As part of the painted decoration, this was usually conveyed by Archangel Michael with his unsheathed sword and unfurled roll of unequivocal warning. The vine and floral pattern which had been around for quite some time in the Romanesque tradition was to be found on later shrines as well, especially in Decani which was decorated by master-masons from the Adriatic coast. These heralds of new ideas and the builders of early shrines in Serbia, have mostly remained unknown to us. However, the name of the talented craftsman of the Prizren cathedral was unexpectedly recorded. As was the custom, several years after the completion of a building, the interior would be painted. The painting included the arches and sides of the portico in front of which the commotion of town life never ceased throughout the day, even in the Middle Ages. This open space was a link between the church and life outside it where local and foreign tradesmen, emissaries and messengers, soldiers, merchants and travelers walked by, but most of all the poor from near and far came to the church for alms. Among the Serbs, as in Byzantium and the West, monasteries gave food to the poor and to all who came to their gates. On certain days people who came were offered wine, and on special occasions even money. The first typic of Hilandar and Studenica monasteries in the early 13th century modeled after the constitution of the famous Constantinople Monastery of the Virgin Evergetis prescribed the charitable duties of the fraternities. These instructions found a place in the middle of the next century in strict provisions decreed by Emperor Dusan’s Law Code which stated: “…and in the churches, the indigent are to be fed as the founder decides, but if a metropolitan or bishop or abbot fails to do so, he is to be stripped of his rank.” Just as the wall near the entrances to the monasteries were inscribed with the charter of the founders confirming their privileges and properties, so in the exo-narthex of the Virgin of Ljevisa there is a record of how much aid was to be distributed to the poor. These words were inscribed on the arched surface of the entrance in fresco technique and were certainly an excerpt from the lost deed granted by King Milutin which is only partly preserved here and which ordained that at all times in summer and in winter, food and drink and salt were to be placed “at the portal.” Interestingly, this order contained a statement to the effect that the same amount of food was given to master-builders Nikola and Astrapas who “built the church and painted its interior. ” There is no indication of the builders’ origins following this mention of their names. In the Serbian inscription the name Astrapas given after the name of Nikola may refer to a man from Greece where architecture of this style was nurtured. It has been noted, however, that Astrapas appears in another instance as the name of a master-builder who, with his brothers Djordje and Dobroslav two decades later, is mentioned in a deed given to Decani monastery. Nikola evidently worked for King Milutin but one should not hastily conclude that this refers to one and the same person. Many artisans convened to raise the Kings’s shrine; it is possible that two different men had the same, common, name of Nikola. It is also of interest to note that in Decani Nikola was not a master-builder but only assistant to his brother who held the master’s title. The significant question, however, is whether a person with experience gained locally in the 13th century – the name of the brother, Dobroslav, reveals Nikola’s Serbian origin – could have been such an excellent connoisseur of utterly different notions and of the special techniques that characterized the architecture of the Empire’s northern regions. The familiar layout of a western ground-plan with a bell-tower above the portal, a colorful facade and a number of other features can be found for example, in Omorphokklesia near Kastoria, a definite extant remainder of the practice of Epirote workshops. The title of master-builder Astrapas, one of the painters of the Church of the Virgin of Ljevisa was, with his assistant, as has been said, rather well-known. His name appears in a note written by the artist Michael who in 1294-5 painted the frescoes in the Church of the Holy Virgin Peribleptos in Ohrid and heralded major changes in painting in the new spirit. The discovery of his name beneath age-old layers of grime soon gave rise to disputes which have not been resolved even today. The basic dilemma has been whether one interprets the names of Michael and Astrapas as referring to two separate persons or to only one who appeared at first in Ohrid with a surname, and then later in Prizren without one. It seems natural that in the document ordaining the duties of the Ljevisa Church regarding the town poor, a master-builder would be mentioned only by the name of the illustrious family to which he belonged. From the preserved excerpt itself, though inscribed in fresco technique, it is evident that the work on building and painting had already been completed. At the same time, the language of the inscription, as in others, suggests that Astrapas had local artists on his team or else that he engaged men of letters for such needs who were well versed in Serbian church literature and able to accompany the frescoes with the appropriate quotes. The interior of the Church of the Virgin of Ljevisa, on the other hand, required of the artisans that the arrangement and nature of the decorative elements should fulfill all the requirements of religious rites and an increasingly sophisticated understanding of wall painting and its role. The elaborate space available after the earlier building was reconstructed was not suitable for the portrayal of certain scenes associated with the functions of its respective parts. Many of the frescoes were destroyed during the ensuing centuries of Turkish occupation when the church was converted into a mosque and the walls covered over with plaster and slaked lime, thus masking their Christian content. Nonetheless, the array of the cycles reveals their more or less preserved scenes while the position of the main themes can be detected by the remaining fragments. In undertaking the vast task of painting the frescoes several years after the church was built probably from 1310 to 1313 – the Thessalonian painter had the opportunity in the Prizren cathedral of demonstrating his exceptional erudition and experience gained over the years in the lively transformation of Byzantine pictorial art. Most certainly King Milutin was well-informed of the excellence of the artists to whom he entrusted the decoration of his endowments through his royal court in Thessalonica where he occasionally stayed. In this he would have been following a long-standing tradition of bonds between the Serbs and Thessalonica, the second largest city of the Byzantine Empire, where St. Sava sojourned while traveling to Athos, and where he met with church dignitaries and commissioned artistic works for the needs of the churches in Serbia and on Mt. Athos. Starting from the initial concept of a church as God’s dwelling on earth, the builders placed Christ Pantocrator in the main dome and Christ’s four other images in the adjacent ones – firstly in his usual aspect, then as the Great Hierarchy, then the Ancient of Days, and then as Emmanuel. The Prophets who presaged the coming of the Saviour were placed in the tambours between the windows, on the pendentives, and underneath them, the Evangelists as witnesses to his life and deeds. In the altar space, in the calotte, and on the lower surfaces, there is the wide scene of the Ascension. The sequence ends on the eastern side with the Holy Virgin and the Service of the Hierarchs in the apse, the Communion of the Apostles on the sides and a row of the Holy Fathers. Little has remained of the Great Feasts, usually situated on the highest surfaces as well as underneath them in the nags, on the lateral arms of the cross and in the subdomical area, where we see the Healing Acts of Christ followed by his Sufferings, the events linked to the Resurrection and his second coming. The last scenes illustrate excerpts from the Gospels read in order at matins between Easter and Pentecost. These scenes, though more extensive for the inclusion of individual cycles previously painted in the narthex, adhered fairly well to the tradition of the previous century. Moreover, the story of Christ’s life – his teachings, activities, sufferings, resurrection and repeated manifestations, all assembled in the central space – was depicted to the believers in all its segments and messages. The parishioners could find both consolation and encouragement in their cathedral. In the previous century, the infant Christ in his Mother’s lap and with the bread-basket had already been denoted as the Provider, while on a fresco dating from King Milutin’s time his large picture bore the epithet of the Prizren Provider. In the ever-open main church in the town, its inhabitants did see in the holy pictures not only lofty examples of the Christian martyrs but also the Saints whom they venerated for personal reasons. Among them the holy physicians were given a special place as the populace often addressed them for help. The additional space available for paintings following reconstruction did not necessarily result in a greater number of subjects treated, since narrative tendencies in art had led to expansion of the number of specific cycles and of their episodes, lending them a more complex aura. In the central part of the Ljevisa Church, the scenes, though of a smaller format than the previous ones, did not yet have the character of developed compositions. Despite the changes in use of space, they retained the simplicity of the basic scheme, a special monumentality marking the older paintings. It is in the same spirit that we see on the surfaces of the groined vaults and lateral sides of the southern outer aisle, the life of St. Nicholas to whom this special chapel was dedicated. Moral themes customarily adorning the monastic premises are portrayed at the other end on the floor above the internal narthex, in the catechumeni accessible primarily to clerics gathered round the archbishop’s throne. The popular medieval tale of King Joasaph and the monk Barlaam illustrates the story of human pride with the tree as a symbol of life whose roots are gnawed by mice. This is shown on the western side of the church. And while man light-heartedly sips honey, Hell is lying in wait for him with its jaws wide open. The images of deeply venerated warriors George and Demetrios on horseback are shown on the northern and southern side of the same space. In the east is Daniel the Prophet whose firm faith saved him from the lion’s den. The frescoes of the exo-narthex are of a different character and have been better preserved. They mainly repeat scenes painted earlier in the western parts of the church in the narthex or in the frescoes behind the porch. But the internal content and artistic mode reveal profound changes. Thorough investigations into the paintings of that time and specifically of the Virgin of Ljevisa have explained its new character and the spiritual layers it stemmed from. It is usually the narrative character of sacral themes in increasingly complex depictions that used indirect language which was not always easy to follow. Some manifestations were presented in symbols and their meaning in allegories which often demanded a theological and literary education on the part of the viewer. This kind of language, incomprehensible to the needy expecting help at the church door, but interesting and convincing to those who endeavored to fathom what the wall-paintings interpreted, found in the outer narthex a veritable treasury at the very entrance over a wide arch. Believers came upon slender winged female figures borrowed from a series of classical personifications. It was difficult to transpose ideas and poetic statements into pictures so the artists had recourse to the traditional words of the ancient world, its symbols and allegories which had a continued life in Byzantium and were repeated in literature and the arts. Connected with this are also sayings attributed to old sages and prophetesses who allegedly forecast the coming of the Messiah. The well-educated Thessalonian painter Astrapas in whose city the young learned of the works of the ancient philosophers, portrayed on the northern arch, similar to the nearby prophets, Plato, Plutarch, the Ethiopian prophetess Sibulla and others. All these figures reasserted the favorite idea of the harmony between the Old and New Testaments, the conviction that all great personalities and events in Christian history were anticipated by events which preceded them. To these are added paintings of Jacob’s struggle with the Angel and Jacob’s Dream in a special segment under the Tree of Jesse. A rare illustration of the first stychirion from the second canon of John of Damascus written to the glory of the Virgin’s Dormition is also represented here. Like others, the Prizren bishopric itself reminded its believers, in the lowest zone of its cathedral, of its own past and role within the Serbian Church. Six local arch-priests are shown on the northern side of the western wall, and also on the south where we see St. Sava’s successors to the archbishop’s throne from Arsenije to Jevstatije II. The valuable figures of the local bishops preserved not only name, though most of them are unknown, but also in facial features which may also have been drawn in the earlier church. The Serbian church dignitaries were consistently portrayed in their traditional Orthodox vestments with their white stycharion with epitrachilion, polystavrion and omophorion. From those times on, archbishops were also shown in other, more colorful ceremonial garb which the Serbian Church adopted from Byzantium. The portraits of King Milutin and other members of the Nemanjic dynasty convey a sense of the opulent clothing that prevailed locally at that time. These portraits cover the surface of the inner narthex. Even earlier, especially in the final decades of the 13th century, the Raska rulers looked to dress and life-style in the Constantinople imperial court. In this sense, it is sufficient to see the portraits of Kings Dragutin /1276-1282/ and Milutin /1282-1321/ in a slightly earlier founders’ composition in the cathedral of St. Achilles in the town of Arilje /1296/ to confirm the impression of a consistent emulation of the clothing worn by Byzantine emperors. This inclination is also confirmed in an interesting account written by one of the most prominent personages in Constantinople, writer Theodore Metochites. As court chancellor and confidant of Andronikos II, Metochites traveled to Serbia several times in an attempt to settle disputes arising from Serbian conquests in the northern regions of the Empire. During the negotiations he conducted with the Serbian king they finally agreed that Milutin would wed Simonis the Byzantine Emperor’s young daughter, a member of the house of Palaeologos. This marriage was expected to improve relations between Serbia and Byzantium. A frequently cited passage from one of Metochites’ letters to the Emperor from Milutin’s palace eloquently describes the King and prevalent Serbian custom : The King himself was beautifully arrayed in jewels. About his body he had numerous jewels of precious stones and pearls, as many as could be worn, and he veritably shimmered with gold ornaments. The whole palace shone in silken furnishings and gold ornaments. Briefly, everything was arranged in Roman taste and in keeping with the ceremony of the Emperor’s court. The figure of the King Milutin in the Ljevisa Church of the Holy Virgin, in the attire known to Metochites, corresponded indeed to the formal dress of the Byzantine Emperor : Milutin is portrayed against a strong, deep red background, dressed in a dark divetesion with an epimaniakis and loros of golden-ocher hue, covered with semi-precious stones and hemmed with a double row of pearls. On his head he is wearing a typical Byzantine crown topped by an orphanos and prependulia, from which hung pendants of pearls and other jewels, holding in his hands the insignia of his rule – a scepter and akakia. The impressive portrait is larger than the others in the narthex and has a lengthy inscription naming him as founder of the church, listing his ancestors and stressing that he was the son-in-law of the Byzantine Emperor. This portrait is located on the eastern wall alongside the entrance to the nags. Next to him on the surface stands another figure, probably Queen Simonis, while on the right side believers used to be able to see depictions of the ruler’s father King Uros and his mother Queen Helen, a French princess, who was still living at the time (+l314). Both these portraits are now no longer visible. However, the portraits of the two kings, the founder and his father, composed an ideological entity with the clear message that their power was derived from the Lord himself. Divine will is also reflected in the three-quarter length portrait of Christ above the entrance with his arms extended towards them in a sign of blessing. The depiction also suggests the succession of the ruler’s royal dignity, but the elder brother of the founder, King Dragutin, is absent from this group since Milutin seized the throne from his brother some thirty years before that. Still, such the choice and disposition of the portraits indicates that the conflict between the brothers had ended by the time the murals were painted, at a point when Milutin was able to assert his full legitimacy to the crown, in all probability in 1313. Directly reflecting the current political relations in the land, the narthex portraits also expressed the idea of the saintly origin of the dynasty. Emphasized by the inscription next to King Milutin (…the independent and the God-fearing Stefan Uros, King of all the Serbian lands…), it was also illustrated on the opposite, western wall of the narthex: the founder of the dynasty, St. Symeon Nemanja, with outstretched arms is pointing to the chosen descendants – on the south side stands St. Sava who ensured that the religion would have an auto-cephalus status, and to the north is his heir, King Stefan the First-Crowned, and possibly the future ruler, Milutin’s son Stefan Decanski, dressed in attire also worn, modeled on Byzantium, by the highest dignitaries in Serbia. Below them on a fairly high socle and on the opposite wall as well there are two double-headed eagles, emblems of the family of Palaeologos. The space entered from the open porch was dedicated entirely to the ruler, his ancestors and family members in a way that reflected profound changes in the life of the country, its political precepts and the ruler’s pretensions. He did not present himself as in the other endowments holding a small model of the church, offering it to Christ or the Virgin, nor was he in a humble posture as were rulers in the Raska shrines of the 13th century, or in a procession of ancestors headed by their founder, Symeon Nemanja. The King is represented to the local population and everyone coming to this open and busy town in full splendor, invested with power as the scion of the holy dynasty by Christ himself. Whatever could be learned from the Byzantine and Serbian sources – biographies, chronicles, charters and inscriptions – was vividly manifested by the new form of portrayal of the ruling family and by the intimation that the path to be trodden lay in the future of its younger members. As other churches which were first devastated and then restored to serve the needs of the Islamic confession, the Ljevisa Virgin preserved only fragments of the stone ornamentation from former times. Nonetheless, it was admired for its structural beauty and for the still uncovered wall-paintings by Christians and Muslims alike. One of the latter, a lover of poetry and perhaps himself a poet, carved next to one of the paintings the first part of a couplet by the great Persian poet Hafiz “The pupil of my eye is the nest to your beauty.” The wealth of ritual objects, primarily icons, ancient furnishings, holy vessels and textiles most likely date back in the cathedral to the time when the Greek bishop, subordinate to the Archbishop of Ohrid, sat on the throne. The church’s treasury was doubtlessly enhanced in the 13th century, particularly when the earlier Byzantine edifice was rebuilt and its facades refaced by King Milutin. We do not know from which epoch the “Miraculous Visage of the Virgin Immaculate” mentioned by King Stefan Decanski in his charter to the Virgin of Ljevisa /1326/, actually dates. It is possible that it belonged to the earliest history of the church which received gifts at a later time as well, especially when the Prizren episcopate was raised to the rank of Metropolitanate in 1346. In the meanwhile, in Kosovo and Metohija other shrines, even more splendid, were raised that, favored by destiny, attest with their preserved ambiance and collections to the character of the royal endowments of the age.
After the war in Kosovo 1998-1999 the Cathedral of the Holy Virgin of Ljevis in Prizren remains locked under the protection of German KFOR troops. Kosovo Albanians have made many attempts to desecrate this holy place and on one occasion it was only thanks to German troops that a total destruction of this medieval cathedral by explosives was prevented. With its sublime architecture and fresco art it remains a living witness of the centuries old Serb Christian Orthodox presence in the city of Prizren. Since 13. July 2006. The Church of Virgin of Ljeviša is listed on the UNESCO World Culture Heritage as the extremely endangered Serbian Medieval monument of exceptional importance in Kosovo and Metohija.