Matejce Monastery

The Matejce Monastery or the Mateic Monastery is the Serbian Medieval Monastery situated high in the Skopska Crna Gora mountains, close to Kumanovo, some 20 km from Skopje center, in the outskirts of the village of South or Old Serbia, bearing the same name – the Matejce village. The Tsar Dusan carried out reconstruction of original foundations of the Matejce Monastery, which was completed after his death in 1355 by his wife – Empress Jelena and his son Uros. The Church of the Matejce Monastery is dedicated to the Ascension of the Holy Virgin.

“In the 14th century, the Serbian kings and the Serbian high dignitaries and nobility had erected numerous churches that made the Serbian arts  here achieved the pinnacle. Around Skopje, Prizren, Prilep, Kuystendil – nowadays in western Bulgaria, Kumanovo, Kratovo, Štip, Strumica, in the Valley of Crna Reka, the masses of the Serbian churches appeared. In the areas of Tetovo, Debar, Ohrid, Korca, Prespa, Bitolj, Florina, Ostrova, Kostur, Serez and Drama, there were numerous Serbian churches founded… “ Catena mundi – Predrag R. Dragic Kijuk

The last significant religious structure built during the reign of the Tsar Dusan, the Matejce church dedicated to the Ascension of the Holy Virgin, was completed after the tsar’s death /1355/. The Matejce church remained pretty ruined during its long history, on the dominated peak of the Skopska Crna Gora, in the vicinity of Kumanovo. This Medieval structure of significant dimensions features basis of elongated inscribed cross and the facade built of ashlar stones, with five domes and a small inner narthex. In its basis and the upper construction the Matejce church represents the classical sample of the Byzantine architectural principle of the 11th and the 12th century. The spacious and well-lighted church of the Matejce Monastery, with a dome of larger diameter than in Visoki Decani Monastery, stands for the Constantinople manners of harmonized well-lit space which complies to the harmony of calm and static masses. On the eastern part of the Matejce church there are three semicircular apses. Contrary to the other Serbian churches of this area of Macedonia – the South Serbia of this historical period, the church of the Matejce Monastery has a particular feature – the tympanum of the central dome has 12 sides and 12 windows.

Traditional architecture of the Matejce Monastery church does not reflect the other examples of the churches built during the reign of Tsar Dusan. It is surely the work of Greek masters who do not build elongated basis, nor use the vertical of the upper construction, that are common in the Serbian architecture of the 14th century. The political particularity that flamed during the reign of incapable son of Tsar Dusan – tsar Uros /1355-1371/ had greatly left traces in the religious architecture of Serbia. Not any significant ruler’s endowment was built in those years, and some later data testify that Tsar Uros rebuilt the main church of Skopje /without any traces left nowadays/, and he might be the only ruler of the Nemanide Dynasty who did not erect a single church.

The Matejce Monastery is the last large Serbian Medieval church with preserved frescoes that testify on the hardship of historical events after the death of Tsar Dusan, with fresco decoration completed around 1355/1356. The pretty destroyed frescoes of the Matejce Monastery represent the end of the encyclopedic tendencies of the Serbian paintings of the 14th century. The frescoes of the Matejce Monastery are very comprehensive, but not particularly complex. Frescoes of the Holy Virgin church of the Matejce Monastery feature a number of cycles : the Great Feasts, Parables and the Earthen life of the Christ, Christ Passions, Life of the Holy Virgin, Acts of the Apostles, Miracles of the Apostles, Legends of the Holy hermits Antonius and Makarios, Legends of the Saint Demetrius of Thessaloniki, Scenes of Life of Saint Elias, Cycles of the Ecumenical councils with addition of the Serbian council of King Stefan,  the Christmas Epistle of Saint John Damascin, the Lineage of Jesse, the Lineage of the ruling dynasties of Comnenos – Asen and Nemanides-Nemanjic. Besides the mentioned scenes, in the altar apse of the Matejce Monastery are painted common liturgical themes, and numerous single depictions, and portraits of the Empress Jelena and Tsar Uros holding the model of the church and handling it to the Holy Virgin, and depiction of an Abbott of the Matejce Monastery.

After the Turkish conquest the Matejce Monastery was destoyed and declined, and in the 18th century the lead roof was moved and used for construction of the Eski Mosque in Kumanovo.  After the Balkan wars the Monastery of Matejce became part of the Kingdom of Serbia. The Matejce Monastery was rebuilt between two world wars, but its original church was unfortunately demolished. After the Second WW the new restoration was carried out in the Matejce Monastery, in 1960.

The Serbian Orthodox Church officially has jurisdiction over the Orthodox community in Macedonia. Self proclaimed independent Macedonian Orthodox Church appeared when the Macedonian dioceses split from its jurisdictional unity with the Serbian Orthodox Church in 1964. Although the great number of the Medieval Orthodox churches in Macedonia were built by the Serbian Medieval kings and nobility, the fact is that the modern Macedonian historians systematically misinterpret and avoid, but let this heritage be endangered and experience considerable destruction, and a target of numerous attacks, both in the past and in recent times….. The Matejce Monastery was destroyed in 2001 by Albanian terrorists who used the church during their rebellion as the headquarter and the training center. This resulted in severe damage of Matejce Monastery frescoes. At present, the village of Matejce where the Matejce Monastery is located, is populated by majority of Albanian inhabitants (85%), with only some 350 Serbs (10%).