Poganovo Monastery – Saint John Theologian Monastery

Poganovo Monastery – St John Theologian Monastery

The Monastery of Poganovo with its beautiful Church dedicated to Saint John the Theologian is one of the most precious and most significant among the Serbian monasteries and Medieval monuments of culture of Serbia. The Poganovo Monastery is located between the Vlasko and Odorovacko zdrelo area /Wallachian and Odorovac craters/ of the majestic Jerma River Canyon, in East Serbia. The Poganovo Monastery, dedicated to Saint John the Theologian is located within the intact area which is natural habitat of griffin vultures. The territory of the Jerma River Special Nature Reserve includes municipalities of Babusnica and Pirot, but mostly the Dimitrovgrad Municipality. Before you reach the Poganovo Monastery of Saint John the Theologian, you pass by the picturesque village of Vlasi /Wallachians?/, which is nicely set at the foot of the high rocky sides of the Stara Planina Mountain,  and provides a memorable panorama “as in Heaven”.

The Poganovo Monastery was erected in the last decade of the 14th century, most possibly in 1390 by the mighty Serbian nobleman, landlord Konstantin Dejanović Dragaš – the nephew of King Dusan and one of the last Serbian rulers after fall of the Serbian Medieval State to the Ottoman Empire. Konstantin Dejanović, known in history as Konstantin Dragaš, was the ruler of the whole South-East Serbia, territories of the present Macedonia, the part of Kosovo and south-west Bulgaria. That is how the Dragas area in Kosovo got its name, as well as the north of Macedonia, where Dragash ruled together with the noble Mrnjavchevic Family. After the Ottoman sultan Bayazed conquered this part of Serbia in his conquest campaign of Thessaly, Morea, the Trnovo Bulgaria and Tzarigrad /Constantinople/, Serbian ruler Konstantin Dragaš as well as other Balkan rulers, became Turkish vassals, but got killed in the Battle of Rovine against Hungarian army, in 1395.

However, although until now there was no written data on the founder of the Poganovo Monastery, we find some fact that the construction of the Monastery, after the death of Konstantin Dragas, continued his daughter Jelena-Helen, wife of the Byzantine Emperor Manuel II Palaiologos and mother of the last Byzantine emperors – John the 8th and Constantine the 12th. The relatively small, but well-preserved and wonderful Poganovo Monastery Church features the one-nave basis with two side apses which is similar to three-leaf clove and follows some of the patterns of the Morava school of architecture. The Poganovo Monastery Church was built of layers of stone and bricks. The seven-sided dome of the Poganovo Monastery sits above the central part of the church while the belfry is located on the western side. The fresco paintings of Poganovo Monastery were completed in 1499 by masters from North Greece and rank among the real artistic masterpieces of the Balkans of that time. Frescoes of the Poganovo Monastery of Saint John the Theologian depict scenes and compositions of Great feasts, and Holy Fathers preaching, scenes of the life of the Holy Virgin, Christ Passions, Serbian saints, Balkan anchorites and apostles ascertaining the identity of the saint’s cults.

The so-called “twin icon” – double-sided icon, depicting the Holy Virgin and Saint John the Theologian is one of the most beautiful 15th century work of art. This icon was the gift from the Empress Jelena Dragas, the wife of the Byzantine Emperor Manuel II Palaiologos (1391–1425) to commemorate the death of her father, Constantine Dejanovic in 1395, has been hidden in the monastery until the First World War. Nowadays this unique icon is exhibited in the Icon Museum in Sofia, Bulgaria, as well as the excellent example of iconostasis from the 17th century, which is wonderful work of Debar master woodcarvers, taken from the Poganovo Monastery during the First World War.

Monks of the Poganovo Monastery call their monastery the Jovanovo Monastery /of Saint John/ in order to avoid abusive name of the Poganovo village where the monastery is set. Probably the name of Poganovo Monastery and the village itself comes from the hypothesis that in the pre-Christian time here was a pagan temple where pagan rituals were performed. However, there are several economic structures around the wonderful church of the Poganovo Monastery that perfectly and harmoniously fit to the entire spiritual, graceful and secluded monastic complex.

Poganovo Monastery is located 25 km southeast of Pirot, at the very entrance to the wild, picturesque and tranquil Jerma River Canyon, between the Odorovac and Vlach streams, one of the most impressive scenery in Serbia. Visitors of the Poganovo Monastery enjoy in outstanding environment of the Jerma River Canyon, wonderful surrounding, unique hospitality and well preserved customs of local population while hiking or-and picking up medicinal herbs and forest fruits…. For comfortable stay of visitors to the Poganovo Monastery there are traditionally appointed rural tourist households in the area of the Jerma River Canyon that provide tourist services and serve tasty organic food, or nicely appointed rooms of the Poganovo Motel, just next to the Monastery. The Poganovo Monastery largely owes its tranquility and outstanding spiritual atmosphere to the breathtaking surrounding landscape which makes anyone who visit it – to come back and enlighten and spiritually invigorates…..