Banjska Monastery

Banjska Monastery

Banjska Monastery near Kosovska Mitrovica in the very north of Kosovo and Metohija was built between 1313 and 1317 on the site of former Episcopal Church. Banjska Monastery is located at the foot of the Rogozna Mountain /1504 m/ which actually begins in Kosovska Mitovica. On Rogozna Mountain, especially in the area of the villages of Grubetici, Otesa, Vojkovici and Belanske are elevated small volcanic cones with the Jelac fortress constructed on one of them.

Banjska Monastery is the endowment and the burial place of King Milutin /Stefan Uros 2nd/, one of the most powerful rulers in Nemanjic Dynasty and the greatest builder of churches among all the Serbian Medieval rulers /there were more than forty endowments of King Milutin built during his reign which lasted for 40 years/. It was the “metochian” Monastery of Gracanica Monastery and dedicated to Saint Stephen /the “slava” – family patron saint and protector of Nemanjic Family/. In Banjska Monastery King Milutin was buried until 1389 when his highly venerated relics have been relocated to Trepca and afterwards to Sofia, where they are preserved until nowadays and highly venerated by locals.

Queen Theodora, the mother of Tzar Dusan was buried in Banjska Monastery as well. In 1619 the Ottomans built a fort atop the ruins of the medieval Banjska Monastery in their struggle against the Albanian highwaymen. During the following centuries the monastic church of Banjska was heavily devastated and detroyed so that its former architecture of the Rascian-style – Rashka style splendor emulating famous Studenica Monastery, could not have even been be recognized : its monumental edifice with western entrance featuring two towers and facade covered in marble of three different colors, library, refectory, dining room and the royal palace comprising the window casings carved in high relief were burnt at the beginning of the 15th century, while at the end of it most probably, the Banjska Monastery was fully ravaged. The famous traveler and historian Kupresic recorded that Banjska Monastery was destroyed in the 16th century by the sultan command having been the shelter for Christian Serbian people under the Turkish attacks and slavery.

In the 19th century nearly totally demolished Church of Banjska Monastery was turned into the mosque where Islamic prayers were performed until the First World War. The Church was conserved in 1939 and the second time in nineties of the 20th century when some reconstructions were carried out. Banjska Monastery is one of the rare medieval spiritual places having in its possession the foundation charter in the form of manuscript book which offers the testimony about the Monastery estates comprising 75 villages, cattle-breeding farms, water-mills, honey-bee-keepers and fish ponds and fishermen villages on Plav Lake. Church of Banjska Monastery was built by Archbishop Danilo II, close King’s associate and educated nobleman who obeyed the strict King’s instructions to compose one of the most beautiful medieval Church in Serbia at the time. As per medieval records, Banjska Monastery was constructed in Raska style that was implemented in building of many rulers’ mausoleums /Studenica, the endowment of King Stefan Nemanya, Holy Archangels, the endowment of Tzar Dusan near Prizren/. Banjska Monastery is an one nave basilica covered by blind dome. The eastern semicircular apse was monumental and the western entrance to the church was built in accordance to the Raska ecclesiastical style of monuments with two large towers. The three-color stone facade was remarkable outside decoration of the church engraved on stone as the poly-chromatic chess-board. The Romanesque tradition is enforced in combination of rich architectural encrusted fragments of the portal termination, doors and windows consoles. The monumental sitting sculpture of the Holy Virgin with the little Christ was enthroned in the Church that was the Gothic and the Romanesque influence to the Rascian style of decoration. Nowadays it is preserved in the nearby Sokolica Monastery, while some remains of stone decoration are kept in the National Museum in Belgrade and the Archaeological Museum in Skopje. The “Banjska gold”, one of the most significant pride of Banjska Monastery /of which only fragments remained/ was used in tiny leaves for fresco decoration and known from the epic songs. All other parts of brilliant treasuries recorded in the founding charter of King Milutin are lost. In 1915 by accidental excavations of the Queen Theodora tomb, two golden rings were found : one is engraved with the two-headed eagle and title : “Who carry it – let God help him !” These rings are considered the most significant specimen of Serbian medieval jewelry. Architect Dj. Boskovic took some preservation and reconstruction works in 1938.

Comprehensive reconstructions of Banjska Monastery started in the most difficult time for Serbian people in nineties of the 20th century. Thanks to the prayers of blessed and saints Archdeacon St. Stephan, King Milutin and all the saints, after 520 years Banjska Monastery retrieved its former glory. The spiritual celebration took place on Aug 15th, 2004 in Banjska Monastery, when Divine Liturgy was held by His Grace Serbian Patriarch Pavle and Clergy accompanied with many faithful people.

Since recently the Banjska Monastery re-established production of beer in their estate, that greatly contributed to enhancement of local economy and stability in this part of Kosovo and Metohija, predominantly populated by the Serbs. The beer of the Banjska Monastery, so called the Manastirsko Banjsko pivo is the oldest beer in Serbia, and truly fascinating, clear and delicious due to its ingredients that provide its characteristics – non-filtrated /crafted/ and featuring very pleasant flavor and smell, produced from high quality sorts of hop and malt, beer yeast and spring mountainous water.  Beer production traditions date from the Middle ages, first time mentioned in the 14th century in the Saint Stephen charter of king Stephen Uros Milutin in the Banjska Monastery. Merops /workers on the monastery estate/ were responsible to supply the Banjska Monastery with specific quantities of malt and hop yearly. On the day of Monastery Holiday – the Saint patron feast, the metochs /belonging estates of the Banjska Monastery/ used to manufacture malt of germinated barley and needed to bring it to the monastery for beer manufacture. This drink was later refined by adding hop…