Gracanica Monastery

Gracanica Monastery

The Gracanica Municipality is located in the central part of Kosovo, on the eastern edge of the Kosovo valley, at the foot of the Veletin and Strazevac Mountains. The Gracanica Municipality borders in the north with the Pristina Municipality, on the south with Lipljan, and in the west with the Municipality of Kosovo Polje. The Church of Ascension of the Holy Virgin is the only remained part of the Medieval Gračanica Monastery, the church from the 13th century, as the seat of the bishop of Lipljan built on the remains of the former early-Christian basilica dating from the 6th century. In the southern part of the Gračanica Monastery altar, probably in the middle of the 14th century, Lipljan Bishop Teodor was buried, so the scene of his funeral has been depicted which commemorates this event. During the archaeological excavations in Gracanica Monastery complex, carried out in 1963, the foundations of the three-nave early-byzantine basilica have been found. The construction and painting of the present-day Gračanica Monastery church was completed by the year 1321. Gračanica Monastery was built as the last endowment of King Milutin and was dedicated during the Middle Ages to the Annunciation, while today it celebrates the Ascension of the Holy Virgin. The Gračanica Monastery church has the shape of a developed and inscribed cross, one inside the other, with five domes, including an open outdoor narthex that was soon appended to the church, probably together with a bell-tower on the western side.

Gračanica Monastery represents a masterpiece of the late Byzantine architecture, captivating the onlooker with its unity of structural and decorative elements. Particularly notable is the arrangement of the masses and ornamentation on the facade of the Gračanica Monastery church, emphasizing vertically. The central dome of Gračanica Monastery rests on four free-standing pillars. Above the spaces between the cross-shafts of the Gračanica Monastery, four smaller domes give a regular structure to the whole crowning complex. The diaconicon and the prosthesis of the Gračanica Monastery are separated by full walls. Between the nave and the narthex of the Gračanica Monastery there are wide, heavy pillars and the catholicon is on a higher level. The church of Gračanica Monastery was built in alternate courses of brick and stone. At the end of the 14th century an exo-narthex was added with double arcades, but these were blinded in the 16th century. The Gracanica Monastery was exposed to new damages toward the end of the 17th century, in the war between Austria and Venice against the Turks, after the second siege of Vienna – in which the Serbs took part on the Christian side. They rebelled against the sultan Jeghen Pasha terrorizing Serbia, who removed the leaden cross and pulled out the floor tiles, together with the treasure hidden in the church by Patriarch Arsenije III.

In the period after completion of construction of the church, probably in the middle of the 14th century, the Gracanica church was extended when the outer narthex was added. As per its base, it possibly covered the same surface as the present outer narthex, but its spatial and structural form was different. In regard with the spatial planning, it was similar to the narthex of the Chillandary Monastery, with the two free pillars in the central part, that had reinforced the ceiling. The spacious narthex, as those in Pec Patriarchate complex /1330/ and Sopoćani Monastery /1342-1345/ became regular in the church architecture of Serbia at the second half of the 14th century. The original baptistery of the Gracanica Monstery was most possibly set in the southern side of the inside narthex, opposite to the Nemanic Dynasty genealogy composition. The outer narthex was probably heavily damaged in one of the Turkish attacks to this area, some time between 1379 and 1383.  The current knowledge on destiny of Gracanica Monasteryin the second half of the 14th century are mainly limited to few records in liturgical books that are now kept in the monastery Library. It seems that there was a copying workshop in Gracanica Monastery where probably numerous manuscripts were copied, that are unfortunately destroyed in a fire. As per one resource, the Prince Lazar who was killed in the Kosovo Battle, was originally buried in the Gracanica Monastery. Although it is possibly incorrect fact, this beleif remained in power until the beginning of the 20th century.

The frescoes of Gračanica Monastery were painted in 1321-22 and have been well-preserved. In the Gračanica Monastery church three kinds of painting can be determined. The earliest frescoes of the Gračanica Monastery are found in the nave, that are the work of the so called “King Milutin’s court school” whose achievements belong to the best trends of the Classical art in the period of the Paleologues, whereas two later ones can be recognized in the narthex. The focal paintings of Gracanica Monastery include the Festival Cycle, the Passion and the miracles of Christ. Inside the narthex, there are portraits of the founders: King Milutin and Queen Symonis, Queen Helen d’Anjou (king’s mother) as a nun and King Milutin as a monk. Of particular importance is the Nemanjich dynasty genealogy, the first ever painted, which starts with Stefan Nemanja and ends with Milutin. The compositions in the nave deal with the earthly life of Jesus and the ecclesiastical calendar. The theologically knowledgeable, eloquent Gračanica Monastery painting has been best preserved inside the church itself, while in the exo-narthex which was closed and painted again in 1570, this has been achieved to a slightly smaller extent. On the western wall of the church, besides the altar was completed the founding charter to the Gracanica Monastery, issued by King Stefan Milutin, which contains 54 rows of letter on the surface of 180 x 130 cm. The master-painters of Gračanica Monastery supposedly were Michael Astrapos and Eutichios with their assistants. Having been quite damaged by the Turks as early as the period 1379-1383, the church of Gračanica Monastery was restored in 1383. After the final fall of these regions under Turkish power, the monastery of Gračanica experienced a difficult times filled with looting and plundering. In 1688 the Turkish Yegen-pasha looted Gračanica Monastery when he needed nine horses to take all the valuables to Constantinople. Gračanica Monastery grew poor particularly during the course of the 18th and 19th centuries. Of the once famous Gračanica Monastery treasury there are only several precious icons left, dating from the 16th-17th centuries, several manuscript books, including an octoteuchos, however, printed in 1539 in the printing house operating in Gračanica Monastery at the beginning of the 16th century.

Gračanica Monastery was several times hit by grenades launched by Albanian terrorists during the years 1998-1999 and undergone a devastation of the facades. Gračanica Monastery is inscribed on the List of UNESCO World Heritage in Danger. Various cultural events of great significance for the Serb population of this part of Kosovo and Metohija are held in Gracanica Monastery.