Gradac Monastery

Gradac Monastery

Gradac Monastery is situated in Stara Raška region, on the wooded and secluded slopes of Golija Mountain on the place called by locals Petrov Krs. Gradac Monastery was built in the late 13th century /around 1275/, on the ruins of an earlier church. Gradac Monastery is the endowment of Queen Jelena Anzujska /Queen Helen of Anjou/,  probably from the Charles I Anjou Family, king of Sicily and Naples, the wife of the Serbian King Uros I.

The Church of Gradac Monastery is dedicated to the Presentation of the Holy Virgin. The Church of Gradac Monastery is one nave structure with the dome, tripartite altar and rectangle choir, whose central part consists of two chapels, the main naos and the altar. The architecture of the Gradac Monastery is example of monumental Raska school of architecture and contains numerous Gothic /Romanesque/ features and elements, especially on the portals and on all biforas /windows divided by a colonnette into two arches/. The architectural plastic of the Gradac Monastery carries the properties of the mature and late Romanesque art, like some early Gothic, all being reflected primarily in the finishing of the portal capitol, mostly marble framed windows and a series of blind arcades of the roof corona. Gradac Monastery is part of the Transromanica project (The Romanesque Routes of European heritage).

Queen Helen as the Serbian Queen did a lot for development of education and support of arts. Queen Helen established the first school for girls in Serbia  (most probably an orphanage), organized collecting and copying of books, took care about poor, erected and restored churches, both the Orthodox and catholic, in the Coast. Queen Helen took young and poor girls to her endowment in Brnjaci residence to teach them all skills and virtues they needed for marriage, and afterward they were married, richly gifted by the Queen.
In the temple of Gradac Monastery there is the marble sarcophagus where the Saint Queen Helen was buried. Helen became a nun at the Church of Saint Nicholas in Skadar/Shkodër/Scutari /then in the Stare of Serbia, now in Albania/, where she died on 8 February 1314. Her relics were taken by monks from there to be preserved during the Turkish invasion and conquest but nowadays it is not exactly known and clear where they are kept. The Gradac Monastery was demolished in the 15th century and was reconstructed in the 16th century. It was completely destroyed in the Austria-Turkish wars at the end of the 17th century. Since then it remained in poor conditions and ruins, left to negligence until the middle of the 20th century when it was fully reconstructed. Queen Helen of Anjou was canonized by the Serbian Orthodox Church and her day is celebrated on the 12th November. The holy relics of King Dragutin, son of Queen Helen and King Uros I /later monk Saint Teoktist/ were brought to Gradac Monastery from Decani Monastery.

The fresco decoration of the Gradac Monastery interior is considerably damaged but the founder’s composition is still visible. The original stone iconostasis is preserved in its primary appearance. During the Ottoman rule, in the 17th century, Gradac Monastery was abandoned to be partially restored in the middle of the 20th century. Gradac Monastery is nowadays functioning as a nunnery making by its glorious beauty one of the most attractive medieval cultural and historical monuments and spiritual centers of Serbia. Nuns of the Gradac Monastery happily live their evangelical lives and do the icon-painting and handwork /weaving and gold-embroidery on silk/. Abbess Efimija says – in Gradac Monastery everybody is free to express “his-her God-given gift“.

During archaeological exploration of the Gradac Monastery undertaken in 2005, eight test trenches were opened, totaling 70 m2 on the outer side of Sveta Bogorodica /Holy Virgin/ Church. In addition to the medieval cultural layer and the Medieval cemetery that has been identified earlier, the prehistoric cultural layer with an overall thickness of 0,8 meter was also discovered. This prehistoric cultural layer with three building horizons and associated archaeological material, formed over a long period of time, from the very end of the early and throughout a large part of the developed Bronze Age. In the earliest prehistoric layers to which two building horizon belong Early Bronze Age pottery was found.

Various different activities are performed in Gradac Monastery with the aim of revival of this shrine and its monastic life. The first step is restoration and maintainance of worship and liturgical life of the Gradac Monastery church. The morning and evening prayers and especially the Holy Liturgy when all nuns follow the priesthood service, this medieval shrine regains its role as the church and the Kingdom of Heaven, present and existing in History”. Source Gradac Monastery

Days of Queen Jelena“is the unique cultural event /manifestation/ traditionally held every year at the beginning of May in Gradac Monastery, nearby Maglic Fortress and city of Kraljevo. This colorful festival celebrates the Queen Helen and her endowment and all her pious deeds. Every year in the beginning of May, Gradac Monastery remembers an event when king Uros I, out of love for the French princess Helen D’Anjou the future Serbian Queen, ordered that the whole valley upstream the Ibar River, in honor of her coming to Serbia, be planted with fragrant lilacs so that her new country would remind her of old homeland – Provence, France. As time passed, the whole Ibar River Valley has been named the Lilacs Valley or the Kings Valley, after the memory of the possibly most beautiful and the most romantic Medieval love in Serbia /between King Uros and Queen Jelena/. During the amazing Lilacs Days festival numerous performances, competitions, knights’ games and presentation of well-preserved customs and old crafts are organized which attract lots of lovers for culture and tradition. Gradac Monastery is favorite destination in our tours, and soon market will be provided with the amazing tourist animation of the MEDIEVAL KINGS VALLEY as the outstanding travel through time experiences.