Holy Archangels Monastery Prizren

Holy Archangels Monastery Prizren

Holy Archangels Michael and Gabriel Monastery in Prizren – Manastir Svetih arhangela Prizren is the huge and rich royal Medieval complex of holy shrines encompassing an area of approximately 6.500 sq meters, situated in the gorgeous Prizren Bistrica River gorge, 3 km southeast of Prizren. Holy Archangels Monastery is endowment of the Serbian Emperor Dusan and was only partially preserved from devastation thanks to its premium importance and strategic position along the river gorge which leads to the Sirinic and Sredska zupas /parishes/ of the Sharr Mountain /Sara planina/ and further through the Kacanik Gorge continues to Skopje in Macedonia. Prizren and Skopje were royal capitals of Medieval Serbia. The Sirinićka Župa parish is located in the valley of the upper course of the Lepenac River, northeast of the Sar Mountain in the Autonomous Province of Kosovo and Metohija which was the core of the Serbian Medieval state.

Holy Archangels Monastery is situated on the high steep plateau of the Sara Mountain – Sharr Mt and used to make well-kept imperial stronghold. It is surrounded by high walls and ramparts around the entire monastic complex, connected with the Medieval Visegrad fortification on top of the safeguarding point above the river gorge which was first recorded in the Classical period between the 4th – 6th century. The bridge over the Prizrenska Bistrica River used to connect the Holy Archangels Monastery with the Ribnik Medieval Castle and the Royal Palace of Emperor Dusan in Prizren, which the royalty used as a summer residence and hunting lodge. The Monastery of Holy Archangels Michael and Gabriel in Prizren was built on the site of an earlier cult place, during the period from 1343 to 1352. It was aimed for the glorious endowment and the monumental burial Church of Serbian Emperor Dusan, the most powerful Balkan ruler of the age and was dedicated to the Holy Archangels Michael and Gabriel. The place was chosen by Emperor Dusan since he got recovered from very bad illness while staying here. Within the vast Holy Archangels Monastery Complex the smaller Saint Nicholas Church was built next to the main church, as well as the spacious refectory Complex including the large dining place, the large Library and the Hospital to house over 200 monks.

The Monastery of Holy Archangels’ estate and possessions stretched in the Middle Ages during the reign of Emperor Dusan along vast Serbian Medieval state – from the Sara Planina Mountain /Sharr Mountain-National Park/ to the Adriatic Sea, comprising 93 villages, mills, an iron mine in Toplica, fishermen village on Plav Lake, fertile land and vineyards and the whole revenue from the rich Prizren market with trading privileges gifted to the Monastery by Emperor Dusan founding Charter /probably issued in 1348/ that make it the richest Serbian Medieval Monastery. Cooking oil arrived from Bar and fish from Skadar and Plav Lakes while the salt, the silk, the wine, the honey and selected craftsmen were engaged in construction of this aristocratic place.

Among the craftsmen given to the Holy Archangels Monastery by the Emperor s Founding Charter, there were master builders Petros, Vojislav, Srdan, Nos and Vojhina together with the first abbot, the blessed Metropolitan Jacob, responsible for the master-piece construction process. The Monastery of the Holy Archangels in Prizren, for instance, was placed under the jurisdiction of neither the Bishop nor the Archbishop, but of the Emperor Dusan himself. When Emperor Dusan died on 20th December 1355, his body was buried in monumental grave within the Holy Archangels monastic complex. The reconciliation of the Serbian Church and the Patriarchate of Constantinople when the Divine Liturgy was served at the tomb of Emperor Dusan took place in the Holy Archangels Monastery in 1375 which was an important historian event for Serbia. The first time Holy Archangels Monastery was heavily damaged was in 1455 after the Ottoman conquest of the area of Kosovo and Metohija when Turks took over Prizren. The following period of Turkish occupation gave evidence of the decline and destruction of the entire Holy Archangels Monastery complex, while in the second half of the 16th century begun its complete devastation. The Archangels Church was completely destroyed by Sinan Pasha in 1615 when the ashlar stone blocks from the the ruined and destroyed monastery was used for the construction of his mosque in Prizren /the evidences on stones used for mosque building are still easily visible in the very center of Prizren/.

After that, the Holy Archangels monastic complex near Prizren fell completely into ruins, and abandoned became largely covered with earth deposited by Bistrica river from the hill-side, and the holy shrine remained in this poor condition for three centuries. After all the devastation it had suffered, only the ramparts of the monumental Holy Archangels monastic complex have survived, triangular in base with outer ramparts running along the course of the river. Their appearance has been uncovered in excavations when numerous architectural elements of exquisite profiles and rich sculptural ornaments were discovered. A careful analysis of all finds gives a complex picture of different ideas and stylistic influences intertwined in a specific manner in the ruler’s mausoleum. The main church, dedicated to the “strategists” and “leaders of the heavenly powers,” Michael and Gabriel, was – as evidenced by the ground plan – one of the grandest monuments of Serbian architecture, a display of the sovereign’s power in the epoch of the huge prosperity of the medieval state. At the same time and in the same fashion, a smaller church of Saint Nicholas was erected next to it. With its position and choice of patron it corresponded to the tradition of allowing special space on the southern side – either in the edifice itself /as in the Virgin of Ljevish Church and Visoki Decani Monastery/ or in the form of an added chapel /as in Pec/ – to Saint Nicholas, a much revered arch priest and patron whose cult was venerated in wide circles of society.

The elevated model that the Emperor harbored in memories of the Byzantine capital was of the renowned, classic cross-in-square type. A large dome resting on tall piers built of stone blocks 160 cm wide topped the central portion of the nags. The numerous remains of its cross-sections – a large number of which have been incorporated into the Prizren mosque of Sinan pasha – indicate that the drum may have had twelve or even sixteen sides. The windows piercing the drum, perhaps double, measuring almost one meter in width, afforded sufficient light to the spacious and clearly articulated interior. The dome, however, after the Constantinople’s practice which had left but a few traces in Serbia, was of a melon shape. Nevertheless, it is not possible to determine with more precision the height at which the dome stood, even when the logical proportions of the structure are taken into consideration; in all likelihood, it was not lower than the elegant Decani dome, always referred to as “lofty” /Visoki/ in epic poetry. The upper section of the Holy Archangels church, although simply structured, was not only reduced to a high sub-domical area and barrel-vaulted cross-arms. Numerous fragments of carved stone with characteristic profiles suggest that, as in the Virgin of Ljeviska Church and Gracanica Monastery, the lower areas, i.e. corners, were crowned with octagonal domes. Finally, one dome, in all probability blind, rose above the central of the three bays forming an open narthex. Between the pillars on the west side, as well as in the north and south, were two-light mullioned windows with parapets in the lower portions, protecting the translucent interior of the narthex on windy and rainy days. The character of the space and its construction scheme were readily distinguishable on the face of the building in a manner characteristic of Byzantine architecture. In the interior of the Holy Archangels church, behind the rhythmically arranged pilaster strips were shallow pilasters supporting the construction, or the walls themselves. The arches on the gables presumably marked the construction of vaults spanning the arms of the cross. The base of the entire monastic building was reinforced with a tall slanting socle. It prevented water from penetrating the foundations, thus protecting the interior from moisture which especially threatened the murals. The roofs also safeguarded the frescoes with lead tiles whose forms outlined all elements of the upper construction, primarily the vaults, usually the first to suffer damage. Like other endowments the Serbian rulers erected with the intention of being buried in them, the Holy Archangels Monastery in Prizren echoed stone facing and ornamentation in the spirit of western art, a feature characterizing a church built in Studenica Monastery by the Emperor’s grandparent Stefan Nemanja.

The construction of Emperor Dusan’s mausoleum of the Holy Archangels Monastery in Prizren, was likewise Decani Monastery entrusted to masons from coastal towns chiefly from Kotor, some of whom had probably been engaged on the erection of Decani as well. However, the facades here did not entirely echo the exterior of that monastery. Characteristic Romanesque blind arcades from the 12th century commonly running along the horizontal and sloping terminations of the walls below the roof are not part of this shrine. In all likelihood they were replaced in the subdomical area by cornices containing densely carved slender, stooping stalks whose fragments have been found in fair numbers in the ruins. A novelty worthy of attention were horizontal, simple projecting cornices whose character and position can be determined with more certainty on the basis of the appearance of the church of Saint Nicholas. They heralded the subsequent regular occurrence of cordon bands horizontally dividing the facades of churches within the decorative system of the Morava school of architecture. On the other hand, western sculptural practice introduced rose windows with radial mullions, tripled arches between them, framed with sculptural decoration. The profiles of their fragments suggest that there were two different rose windows, probably adorning the main fronts of the Holy Archangels and Saint Nicholas church, as was the case with churches on the Adriatic coast. For its construction beauties the Holy Archangels Monastery was known throughout Europe.

It is interesting that twenty years later, although carved in a different manner, they became a common feature in stone decoration on the facades of a new stylistic trend in Serbian architecture. The portal, the appearance of which is difficult to reconstruct on the basis of surviving fragments, was executed in rich multicolored stone and broadly developed with projecting door-posts and arch-volts enriched by relief carving, flanked by lions which may have supported free-standing colonettes. The symbol of lion was used during the reign of the Nemanic Dynasty, likewise during the time of sebastocrator Branko Mladenovic, the founder of the ruling Brankovic Family. The symbol of a lion was also used on coins minted by Emperor Dusan and Emperor Uros, as well as on the seal of Emperor Uros. The repertoire of ornaments framing the apertures was also characteristic of the long transitional period from the Romanesque epoch to the Gothic. Apart from tiers of stylized acanthus, mazes of tendrils with foliage and flowers, bands with vegetative ornaments in shallow relief carving already announcing the approach of Morava sculpted decoration.

The Emperor’s Dushan sarcophagus was built up and faced with slabs while his life-size reclining figure was posed on the upper stone lid. Regrettably, particulars about his appearance are not known for not all uncovered fragments have survived to the present day. The representation, however, was interesting because it was the first time in medieval Serbian art that a ruler was depicted – after funerary portraits in the West – in high relief. Visitors were most dazzled by the opulence of the stone pavement in the church interior; it remained strongly impressive on the memory of those recollecting it from times before demolition. Praising the beauty of the church, the writer of the genealogy of the “Serbian emperors” from the outset of the 16th century stated that he did not know whether any other such church existed “under the sun,” and added, making mention of works elsewhere, that such a floor was nowhere to be found.

Large tiles were embellished with massive figures of beasts and geometrical designs of broad bands on a mosaic ground. The general disposition of ornaments was determined by the space structure so that the surfaces of the related sections, the naos and the subdomical area in particular, comprised separate decorative units that render it possible to conjure up with more certainty the relationship between individual elements and their rhythm. Thus, it has been noted that triangular fields bore two figures of lions, birds with the tails of snakes, winged animals and dragons, always confronting each other, and that the space between the pillars supporting the dome was paved with alternate rectangular and square slabs. The representations of beasts, occasionally inlaid into smaller fields within tranquil and firm ornaments, were impressed on the smooth surface with delicate cuts not only defining the contours but also supplementing the shapes of bodies, outlining feathers and marking the eyes. After that, the cut-in, hollowed back ground surrounding them was filled with rose-colored mortar /obtained by adding ground brick powder/, and into it were laid differently cut cubes of multicolored stones. The slabs were predominantly of light-colored slate, but also of one type of breccia of a magenta color, quite similar to that utilized in the construction of Decani. Thus, the whole attracted attention not only with its nobility of form for which the master had found excellent prototypes, but also with its pictorial richness. The church of Saint Nicholas, built in the same manner but with more modest stone paving, is in a better state of preservation, thus enabling us to reconstruct its general appearance with more certainty. A simple naos is separated from the bema by two tall columns which with corner pilasters, support powerful arches and the dome above them. The narthex with openings and leaning arches was also vaulted with a calotte, somewhat broader but certainly blind. Finally, the apertures on the north and south sides – as well as in the narthex of the Holy Archangels – were in all probability divided by columns with arches while its lower portions were covered by tiles in a manner known both in the architecture of Constantinople and Thessaloniki, the latter being closer to Serbia. The parekklesion of Saint Nicholas church represented a remarkable achievement in the architecture of its kind, intended for special services, and of elegant proportions. Superb masonry work was utilized in its construction.

The monks of the Holy Archangels Monastery /whose exact number is unknown to us/ had their cells in the dormitory raised by the ramparts towards the Bistrica River. According to the typikon, monks gathered twice a day in the refectory which distinguished itself by its size and rather rare cruciform plan. Of its walls, only the lower sections have survived, but the dimensions and character of the structure leave no doubt that the spacious central part with a broad apse was roofed by a wooden structure supported on lateral sides – perhaps somewhat lower towards the spaces – by powerful pillars with arches. The style in which the refectory was built, however, was different – it was Byzantine, with blocks of stones, occasionally semi -dressed, interspersed with layers of brick. It is evident that the construction of this edifice, as well as of the dormitory and subsidiary structures, was entrusted to different artists. The highly venerated and famous icon of the Prizren Holy Virgin was originally kept at the Saint George Church in Prizren and in 1999 was moved by monks to the Holy Archangels Monastery where it stayed until 17 March 2004 pogrom when monks again took it away to preserve it from destruction of the Albanian mob.

Formerly, the refectory of the Holy Archangels Monastery left a strong impression with its forms and volume, natural in the magnificent surroundings of other structures, powerful fortifications and the rocky mountain with steep sides between which, in the ravine, flows the Bistrica river. This appearance of the Holy Archangels Monastery became deeply entrenched in people’s memory and for centuries they concocted legends and tradition about it and lit candles on its ruins. Twice a year, on the feast days of the Holy Archangels, in summer and autumn, they gathered from afar at night, and waited for the sunrise praying with priests. One traveler left an exciting description of this ancient destroyed shrine in darkness, with the contours outlined solely by the candlelight of the faithful……

During outrageous Kosovo pogrom on 17th March 2004 the “Emperor’s town” of Prizren was burnt and severely demolished and destructed by the violent Albanian extremists wearing the signs of KLA/UCK, when many other towns and villages throughout Kosovo and Metohija settled by Serbs were also fiercely attacked. The Holy Archangels Monastery near Prizren was also attacked in the most blasphemous manner, destroyed to the ground and set in flame by fierce and intimidating Albanians during the six hours vandal attack, that was fully witnessed by the KFOR forces who were present on the spot. Just few moments before brutal and highly violent Albanian attack, the Holy Archangels Monastery was evacuated in terrible rush and monks were forced to move urgently to nearby village barracks in the Shar Mountain, in order to avoid human victims and their further tragedy and suffering.

The hermitage of Saint Peter of Korisha and ruins of the Holy Virgin church, known as the Kabash Monastery, are located 7-8 km along the Koriska reka river, beneath the Rusenica Mountain, some 20 km away from Prizren. The village where is the hermitage and the monastery was in the Middle ages known as Sveti Petar – Saint Peter. This name was preserved in Turkish documents until 1876 when the name of Kabash prevailed imposed by Albanians as the memory of their homeland place in North Albania, after the Serbs emigrated in the 18th and the 19th century. There are sparse historical data on Petar of Korisha, who in the 13th century spent his ascetic life in the vicinity of Prizren. Eistence of the cave church of Saint Peter of Korisha was mentioned during the rule of King Milutin who donated the church to the Hilandar Monastery, and later in the founding charter of Tsar Dusan from 9 May 1343 where the tsar received the church of Saint Peter in the Korisha village as a gift from old man Gregory, along with estate and library which became the temporary seat of the Jacob metropolitan of Serres, who was entitled to conduct the construction of the Holy Archangels Monastery on the Bistritsa River above Prizren. The monastic complex of Saint Peter of Korisha was heavily destroyed by Albanian terrorists in 1999 so today only remained several square meters of frescoes that were painted during the life of Saint Peter of Korisha.

Among many innocent victims of Kosovo and Metohija tragedy there are monks of the Holy Archangels Monastery, Father Hariton /Chariton/ and Father Stefan who were brutally executed by Kosovo Albanian terrorists during the bloody aftermath of Kosovo war in June of 1999. They were abducted and killed only because they were Orthodox Serb monks. With their martyring death they suffered for Christ together with many other killed Christian Serbs and more than 100 destroyed or desecrated Orthodox churches in Kosovo and Metohija. May they rest in peace with the Lord whom they loved so much !

Father Hariton /Chariton/ Lukic was a monk of the brotherhood of the Holy Archangels Monastery in Prizren. Born on November 21, 1960 in central Serbia he became monk in Kosovo and Metohija in 1995. Father Hariton /Chariton/ was stopped in the center of Prizren and taken from the car he was driving to another car driven by armed intimidating persons wearing UCK /KLA uniforms on June 16, 1999 in the streets of central Prizren. In the time of disappearance and kidnapping of monk Hariton the German KFOR troops have already entered Prizren area and were watching the exodus of several hundreds of thousands of Serbs leaving Prizren and Kosovo/Metohija, expelled from their homes along with retrieval of the Yugoslav Army from Kosovo and Metohija, as per agreement signed on 10 June 1999. Unfortunately during their first days in Kosovo and Metohija, the foreign KFOR soldiers were witnessing numerous armed gangs of UCK extremists/terrorists killing and kidnapping dozen of Serbs in the city of Prizren, among whom was the Father Hariton. In the next days there were no news or update on the missing monk in Prizren and surroundings. Yet on 08 August 2000 the body of Father Hariron /Chariton/, decapitated and severely mutilated was found on the Albanian cemetery near Prizren, while head of this martyr monk was never found. According to the finds of medical investigators, remains of the Father Hariton were found in an unmarked place within the Albanian graveyard in the village of Tusus, in surroundings of Prizren. Numerous identified founds testify that the body of the monk Hariton was left in open after the murder, as per only the skeleton found with determined several broken ribs, elbows and the left hand, with missing head and part of the backbone. The waistcoat that Father Hariton wore was fragmented and broke apart in the front side, that confirms the probability that poor monk was already half dead, and after that cut down alive. Wounds in the heart area point out to possible multiple hard stabs that undoubtedly confirms extremely painful death. Along with cloths of Father Hariton, his ID and a prayers rosary was found. The Death certificate of Father Hariton, handed to the International Court for War Crimes, confirms beheading and harsh fragmentation of the body. Perpetrators of this ferocious and brutal crime are not found until now. Holy Martyr Hariton pray to God for us sinners ! Earthen remains of the Serbian Holy Martyr Monk Hariton were buried in Crna Reka Monastery

Along with reconstruction of the Holy Archangels dormitory where monks stay, the large reconstruction of the demolished dormitory – hospice started in 2012. The newly built chapel of the Holy Archangels Monastery dedicated to the Holy Prince Lazar is completely painted by frescoes, with one fresco that depicts the Holy Martyr Hariton holding his head in the arms.

Nowadays the Holy Archangels Monastery in Prizren makes the common place of gatherings of Serbs living in Prizren and Kosovo and Metohija, but also the tourist-cultural center. The comfortable and new dormitory with spacious dining room provides comfortable accommodation in single, double, triple and four-bed rooms and tasty food for visitors from Serbia /mostly pilgrims/ and from all over the world /rooms with facilities and heating, homemade food/. The Holy archangels Monastery in Prizren makes the particular spiritual oasis for the few remaining Serbs who now live in the Emperor town of Prizren, besides some thirty students who attend the famous spiritual and Theological School of the Serbian Orthodox Church – the Prizren Seminary. Again is the Holy Archangels Monastery near Prizren the place of special interest and worship, guarded by the highly dedicated Abbot Father Mihajlo.

The working group of activists of the Orthodox Association of Saint Sava from Novi Sad visited Prizren from the 13th till the 24th August 2014, with the aim to participate in the clearing of the building remains and regulation arrangement of the yard of the Holy Virgin Church of Ljevis in Prizren. Eight of the activists stayed in the brand new dormitory of the Saint Archangels Monastery, from where they had excellent conditions to carry out planned activities every day. Along their plans, they have finished the clearing of the space around and in front of the Medieval shrine, which was devastated and damaged in the pogrom on the 17 March 2004. The entire monastery complex of the Holy Archangels Monastery in Prizren is under protection of the Republic of Serbia, as a Monument of Culture of Great Importance, and today there live only an Abbot Father Mihajlo with few monks. Due to brutal pogrom in 2004, the Holy Archangels Monastery near Prizren is under constant protection of Kosovo Police and in a special regime of protection.

Drustvo prijatelji manastira Sveti Arhandeli kod Prizrena