Matejce Monastery

The Matejce Monastery or the Mateic Monastery is the Serbian Medieval Monastery is dedicated to the most Holy Virgin and situated in the historical Zegligovo area, at the foot of the Skopska Crna Gora mountains, close – 13 km – to the town of Kumanovo, some 20 km away from the center of Skopje. Actually the Matejce – Matich Monastery is set at the outskirts of the village of South or Old Serbia bearing the same name – the Matejce village.

The history of this monastery is very interesting, which in the past was also called the Zegligovo Monastery. It was erected already in the 11th century, with the interesting feature of the monastic church dedicated to the Birth of the Holy Virgin bearing some preserved inscriptions in Greek language which date from the time of the Byzantine tsar Isaac I Komnenos /1057-1059/. However, in the historical archives this monastery is first mentioned in the founding charter of the Serbian king Milutin /1282-1321/ issued about 1300 which mentions King Milutin as its khtetor-donor. Tsar Dusan /king 1331 – 1346, tsar 1346-1355/ started reconstrucion in the middle of the 14th century and his son tsar Uros with his mother Jelena – wife of tsar Dusan completed reconstruction works around 1357 since when it became endowment of tsar Uros.

The Serbian Tsar Dusan carried out thorough reconstruction of original foundations of the Matejce – Mateich Monastery, and works were completed after his death in 1355 by his wife – Empress Jelena and their son Uros. The Church of the Matejce – Mateich Monastery is dedicated to the Ascension of the Holy Virgin. Back in his days, this monastery becomes a kind of center of spirituality and events in the Serbian medieval state. According to the sources we see that Emperor Dusan and Tsarina Jelena often stayed here and that various Serbian convocations and congregations were held. Emperor Dušan’s son, Serbian Emperor Uros /1355-1371/ and his wife Ana completed a thorough reconstruction of the Matejce Monastery around 1357, after which it became the endowment of Emperor Uros. That’s when the Matejce Monastery got its present shape and appearance. The holy empress Jelena, pious and Christ-loving mother of Saint Tsar Uros and wife of Tsar Dusan died as nun Jelisaveta in her endowment of the Matejce Monastery on 7 November 1376. Numerous childless women used to come to her grave and pray and light candles. In 1643 the Serbian Patriarch sent part of the holy relics of the Holy Empress Jelena as a gift to the Russian tsar, while the part of the holy relics of the right hand of the Holy Empress Jelena are kept today in the Savina Monastery in Boka Kotor Bay.

“In the 14th century, the Serbian kings and the Serbian high dignitaries and nobility had erected numerous churches that made the Serbian arts  here achieved the pinnacle. Around Skopje, Prizren, Prilep, Kuystendil – nowadays in western Bulgaria, Kumanovo, Kratovo, Štip, Strumica, in the Valley of Crna Reka, the masses of the Serbian churches appeared. In the areas of Tetovo, Debar, Ohrid, Korca, Prespa, Bitolj, Florina, Ostrova, Kostur, Serez and Drama, there were numerous Serbian churches founded…“ Catena mundi – Predrag R. Dragic Kijuk

The last significant religious structure built during the reign of the Tsar Dusan, the Matejce church dedicated to the Ascension of the Holy Virgin, was completed after the tsar’s death /1355/. The Matejce church remained severely ruined during its long history, on the dominated peak of the Skopska Crna Gora, in the vicinity of Kumanovo. This Medieval structure of significant dimensions features basis of elongated inscribed cross and the facade built of ashlar stones, with five domes and a central unique twelve – sided dome above the small inner narthex. In its basis and the upper construction, the Matejce church represents the classical sample of the Byzantine architectural principle of the 11th and the 12th century. The spacious and well-lighted church of the Matejce Monastery featuring a dome of larger diameter than in Visoki Decani Monastery, stands for the Constantinople manners of harmonized well-lit space which complies to the harmony of calm and static masses. On the eastern part of the Matejce monastery church there are three semicircular apses. Contrary to the other Serbian churches of this area of Macedonia – the South Serbia of this historical period, the church of the Matejce Monastery has a particular feature – the tympanum of the central dome has 12 sides and 12 windows.

Traditional architecture of the Matejce – Mateic Monastery church does not reflect the other examples of the churches built during the reign of Tsar Dusan. It is surely the work of Greek masters who do not build elongated basis, nor use the vertical of the upper construction, that are common in the Serbian architecture of the 14th century. The political particularity that flamed during the reign of incapable son of Tsar Dusan – tsar Uros /1355-1371/ had greatly left traces in the religious architecture of Serbia. Not any significant ruler’s endowment was built in those years, and some later data testify that Tsar Uros rebuilt the main church of Skopje /without any traces left nowadays/, and he might be the only ruler of the Nemanide Dynasty who did not erect a single church.

The Matejce – Mateic Monastery is the last large Serbian Medieval church with preserved frescoes that testify on the hardship of historical events after the death of Tsar Dusan, with fresco decoration completed around 1355/1356. The Matejce Moonastery stayed for two centuries without roof and experienced huge destruction and decline. The pretty destroyed frescoes of the Matejce – Mateic Monastery represent the end of the encyclopedic tendencies of the Serbian paintings of the 14th century. The frescoes of the Matejce – Mateic Monastery are very comprehensive, but not particularly complex. Frescoes of the Holy Virgin church of the Matejce – Mateic Monastery feature a number of cycles : the Great Feasts, Parables and the Earthen life of the Christ, Christ Passions, Life of the Holy Virgin, Acts of the Apostles, Miracles of the Apostles, Legends of the Holy hermits Antonius and Makarios, Legends of the Saint Demetrius of Thessaloniki, Scenes of Life of Saint Elias, Cycles of the Ecumenical councils with addition of the Serbian council of King Stefan,  the Christmas Epistle of Saint John Damascin, the Lineage of Jesse, the Lineage of the ruling dynasties of Comnenos – Asen and Nemanides-Nemanjic. Besides the mentioned scenes, in the altar apse of the Matejce – Mateic Monastery are painted common liturgical themes, and numerous single depictions, and portraits of the Empress Jelena and Tsar Uros holding the model of the church and handling it to the Holy Virgin, and depiction of an Abbott of the Matejce Monastery.

After the Turkish conquest the Matejce Monastery was destroyed and declined, and in the 18th century the lead roof was moved and used for construction of the Eski Mosque in Kumanovo. After the Balkan wars the Monastery of Matejce became part of the Kingdom of Serbia. The monastic church has been reconstructed in 1934 and after the Second WW were carried out conservation-restoration works in 1953 and 1960 as well as in the middle of the 20th century. The Matejce Monastery was rebuilt between two world wars, but its original church was unfortunately demolished. After the Second WW the new restoration was carried out in the Matejce Monastery, in 1960.

The Serbian Orthodox Church officially has jurisdiction over the Orthodox community in Macedonia. The self-proclaimed independent Macedonian Orthodox Church had appeared in 1964 when the Macedonian dioceses split from its jurisdictional unity with the Serbian Orthodox Church. Although the great number /or majority/ of the Medieval Orthodox churches in Macedonia had been built by the Serbian Medieval kings and nobility in the Middle ages, the fact is that the modern Macedonian historians systematically misinterpret and avoid, but let this heritage be endangered and experience considerable destruction, and a target of numerous attacks, both in the past and in recent times….. The Matejce Monastery was destroyed in 2001 by Albanian terrorists who used the church during their rebellion as the headquarter, ammunition storage and the training center. This resulted in severe damage of Matejce Monastery frescoes and parts of the church, particularly the altar space, when the dormitory /that was previously used for children camps/ was thorn down. At present, the village of Matejce where the Matejce Monastery is located is populated by majority of Albanian inhabitants (85%), with only some 350 Serbs (10%).