Ravanica Monastery

Ravanica Monastery

Ravanica Monastery is monument of culture of extraordinary historical significance located in the foot of Kucaj Mountains, close to Senje village, some 10 km east of town of Cuprija and the E 75 highway in Central Serbia. Ravanica Monastery is the principal and the largest endowment of Prince Lazar Hrebeljanovic who intended it for his burial church. The Ravanica Monastery until the present represents one of the best and the richest examples of the Morava school of architecture in Serbia. Prince Lazar was buried here after the tragic Battle on the Kosovo Field held on Saint Vitus Day, 28 June 1389 between the Serbian and the Ottoman armies in which he was killed.

The Church of Ascension of the Lord of Ravanica Monastery was constructed between 1375 and 1381. Ravanica Monastery has been built at the head of the works of the final style of the Serbian medieval architecture. In the following years other buildings of the Ravanica Monastery complex were added: the refectory, the dormitory, hospital, farm buildings and strong wall-fortification with seven towers. After Prince Lazar’s tragic death at Kosovo Polje /Kosovo Field/ Battle in 1389, he was canonized in 1390 and his holy relics were brought here and added to the fame of the Ravanica Monastery. Frescoes of Ravanica Monastery were painted few years before the Battle on Kosovo Polje. The portraits of founder’s family were painted and repainted after the Kosovo Battle, when the tragic scene of Prince Lazar’s death and his wife Princess Milica and their sons Stefan and Vuk were added.

Being thus essentially connected with the most important figure of the Kosovo Battle cycle of the Serbian epic songs, Ravanica Monastery become even more widely known and respected. Destroyed several times, especially during the Turkish conquest and yoke, Ravanica Monastery was reconstructed in the 16th century. Then at the time of the First Serbian Great Migration /end of the 17th century, in 1690/, Ravanica Monastery experienced even greater misfortune as it was burnt down and looted, remaining in ruins for next 30 years. During the Hapsburg occupation of Serbia /1717 – 1739/ the Ravanica Monastery was rebuilt, a new low narthex was added and new frescoes were painted. Due to unselfish works on reconstruction of the Ravanica Monastery a portrait of monk Stefan was depicted in the narthex. His nick name was Daskal – teacher, as he turned the reconstructed monastery into school. There were many educated monks and priests who were proud to record in their annals that they have learnt from daskal /teacher/ Stefan.  The school in Ravanica Monatery remained in function during the whole 18th century.

The Serbian Patriarch Danilo the Third writes about the Prince Lazar’s decoration of the Ravanica Monastery : “The Godlike church of Ravanica has been adorned with beautiful marble, the divine icons have been filled with gold and silver, not only the icons, but walls of the church have been enlighten with gold. The Ravanica Monastery has been encircled with high towers and strong walls, fortified with fence, that has not been seen before”. Monks Sinaites who escaped from the Turkish occupation and persecution from the southern parts of the Balkans and found refuge in the Serbian Monasteries have settled and served in the Ravanica Monastery.

By its architectural design Ravanica Monastery represents the beginning of the “Morava school” architectural style. The Ravanica Monastery church itself represents the authentic combination of the Holy Mountain building tradition of trefoil base and the inscribed cross with five domes what was favorite for the time of King Milutin in the 14th century. The trefoil base of Ravanica Monastery was the example for future buildings of churches and monasteries and shrines in Serbia. The height of the slender cupola of the Ravanica Monastery, surrounded with four smaller ones on the corners is also a new architectural feature. The facade of Ravanica Monastery is done on the usual Byzantine principle of combining layers of bricks and stones, but it is further enlivened by the beautiful large rosette above the western portal and by chessboard painted semi-circular fields underneath the cupolas. The frames of the Ravanica Monastery windows are richly carved in shallow relief.

The original Ravanica Monastery frescoes were completed in 1385-87, but nowadays are vivid only in fragments, except painting in the altar space and in the central part of the church that are better preserved. Ravanica Monastery frescoes also set examples for the subsequent painters both with their iconographic choice and the refined style. New motifs that are to be found in all the following Morava style of architecture churches in Serbia are Holy Warriors, a large number of hermits, medallions surrounded by rainbow colored strips. The style of Ravanica Monastery frescoes is characterized by a new sense for movement, individual portraying and predominance of color over painting itself. In the domes are painted depictions of Christ, Holy Virgin, angels and prophets, while in the altar space are painted scenes of Christ passions and embodiment, with Great feasts, Miracles and evangelic stories, holy warriors and monks in the central part of the church. The paintings in the Ravanica Monastery narthex date from the 18th and the 19th centuries.

“Today the Church of the Ravanica Monastery is mainly in all sides encircled by remains of walls of the monastic stronghold, the dormitory structure and partially by the wall erected in recent time. Walls of the urban stronghold with three defensive towers and the present monastic dormitory are located in the northern side and create a compound of the earliest structures. The wall on the southern side was erected at the end of the Middle Ages, and  comprises the enclosed churchyard. Its southeastern course coincides in the main part with the course of the old plane trees while in the southwestern course it freely extends and perpendicularly goes direction north.” Institute for the Protection of Cultural Monuments of Serbia Belgrade

In 1392 the Holy incorruptible relics of Holy Prince Lazar Hrebeljanovic were brought here and kept with special respect what made Ravanica Monastery one of the most venerated pilgrimage of Serbia. As the important seat of the spiritual, cultural, literature and artistic life, the Ravanica Monastery influenced the creation of a number of churches and monasteries, among which specially distinguish themselves the Sisojevac Monastery and churches of the Petruska oblast – the historical Petrus area.