Saint Apostles Peter and Paul Church Ras Novi Pazar

Saint Apostles Peter and Paul Church Ras Novi Pazar

The Church of Saint Apostles Peter and Paul in Ras, the former seat of bishops of Raska and the Serbian Medieval state is located on the tranquil hill above Novi Pazar. According to historical sources, in the church of the Apostles Peter and Paul was the cathedral of the Bishops of Raška (today Peter’s church near Novi Pazar), while next to the church ‘the seat’ (capital) of the Serbian rulers developed in the time of the first Nemanjićs. This old and reputable bishopric was mentioned in some Byzantine and Serbian sources and represented ecclesiastical center of the Serbian state from the period of the foundation of the Serbian autocephalous archbishopric in the epoch of Saint Sava.

In his book “Dečanski spomenici”, published in 1864 Serafim Ristic writes about the Saint Peter’s Church and the Apostle Titus (…)

“The Church of Saint Apostles Peter and Paul, noted by locals as the Petrova crkva – Saint Peter’s Church is located above the right bank of the Deževska Reka River, close to its confluence with the Raška River, in the northeastern part of Novi Pazar. During excavations of the foundations of the church in 1957 there was discovered a rich treasury of items from the beginning of the 5th century – the Greek painted vases, golden pectorals, applications, fibula and belts, silver and bronze dishes and numerous amber pearls – that had belonged to the representatives of the local aristocracy. By the archaeological excavations that followed it was determined that the church was erected above the pre-historical tumulus where the burials were performed from the Bronze till the Early Iron age. In accordance with the tradition and along the Genealogy from the 17th century, the Saint Peter’s Church was erected by the Apostle Titus, a disciple of Paul the Apostle. Saint Sava referred to this tradition given that the autochephalous status /independence/ of a church could have not be acquired without existence of a shrine founded by one of the Christ apostles.

As per old traditions, the first Christian church in Serbia, the SS Apostles Peter and Paul Church WAS ERECTED on remains of an ancient fortification near the earliest Serbian capital of Ras in the Raska area by Apostle Titus, disciple of Apostle Paul who lived in the 1st and the 2nd century and together with the Andrew the Apostle had established the Pannonian Bishopric of Sirmium in Sremska Mitrovica’. dr Sanja Suljaga, ‘Creation of National Identity and dis/continuity of Serbia’.

Systematic historical-archaeologic investigations carried out for more than 20 years at the end of the 20th century by J. Kalic have shown that the fortress of Ras was situated not far from the cathedral church of the bishopric of Raška. Today it is the archaeological site called by the locals Gradina-Postenje. In the well known work of King Stefan the First Crowned “Biography of St. Simeon” he wrote that in the 12th century the seat of Serbia was next to St. Peter’s Church in Ras. That place high on the hill was always and for centuries considered a very old cult place and the sanctuary which is abundant in numerous Roman and Byzantine traces. The Roman Arsa, dating from the 4th century underwent the most expansive restoration during the Emperor Justinian I (527-565), who assigned a new function to the old fortress, adding new ramparts, two churches and other objects. The present-day Church of Saint Apostles Peter and Paul dates back from the 9th or the 10th century being the oldest monument of sacral architecture in Serbia. The Church of SS Apostles Peter and Paul in Novi Pazar was built on the remnants of the former early-Christian church from the 7th century. Although the Church of SS Peter’s and Paul’s is conserved in 1960, the most recent archaeological research have excavated tombs of Illyrian noblemen from the 5th century BC which document that the Church of St. Apostles Peter and Paul is the oldest in the Balkans.

The SS Apostles Peter and Paul Church is located on the hill that was populated in the 6th century BC; Beneath its foundations is found one of the riches Hellenic-Archaic golden hoards. Above this Hellenic hoard was erected a Roman rotunda, whose foundations are visible today, and above it in the 9th century the Byzantine rotunda with the dome was added, which contained a tiny gallery around the tambour and the spacious semi-circular apse. The rotunda got the asymetric pre-space in the western and the norther side of the church. Above it there is the storey gallery with holes turned toward the inner part of the church. In the 11th century this church got the new layer of frescoes that was covered by the Serb painters with the new layer of fresco painting when the Serb signatures were painted. Svetozar Radojčić

The oldest parts of the SS Peter’s and Paul’s Church are created by its unique circular shape in construction with a central cupola and three radial apses is visible from the inside. Archaeological findings point that the SS Apostles Peter and Paul church has been rebuilt several times in history, beginning in the 4th century, with notable additions made in the 7th century.

The present day appearance of SS Apostles Peters and Paul Church comes from the reconstruction works undergone during the history. The dark interior of SS Peter’s and Paul’s Church reveals three layers of frescoes in pale red tones, most of which remained from the fresco repainting around 1250. Numerous Roman, Byzantine and Slavic massive cross-like tombstones and considerable sacral treasures have been found in the broad yard surrounding the St Peters Church, some of which are displayed in the National Museum in Belgrade. The Church of SS Peter’s and Paul’s is significantly connected with the life of Stefan Nemanya, the minded founder of the Serbian Medieval State. After his birth in Ribnica /nowadays Montenegro/ because of the misfortune Dynasty relations, father Zavida had baptized Stefan Nemanya by the Roman-Catholic rite as there were no Orthodox priests in Duklja. When returned back to Raska, the further founder of united Serbian Medieval State, young Stefan Nemanya was re-baptized in the Church of St. Peter’s and Paul’s by Orthodox priest. His youngest son Rastko /later Saint Sava – the first Serbian Archbishop/ was born in nearby Dezeva village and was baptized here as well. Large baptistery of St Peters Church can be seen today. Later during his reign as the ruler of Serbia, Stefan Nemanya gathered here with rulers of surrounding Byzantine Empire and held several councils of significant political importance. In 1196 Stefan Nemanya left the throne of the Serbian State to his son, Stefan who was afterwards crowned as the King of Serbia, declared as the First-crowned. The Deževo zhupa – Deževo Valley is renown granary, particularly fertile and suitable for grain production and fruit growing. The name of Deževa, according to a legend, comes from an old word of dežam which determines the wooden vessel in which the bread was served for the most festive events, so the locals consider Deževa as the place of bread. The village of Deževa or Deževo, how it was called in the Medieval times, was mentioned by the Archbishop Danilo II, in description of events connected with the abdication from the throne of the King Stefan Dragutin. Archbishop writes that the King Dragutin handed over the kingdom to his brother Milutin /at Ras, in the place called Dezeve/.

Due to its particular cultural importance, from 1979 Church of Saint Apostles Peter’s and Paul’s is inscribed in UNESCO World Cultural Heritage within the Stari Ras Complex, including Monasteries of Sopocani, St. George’s Pillars, Crna Reka and Konculj.