Saint George Monastery Staro Nagoričane village

The Monastery of Saint George is located near to the village of Staro Nagoricane in the north-eastern part of Macedonia, 13 km east from Kumanovo, on the slopes of Kozjak Mountain and in the vast and picturesque Pcinja River valley. The tiny village of Staro Nagoricane at present has 556 inhabitants of whom 452 declared themselves as the Serb nationality in the last census.

The original Church of Saint George Monastery was built in 1071 by the Byzantine Emperor Roman IV Diogenes. As one of his many endowments, Serbian King Milutin restored thoroughtly the Nagoricane church in 1313 after the great victory against the Ottoman Turks. The church of Saint George Monastery in Staro Nagoricane features the base of elongated inscribed cross given that the original sacral building was basilica with five domes. The basis of the earlier Nagoricane church erected of stone, was leveled to the half of the present day height during the reconstruction and on the very basis the new church of bricks and stones was constructed that can be seen on the altar apse which was originally of the semi-circular shape covered with the new five-sides dome. According to some researches, the church of Saint George Monastery in Staro Nagoricane village was constructed by the same masters of King Milutin who built the Holy Virgin of Ljevis Church on the preserved basis. The special feature of the church in Staro Nagoricane are the main icons that were done in specific al fresco technique directly on the mortar which make this church the unique one among the Serbian shrines. The church of Saint George Monastery in Staro Nagoricane village is covered by the stone blocks and is very well preserved until the present time. The original frescoes of Nagoricane church are considered the most beautiful in so-called “Vardar style”. Bulgarian emperor Mihajlo III Šišman (1322-1330), killed in the Battle of Velbuzhd is buried in the church.

In the time of the Serbian rule, the Saint George Monastery of Staro Nagoricane was in ruins and the monastery was deserted. The ground floor of the church was preserved and used in the reconstruction works of the new shrine, so the preserved part influenced the final form of the building. Frescoes of Saint George Monastery as well as in the major endowments of King Milutin were painted by fresco painters Michael and Eutychius. It is believed that those frescoes have large similarities with decoration of Gracanica Monastery and the Church of the Holy Virgin of Ljevis. On the shield of one of the saint warriors it is written : …..”by the hand of the Michael the fresco-painter…”. The same thing was done by the second painter Eutychius on the shield of the Saint Theodore Theron. When painters have completed the works here : ….”they could have been satisfied as they have completed their greatest and the most important work”…

The scenes of the calendar /minologue/ is similar to those in the Monastery of Gracanica, painted just after the Nagoricino church, as the King’s Milutin last endowment. King Milutin is depicted holding the church model, which is very truly presented figure. Besides the fact that every shrine built or reconstructed by King Milutin who was obviously great donor of the shrines at his time with architectural and painting similarities, depictions of the ruler – King Milutin are always different. In Gracanica Monastery angels blessed by Christ bring the crown to the King Milutin, while in Nagoricino church, the patron of the shrine, Saint George, handles the sward to the King as the gift to the endowment. In regard with the pose and attire of the King Milutin, they are similar to those in Studenica and Gracanica Monasteries. The depiction of the donor in Nagoricino features the gesture of the patron of the shrine, Saint George, to whom the king gifts the church. Saint George is turned towards the King Milutin with raised right hand while in the left hand he handles the sward to be given to the King. This scene is connected with the victory against the Turkish army from the year of the construction of the church, which is evidenced by the inscription of the building. No matter either the church was erected as the fulfillment of the promises before the battle of it was the gratitude of the victory, King Milutin is depicted in triumph. There is no usual scene of the donor with the model of the church lead by the Holy Virgin or the patron of the shrine. Here are scenes of saint warriors that were executed for the Christianity.

The Saint Emperor Constantine and his mother Helena are depicted besides the royal couple within the donors’ composition. King Milutin is compared in the literate resources with Emperor Constantine or he is considered as his disciple ….”similar to the famous Constantine”….. “dependable to the God’s help and worshiping and rising of his heritage”…. The patron of the church, Saint George is depicted several times. Since the scenes depictions in the Monastery of Saint George in Staro Nagoričino is the most comprehensive Medieval complex, its depictions can be regarded as the foundations of the many more famous scenes. Numerous details from the late-Byzantine scenes are first mentioned in the scenes in Nagoricino, dependable from the “Erminije”. One of those scenes has significance and the feature of the fresco-icon which stands where usually priest sits, which confirm the presence of the Priest Venjamin who was in charge of the fulfillment of the King’s intents on construction and fresco decoration.

The monastery church of Saint George in Staro Nagoricane is decorated with colorful bricks from the outside. Two tripartite windows on the southern and the northern peaks of the inscribed cross are specially rich in decoration as well as byfora on the narthex above the entrance which makes column rolled-up. Above the entrance door there is large stone inscription of King Milutin and King’s monograms decorate capitols of two columns located on the western entrance to the church. The iconostasis of St George’s Monastery in Staro Nagoricane village has been made of stone and consists of four columns with capitols and architrave.

Few kilometers north of the Saint George Monastery, on the crossroad between villages of Nikuljane, Staro Nagoricane and Celopek, lie remains of the Zabel Monastery dedicated to the Ascension of the Holy Virgin. The present church of Zabel Monastery was constructed in the middle of the 19th century from gentle ashlar stone within the comprehensive reconstruction after Turkish harsh demolition. Then the original Zabel church, built in 1330 for which the legend says was the endowment of Prince Lazar, has been extended. “The Zabel Monastery above the Staro Nagoricano village in South Serbia was the center of the Kumanovo Uprising in 1878 where the Serbian rebels and reputed local Serbs gave oath for liberation and union with the Princedom of Serbia. Bulgarian occupiers looted and demolished the Zabel Monastery in 1915. Tradition has it that this monastery was erected by Prince Lazar. The Church of the Most Holy Virgin of the Zabel Monastery was constructed in 1330.

In 1900 the reputed local of Kumanovo, Filip Dimkovic joined the monastic family. Previously his family declined when his third wife died, and soon the only child, so he remained alone in the house. In his great grief he completely turned to God and the church, and donated his whole wealth of 4000 dinars to the Zabel Monastery. In the Zabel Monastery he received obedience for management of the whole monastic estate….. In 1924 there in the Zabel Monastery served Russian monks refugees who took care about the shrine. Negligence and abandonment in the 20th century led to the complete damage of the Zabel Monastery dormitory, stables and economic structures. Through centuries the Church of the Ascension of the Most Holy Virgin remained in good condition, with pretty well preserved values and beauties created by its constructors. Yet, few years ago, vandals looted four icons which were more than 150 years old. Icon of the Holy Virgin was literary crashed out from the altar space. Author of stolen icons was the famous icon painter Dičo Zograf. Scholar claim that the value of stolen reliquaries is simply priceless. The older locals of this area say that this was the first theft of icons, but also that the destiny of this church is very sad“. Hadži Miloš Marinković Srpstvo u Makedoniji