Saint Prohor of Pcinja Monastery

Saint Prohor of Pcinja Monastery

The Monastery of Saint Prohor of Pčinja is one of the oldest Serbian Monasteries which recently celebrated 950 years of its existence. The Monastery of Saint Prohor of Pcinja is situated right on the border with Republic of North Macedonia, in wonderful surroundings of the woody slopes of Kozjak and Rujan Mountains and on the left bank of the Pčinja River, 30 km south of Vranje, close to the village of Klenike.

Pčinja River Valley is Area of Special features and left tributary of Vardar River which originates on slopes of Doganica Mountain and flows through Trgovište village to enter Macedonia by the Prohor Pčinjski Monastery. The Monastery is dedicated to the Saint Prohor /Prochorus/, the South-Slav saint who lived more than 6o years as a hermit in the secluded area of the Nagoricano-Osogovo Mountains. The sacred space of monastery of Saint Prohor of Pčinja is defined by the cult of the Saint Prohor, one of the Balkan anchorites from the 11th century. His myrrh-flowing remains miraculously healed many sick people over the centuries who asked him to pray for them.

The legend goes as follows: Romanus IV Diogenes, a high Byzantine noble and a member of the Cappadocian military aristocracy was hunting in the area when he met anchorite Prohor who foresaw that Romanus was going to become the Emperor. As the prophecy came true, the thankful Emperor Diogenes came back to this place to express his gratitude to the hermit but then found out that the old man had already died. In the 11th century on the spot of the St Prohor’s Cave the Emperor built the monastery dedicated to the saint. On the slopes of the Kozjak mountain there are hermitage of Prohor, the place of his recluse and the place where he probably died, as well as the «imprints» of his feet in the stone. The fresco icon of Saint Prohor has been painted on the rock in the woods, quite close to the monastery.

The 11th century church of Saint Prohor Pčinjski Monastery was damaged in the Cuman onslaught. It was within the Byzantine state until the campaign of Stefan Nemanja between 1180 and 1190 when the area of Vranje was captured. At the end of the 12th century it became part of the Serbian state, during the reign of grand duke Stefan Nemanja. After the Kosovo Battle started destruction of the Monastery when Turks damaged it several times. The Monastery of Saint Prohor of Pcinja was thoroughly renovated by the Serbian King Milutin in the early 14th century who engaged his/court best fresco-painters Michael and Eutychius to decorate with frescoes the interior of the church. The Monastery of Saint Prohor of Pčinja was damaged and devastated several more times in the course of next centuries. The Monastery of Saint Prohor Pčinjski experienced most terrible time in 1371 when Turks nearly leveled it to the ground. Last time the Monastery was demolished in 1817 by ethnic Albanians and during the First World War it was looted by Bulgarians. After the liberation from the Turks in 1878, the present-day large and beautiful church has been built. It encompasses six domes and a bell tower built in 1898 enclosing the remains of the older temple within its walls.

However, some sources testify about the longer existence of the Prohor Pcinjski shrine. Sources collected by Goran Krstić register “that the church, likely, was constructed around the 2nd-3rd century, as the shrines built at that time in the area of Stara Srbije – Old Serbia. Remains of the Orthodox basilica indicate this. It is not known who was the constructor of the original church, but the historical recored claim it belonged to the Ohrid Arch-Bishopric that was established by Saint Peter. It was apparently the Serb church as the Romei part of the Empire by Christ, predominantly ruled the Serb generals and emperors. The original church was demolished in the campaign of the north-Romei legions in their breakthrough towards Tsarigrad. The hagiography of Saint Prohor, the hermit who was disciple of Saint John of Rila, has it that the hermit had chosen the Kozjak Mountain for place of his enlightenment and spiritual achievements where there are ruins of the destroyed Orthodox shrine. In those gloomy times, Saint Prohor put efforts to rebuild the monastery on the foundations of the existing one. The legend has it that the Holy Father Prohor started to rebuild and construct the church, but without success.” Here it considers the dedication of the Holy venerable Father Prohor. The legend also has it that only upon a special dream, the Holy Prohor managed to carry out the reconstruction of ruined monastic place, convinced it would experience full glory as per fulfillment of destiny predicion to Diogenes who was crowned and became the Roman Emperor. As it is known, the Emperor Roman Diogenes had a dream in which the Holy Father Prohor approached him and reminded on his promise to rebuild the monastery when becomes an emperor. Upon this dream, the Emperor Roman visited this area, but the Holy Father Prohor already passed away. The Emperor fulfilled his promise and reconstructed – not built, the monastery in the 11th cetury. Political events at the end of the 10th and the beginning of the 11th century must have left traces on building traditions in this area. The Serbs with Romei regained the earlier lost territories of the Balkan peninsula, after the victory of Emperor Basil II /976-1025/ against Emperor Samuil. This requiered reorganization of political and religious administration and subjugation of population under its influence. In 1020 the Emperor Basil II issued the imperial charter which included the reorganization of the Ohrid Patriarchate, later Ohrid Arch-Bishopric, where the Morzovish Dioceze was mentioned and that contained, besides the other places, the Kozjak – at present mountain in whose foothill is locaated the Monastery of Saint Prohor of Pcinja…. As the King Stefan the First-crowned registered, the grand duke Nemanya regained the area around Vranje in liberation wars agains the Byzantium. By enclosing the regained territories to the Serbian state, there was a need for reogranization of the church which was conducted by Saint Sava. At that time, the monastery remained within the borders of the Serbian state until its final fall, when someone took care about it. It was only during the reign of King Milutin when the monastery was dedicated to Saint Prohor. Likewise the 40 endowments of the King Milutin, this monastery was also rebuilt, on the event we know from the Karlowitz Genealogy which records that “the King built the Monastery of Pšinski Prohor”. On this testifies the brick built-in at the northern facade of the original church, which contains the SAVA name inscribed in the shallow relief technique and reveals the direct reconstruction works conducted by the Archbishop Sava III /1309-1316/. In 1316 – 1317 the King Milutin engaged royal painters from Thessaloniki Michael Astrapas and Eutychios to paint frescoes of the reconstructed monastery. Since then the monastery was the cultural and educational center of this area with the Seminary and the copying-illuminate workshop, where the icon painting education was performed. Here was also organized the monastic hospital. The Ottomans destroyed the Monastery in 1389, and in 1490 it was rebuilt by Marin from Kratovo. The Monastery again became part of the Serbian state after 1912″.

The older part of the church of Saint Prohor Pčinjski Monastery is its north-west part that has strangely oriented apse. The relics of Saint Prohor were held here. Hospital within the monastic complex and the religious school were established even during the time of Saint Sava. The first teachers were mostly monks from the Hilandar-Chillandary Monastery. The first school was built here in the Monastery in 1878 as well as the seminary and icon-painting workshop. The frescoes of very good quality were created at the time of its renovation at the end of the 15th century. The rest of the church of Saint Prohor of Pcinja was painted in 1904 by Trajko Jovanovic from Kumanovo who completed several interesting compositions such as the one depicting the abbot and greatest benefactor along with people from nearby villages who had restored the monastery. On the south wall scenes from the history of the monastery are painted while on the north wall the South Slav and Balkan anchorites Jovan Rilski, Joakim Osogovski and Serbian saints such as St Prince Lazar can be observed. The Monastery of Saint Prohor of Pčinja is under state protection as monument of culture since 1950 and since 1979 was proclaimed the cultural site of extraordinary importance.

Beautifully arranged and appointed monastic complex of the Saint Prohor of Pcinja features spiritual, serene and warm atmosphere, thanks to the incorruptible holy relics of Saint Prohor who was one of the most significant Christian saints. The Saint Prohor Monastery nowadays is the cultural and education center of the region, with the Seminary, copying workshop and the icon-painting workshop. The entire monastic complex of the Prohor Pcinjski Monastery encompasses two dormitories – the King Peter the Liberator’s Dormitory “konak” and the Vranjski konak Dormitory, traditional water mill from the 19th century, centenary oak forests and fragrant meadows and slopes of Kozjak and Rujan Mountains intersected by the explosive Pcinja River. Numerous observation points starting from the lowest levels covered with meadows, forests and pastures, through terraces and alluvial plateaus up to the highest peaks of the surrounding mountains make the most of landscape of the Pcinja River course.

The sacred space of monastery of St. Prohor of Pčinja is defined by the cult of one of the Balkan anachorites from the 11th century. The center of the cult is in the church guarding the relics of St. Prohor Pčinjski. The core of the monastery was built in the course of several centuries and comprises a number of chapels adjacent to the church or scattered around the monastery grounds. Following the ecclesiastical tradition of the places visited by Christ or the Virgin Mary, the points of sacred space represent the places visited by St. Prohor. On the slopes of the Kozjak mountain there are his hermitage, the place of his recluse and the place where he probably died, as well as the «imprints» of his feet in the stone. Like in many other unresearched examples in the Balkans, the holy space is defined on a fresco icon of St. Prohor painted on the rock in the woods, quite close to the monastery, the river and the fountain. The sojourn of St. Prohor has also left its trace on the preserved toponyms in that region, such as the mount called Starac.Svetlana Smolčić-Makuljević, University of Belgrade
Monumental Vranjski Konak Dormitory is structure of uniquely authentic architecture what makes it one of the most beautiful buildings of this style in Serbia. It has been built by the Vranje merchant – Haji Mihajlo Pogacarevic between 1854 and 1862. The Vranjski konak Dormitory of the Prohor Pcinjski complex, with total accommodation capacity of up to 100 beds is today exquisite tourist-congress center, thanks to its luxurious accommodation in spacious and comfortable rooms and apartments, designed with authentic furniture of wood and natural materials, that provide unique harmony together with the monastic spirituality and the memorable whiteness of the entire facade. Fully equipped, modern 100 seats meeting room and four separate Club-rooms with interpreter’s cabins make excellent venue for numerous well organized meetings and events. Both guests staying in the Dormitory of St Prohor of Pcinja Monastery as tourists keen to explore immense cultural and spiritual and natural landmarks and organizers and participants of meetings dine in the spacious restaurant designed in traditional way and the traditional 19th century water mill turned into restaurant enjoying exclusively delicious traditional specialties prepared under the pot : “The Monastic Garden” /”manastirska bašta”/, “The Vranje style seethe”/”vranjska klucanica”/, “Sour Hot meal” /”kisela ljutenica”/, “Leskovac Salad”/”leskovačka trljanica”/, “Metohija Meal”/”metohijska tava”/, “Master Jefrem’s Meal” cooked in ceramic pot /”gospodar Jefremovo grne”/, “Palmers kebab”/ “hadžijski ćevap”/, “Kozjak roast” /”kozjački smuk”/, “Fried meat” /”beli uvijač”/, “Steak of the Nemanyic’ Table”/ “biftek sa nemanjićke trpeze”... and large choice of unusually delicious and forgotten Serbian ancient dishes.

Your stay at Saint Prohor of Pcinja Monastery enables numerous relaxed-working, spiritual and tourist activities and various delightful experiences : romantic and authentic marriages and memorable baptizing upon Christian Orthodox canons, meetings and event organization, walks along fragrant meadows and lush forests through intact nature of Kozjak and Rujen Mountains, tour of St Stephen and St Panteleimon Monasteries that are nearby spiritual treasures of the Serbian culture, mediation with prayer and communion, visit to the hermitage-cave where Saint Prohor spent half of his life, tour of The Ascension of the Virgin Church in Mrtvica village dating from the 4th or the 5th century, excursion to Vranje including visit to the birth houses of the Venerable Father Justin Popovic and famous writer Bora Stankovic, sightseeing of the Kale – Krsevica archaeological site, excursion to Saint George Monastery in Staro Nagoricane village, tour of the Zebrnjak Monument – memorial of the Serbian soldiers killed in Kumanovo Battle during the First Balkan War in Mlado Nagoricane village, sightseeing of Kokino neolithic megalithic observatory, reveille in open-air, climbing, picking up medicinal herbs and forest products, cycling, fishing…