Studenica Monastery

Studenica Monastery

The magnificent Medieval Studenica Monastery is the ‘mother church’ of all Serbian shrines. Studenica Monastery is situated in the beautiful Studenica River Valley in central Serbia, 200 km south of Belgrade and 39 km south of Kraljevo. It is set close to the confluence of Studenica and Ibar Rivers along the most prominent Ibar River Valley, hence called the Kings’ Valley, named after numerous medieval monasteries, sanctuaries and sacral structures built by the Serbian medieval Kings along the river course. Studenica Monastery was founded around 1190 as the principal endowment and mausoleum church of Stefan Nemanya, the minded founder and most powerful and prominent ruler of the Serbian Medieval State, to become and remain the most important of all Serbian Orthodox Monasteries of the rich cultural heritage of Serbia.

This well-preserved 12-13th century monastic complex of Studenica churches sits at the end of a 12-kilometer road, which begins in the small town of Usce, in the gorgeous and well-protected natural setting on the highly forested slopes of Radocelo, Cemerno and Troglav Mountains. Within the UNESCO “Man and Biosphere” program, Nature Park “Golija” joined the biosphere reserve network in 2001 when it was named “Golija-Studenica”.

Studenica Monastery Complex consists of four medieval churches, the Lower and the Upper Saint Sava Sanctuaries and the dwelling /dormitory, hospice, refectory/ with the high tower enclosed by defensive walls in a form of an almost perfect circle. Those are : The Church of the Virgin Mary, Saint Nichola’s Church, SS Joachim‘s and Anne‘s Church /the King’s Church/ and well preserved foundations of the St. John the Baptist Church. The oldest and the most significant among Studenica Monastery structures is the Church dedicated to the Holy Virgin constructed between 1183 and 1196 in the brilliant combination of Byzantine Cathedral and Romanesque exterior details, entirely representing the so-called “Raska school” of architecture. The facades and sculptural decorations of the Holy Virgin Studenica Church were completed of white polished marble from the neighboring Radocelo Mountain /like no other Serbian Monastery/ and crafted by the superbly skilled craftsmen-masters from Kotor, the littoral part of the Serbian Medieval State at that time. The exterior of the Holy Virgin Studenica Church is in the Romanesque spirit, while its fresco paintings bear the Byzantine characteristics. The Romanesque elements of the Holy Virgin Studenica Church make decorative façade finishing. The highest levels of the facade appearance are done in characteristic arcade shaped friezes on consoles carved in stone. Monumental Studenica portals are specially characteristic likewise the windows richly decorated by sculpture decorations, magnificent wet portal and particularly triforium on the altar apses which dominates the eastern part of the Holy Virgin Studenica Church. It features exquisitely carved plant motive decorum and phantasmagoric creatures, as a winged dragon and basilica with a long snake tale. In 1245 King Radoslav added the large narthex with semi-circular chapels at the western side of the Church of the Virgin Mary.

Studenica Monastery enjoyed continual care by the members of the Nemanjic dynasty in the Medieval era of the Serbian state, and served as model for the churches built in the Raska-Rascie area, and became the royal funeral mausoleum church. The oldest monumental frescoes of Studenica complex are done by anonymous artist from Constantinople and date back from 1208, Those Studenica frescoes represent the corner-stone of the fresco-painting of the entire Byzantine Empire. The most significant among all Studenica Monastery frescoes is the most celebrated and monumental Crucifixion painted on the western wall of the Holy Virgin Church with the exquisite portrait of the Christ featuring the calm facial expression that represents outstanding pain and overwhelming dignity. On the south wall of the Holy Virgin Church of Studenica Monastery there is the “founders’ composition” which shows the Blessed Virgin taking Stefan Nemanja – Monk Simeon the Myrovlyte /St. Symeon the Myrrhbearer/ who holds the church model to Jesus Christ.

The Church of Saint Nicholas in Studenica Medieval complex was erected in the early 13th century. It is one nave church which is also fresco-painted, but this time by Serbian painters. The King’s Church /Church of Saint Joachim and Anne/, with its octagonal bright red cupola over the graceful architectural structure of the basis of reduced cross was built in 1313. By its artistic significance the Kings Church is the most important among shrines of Studenica Medieval complex and was named after its founder, King Milutin. The brilliant frescoes of the King’s Church perform density of forms and volumetric rendering of faces. Those frescoes were painted by Michael and Eutyches immediately after the construction of the church and especially those that depict King Milutin, his wife Simonida /Simonis/, Saint Sava and Saint Simeon the Myrovlyte are considered the finest portraits of the Middle ages and the master-pieces of the Byzantine art of the beginning of the 14th century. Exceptional Medieval monument inside Studenica Monastery Complex is the circular wall, which has two fortified gates (churches, refectories, Treasury, monks’ quarters from the 13th to the 18th centuries), but also extremely significant surroundings. In the protected Studenica zone there are the Upper and Lower hermitages, the marble quarries from which the blocks for the Church of the Virgin Mary were drawn and the remains of a medieval settlement of quarry-men and stone-cutters. From 1986 Studenica Monastery is inscribed in the UNESCO World Heritage List.

The Holy Virgin Church of the Studenica Medieval complex keeps the myrrh-flowing and incorruptible holy relics of Venerated Stefan Nemanja – monk Simeon, as well as other notable Serbian rulers and saints to whom faithful believers venerate and thank in their prayers : Ana – the wife of Stefan Nemanja /the sanctified Anastasija/, King Vukan /the oldest son of Stefan Nemanja/, King Stefan Prvovencani – the First Crowned /the sanctified monk Simon/, King Radoslav /the oldest son of Stefan Prvovencani – the First Crowned/ and other. Coffin for the relics of King Stefan Prvovencani – Stefan the Firstcrowned was manufactured by hands of “a sinner Antonije” and makes the most precious coffin of the Studenica Monastery Treasury. Along the available sources, the kings’ incorruptible relics were miraculously found in 1608 in Sopocani Monastery. As the same year is mentioned carved within the cover of the coffin (1607/1608. and 1608/1609.), it can be assumed that this coffin was made just then, probably in summer of 1608. From the carved inscription we learn on the personality who ordered a skilled master to manufacture it :”This coffin was manufactured in 7117. [=1608/1609.] by wish of the Father and with help of Son and the Holy Spirit, an by khtetor mitropolitan Simeon. The hand of sin Antonije created it”. The coffin with kings’ relics was kept in Sopocani Monastery until 1687 when it was transferred to numerous monasteries in Serbia because of war troubles and destruction. It was returned to the parent Studenica Monastery in 1915 with the holy relics of monk Simon /Kralj Stefan Prvovencani – King Stefan the First-crowned/ and there they laid until 1958, when they were put into the silver coffin which was the gift to Studenica Monastery by Princess Persida Karađorđević. The coffin made by Antonije experienced some damages but in general it is well preserved and after reconstruction it was returned to the main nave of the Holy Virgin Church of the Studenica Monastery. The King Stefan Nemanjić Prvovenčani – the Firstcrowned in his founding harter has gifted the Monastery of Saint Mary the island of Mljet and estates in Korcula, on the semi peninsula of Pelješac and around Dubrovnik – parchment document kept in the State Archive in Dubrovnik – Diplomata et acta, 13th century No. 318.

The Treasury of the Studenica Monastery preserves some of Serbian applied art’s most important artifacts and objects, including the golden ring of King Stefan the First-crowned and a version of the New Testament from the 15th century. Prayers, serenity and divine appearances and celestial Byzantine-blue color of the magnificent Studenica frescoes, whose kilo was twice worth than a kilo of gold in Medieval era, make uniqueness of Studenica Monastery complex.
Studenica Monastery complex is the spiritual center of the Serbian Medieval Nemanjic Dynasty harmoniously united with the intact natural ambiance of Radocelo Mountain and features unique spirituality, serenity and warmth. Dormitory of Studenica Monastery /hospice/ has been built several years ago in authentic Serbian architectural style, whose accommodation comfort, related to 3 stars object, within the tranquility of the most significant Serbian monastery and preserved nature boons provides enlightened and pleasant stay to numerous believers and guests. Studenica Monastery Dormitory encompasses single, double, three-bed rooms and multi-bed rooms with bathrooms /some of rooms overlooking the monastery/ that are furnished in massive wood, with icons calling for prayer, according to the ambiance and rules of the shrine. There is spacious dining room in the basement of the Studenica Dormitory decorated with photos of Studenica Monastery and other Serbian monasteries and saints of the Serbian Orthodox Church. In the Dormitory of Studenica Monastery vegan meals are served /without meat and dairy products/ and by prior order river trout or traditional dishes, prepared from ingredients produced on vast monastery property. Depending on the period of the year, visitors are served here with vegetable pie for starter, fillets of smoked Studenica trout with Dalmatian garnisheeing, fruit or cake, monastic wine for dinner, and for breakfast kaymak, corn bread, kačamak /hominy/, yogurt, vegetable cream soup, grilled meat, salads, sweets, and fast breakfast on Friday – corn bread, hominy without milk, jam, honey, tuna, salty paste … The tiny open porch of the Studenica Dormitory is especially pleasant spot to enjoy the glass of monastic wine and the spirituality of the entire complex, attributed in the facade whiteness and the wooden construction of the Studenica Monastery Dormitory, providing remarkable harmony.

Studenica Monastery is the source of spirituality of the Serbs, where the first hospital has been founded in Medieval times. In the first half of the 20th century the Studenica Monastery had its own hydro-electric plant, where the new and modern mini-Hydro electric plant has been completed recently. The new Hydro electric plant on Studenica River has been constructed as replica of the Djerdap Hydro electric plant, on the same place where during the half of the last century worked the only one hydro-electric plant, built by the project from 1927, which supplied the whole Studenica area with electric energy area until 1970.

Studenica Monastery is an outstanding example of a Monastery of the Serbian Orthodox Church and belongs to the highest point of the Serbian history. All of those features make visit to majestic Studenica Monastery a spiritual and cultural invigoration that lasts long.