Uvac Monastery

Uvac Monastery

Uvac Monastery, also known as the Vuvac Monastery is one of the most inaccessible Medieval monasteries of Serbia. The Uvac Monastery can be best reached if possible by the terrain vehicle, with plenty of patience and love, along the dirty macadam road from Zlatibor, via Ribnica lake and Tornik and the tiny Stublo village, along the exceptionally steep and curvy mountain slopes.

Uvac Monastery is the real hermitage of stones and snakes and bears the name found in few scanty historical sources. Walls of the present beautiful church of the Uvac Monastery, completed from 1995 till 1998, are built of multi-colored stone, surrounded with arches built above the foundations of the ancient monastic premises and the blacksmith shop. Uvac Monastery is situated in the wild and isolated Uvac river valley, at the foot of the Priboj’s Crni Vrh (Black Peak) on the southwestern side and beneath the slopes of Zlatibor Mountain toward the southeast.

It is quite certain that a very long time ago a small church was erected on the border between the Serbian despotate and the Medieval Bosnia, representing a special barrier against Bogomil heresy and penetrating Islam. Later, economically strengthened brethren started the reconstruction and widened the modest temple. Therefore, in the first decades of the 17th century, at the time of Patriarch Pajsije, Uvac Monastery represented a monumental monastery complex with accessories, lodging houses and successful economy. Enlarged and widened temple with rectangular choirs must certainly have found its models in the imperial lauras to which Vuvac Monastery was directly connected. Vuvac Monastery is not quite unknown to the Serbian cultural history. It is ascertained that many travelers, chance guests, as well as high church dignitaries, had visited the Uvac Monastery in the period of its greatest ascent in the first half of the 17th century.

It is also known that Uvac Monastery has been destroyed and restored several times, but it was not recorded when it had experienced the last catastrophe, due to the fact that it was not restored till present time. Together with disappearance of the Uvac Monastery, for a great number of years vanished also the life in exotic and pleasant valley of the Uvac River. Interruption in cultural and spiritual continuity began at the time when this region was settled by people who came from distant places and had only fragmentary knowledge about Uvac Monastery. Disappearance of life in Uvac, sufferings and destinies will probably stay forever behind a veil of secret. Since the Serbian culture from that time was of oral and epic character, the history of Uvac Monastery was also most often replaced by stories handed down from generation to generation. As if it were our destiny that the most important events should stay in the epic memory, that miraculous institution from which we gathered our first knowledge.

The oldest written trace about Uvac Monastery has been found on the pages of an Old gospel dated in 1622. The next script, from 1664, provides more data about some contributors, in fact it states their names and kinship. At the same time we found out that the head of the monastery, a certain Kir Gerasim, who had been staying at Uvac Monastery during following decades, probably contributed to remarkable ascent and prosperity of this spiritual center. In the script recorded eighteen years later it could be seen that even then the head of Uvac Monastery was above mentioned Kir Gerasim, and that in 1682 he visited metropolitan Teofan of Skopje. According to some data it was not the only visit to this metropolis. It is also possible that Gerasim came from the southern regions, that he was a Greek and as a prior of Uvac had been staying in Stari Vlah for many decades. Metropolitan Josif from Timisoara, an outstanding personality of the Serbian church spent some time in this monastery under Crni Vrh (The Black Peak). It is assumed that he was responsible for hiding the treasure which belonged to the Banja Monastery near Priboj, probably before expected Turkish invasion.

Almost during the whole 18th century Uvac Monastery had been covered with a veil of secret. There are neither data about destruction and sufferings nor about disappearance of life from the pleasant valley by the river having the same name. However, it is very likely that they really happened in the the first decades of the 18th century when a great number of places of worship in Stari Vlah in Serbia were burnt and demolished.

An important source, which only partly refers to Uvac Monastery, is unpublished manuscript of the restorer of Banja Monastery near Priboj, Dionisije Popovic, dated from 1857, who visited this complex, gave a precise location and partial description”. An outstanding researcher of our antiquities, head-priest Jevstatije Karamatijevic, in the third decade of the 20th century visited the Uvac Monastery complex, trying to find a legendary “church Janja at Stari Vlah”. Enthusiastic about epic memory of Serbian ethos, Karamatijevic supposed that Janja church, which allegedly had been built by members of the Nemanjic Dynasty, was places somewhere in the region of the Uvac River valley. Believing that such a church really existed, and that it originated from the Middle Ages, that it was famous for its luxury and wealth, he thought that Uvac Monastery was that particular old church which had been built by the members of Nemanjic Family. Karamatijevic found the monastery complex overgrown with bush and woods. However, the greatest value of Karamatijevic work is in his legends and stories which he has written down. Some of those stories refer to the Uvac Monastery itself, its destruction, restoration and life. He stated with great precision the numerous toponyms of the surroundings that represent the indirect way of solving many unknown things from the past of this whole region. At the end, when he was writing about the inaccessible place on which the monastery had been erected, the head-priest Karamatijevic mentioned “magnificent remains of the temple and some other buildings and town walls…/which/ testify about powerful Christian life that had been flourishing there”.

A great number of unknown issues, connected with Uvac Monastery are still open questions. Vivid national memory, that unique interpreter of history, had been trying to reveal secrets of demolished monastery in the pleasant valley of the Uvac river. Epic interpreters, who maintained historic consciousness especially at Stari Vlah, considered Uvac Monastery the very “Janja Church at Stari Vlah”, which, for a very long time, had been attracting the attention not only of the curious people but at the same time arose the interest of the scholars, ethnologists, historians and local cultural workers. Of great importance is the knowledge that only at Stari Vlah there are five churches for which it is believed they were dedicated to this mythical female wonder-worker. Who is really that female-saint Janja to whom the Serbs had been dedicating churches, especially in the Serbian part of Stari Vlah. Should her origin be traced in the remaining elements of pagan myth with the Slavs or Janja was just a Christian symbol? Finally, does Uvac Monastery represent the very Janja Church, which the folk poet mentioned in the poem “Building of Ravanica Monastery” through words of the Empress Milica and which is ascribed to the Nemanjas who had not been squandering their wealth but used it for erecting a great number of churches.

According to some old stories Uvac Monastery is that particular Janja Church, which used to be unique by its wealth and possessed big flocks of sheep on spacious meadows. All around was the land belonging to the monastery, orchards and vineyards that are undoubtedly testified by numerous toponyms. Uvac Monastery was surrounded by a wall which is at some parts well preserved to our time, testifying about the old fortification, probably even older than the monastery itself. Uvac Monastery was undoubtedly an impressive spiritual and economic center of the whole region. Tradition, mostly oral one, had been transmitting from generation to generation, and once again connected Uvac Monastery with the Nemanjic Dynasty memorial. That is the story about Janja, the sister of great Duke Stefan Nemanja. Her brothers probably erected a monastery in this secluded area, where she became a nun and spent the rest of her life. It is said that her curse was echoing over the surrounding hills when they were descending from the slopes of Zlatibor toward Uvac Monastery along rocky, narrow paths, and when Janja saw to which deserted place her brothers had confined her.

Strong and fortified temple in the pleasant valley of the Uvac river was difficult to ruin. The Turks have tried it several times, but without success. It seems that each time somebody was killed. Then they were advised that the monastery could be ruined only by the Serbs. And they found the Serbs settlers, some Tokovics, who, as the story says, ruined the monastery quite easily. They were richly awarded for their service by the Turks, but they were also cursed that their descendants would become poor and with no male off springs and that their houses would always be below the road. Some think that it is the case even today. According to some data the family of Didanovic was among the first settlers in the picturesque river valley after demolition of this Orthodox center.

The restorer of Banja Monastery near Priboj, Dionisije Popovic said that they lived badly because they “eat at that monastery’s place”. There are some stories which tell that on Christmas eve, a person with a crown on his head appeared in a dream of one of the Didanovics and revealed him the secret of the church treasure, but advised him to use it for renovation of the monastery. As the Didanovic was indecisive, the same person used to appear in his dream in the period of two years more, twice on Christmas eve. It is said that before his death this indecisive inhabitant of Uvac decided to reveal his secret to his son. However, the impatient young man was not resolute enough in his intention to restore the monastery, but made up his mind to dig up the treasure immediately. The day before the work should have been finished, it was raining heavily, making a great number of brooks down rocky regions, which rolled down the ground removing even the mark where the treasure had probably been hidden. People said that water rolled down the Kaludjerska fountain from the hill and placed it at the very spot where it is standing now. Some time after this strange event, people gave up searching for monastery treasure. It was known for sure that under the influence of widely spread stories, searching for the treasure had been continued later, but without significant results.

Life in the immediate surroundings of the Uvac river had been going on almost through the whole 19th century. The monastery of Uvac was in ruins and only some rare travelers and Orthodox priests visited it from time to time. Tradition of the Uvac monastery fair has been revived and on Mala Gospojina the churchyard was collectively visited; that was the celebration of Uvac Monastery. Some traditional stories, that live folk memory and miraculous interpreter of the past, tell us that the inhabitants had been successful while the monastery fair was held and that life was revived in the whole region. Later, the reason is unknown, the fair was forgotten, and since then they have not had success.

Destruction of the monastery and disappearance of life from the pleasant valley of the Uvac river is possible reason we are now deprived of important historical data from the past of this outstanding spiritual center. Existence of the monastery was a condition for survival of the Orthodox inhabitants in this picturesque valley. Numerous important data and traces faded out with those who left Uvac or ran away from it or most often, took them into grave.