Visoki Dečani Monastery

Visoki Dečani Monastery

Magnificent Visoki Decani Monastery is situated 15 km south of Pec, in the western part of the southern Serbian province of Kosovo called Metohija, in the picturesque and hardly accessible valley of Decanska Bistrica river, surrounded by steep Prokletije Mountain rocky ranges “Accursed Mountains”, wooded by dense coniferous and chestnut forests. The Decane is urban settlement, 15 km away from town of Pec /Peja/, along the road direction Djakovica, in Metohija, western part of Kosovo Province. Visoki Decani Monastery Church is unique Romanesque Basilica with numerous Gothic elements, painted with magnificent and wonderfully preserved frescoes of the Byzantine style. Visoki Decani Monastery is the most significant and the most majestic Serbian Medieval Monastery and place of worship. The Decani Church of the Transfiguration of Christ, built between 1334 – 1335 is the endowment and the mausoleum Church of the all-great and all glorious King Stefan Uros III /ruled from 1321 to 1331/, who is also known after the Monastery as Stefan of Decani, or simply Stefan Decanski, and after his death, completed by his son Stefan Dusan /ruled 1331-1355/. Visoki Decani Monastery is dedicated to Christ Pantocrator and represents the most glorious endowment of the rich spiritual and building heritage of the Nemanjic Dynasty, so due to its miraculous holy founder’s relics was always considered the sacred, and was adorned and highly donated by Serbian people.

Visoki Decani Monastery is the largest Medieval structure in Serbia /30 meters wide, 36 meters tall, dome 29 meters high/ and thus the name “Visoki Decani” /high Decani/. The founder – donor Kralj Stefan Decanski /Holy King Stephen of Decani/ has gifted the Monastery with huge estates, income and privileges. Those assets were recorded in 1330 during the time of its construction, in the Decani Charters of King Stefan Uros III, which contains the largest number of Medieval descriptions on Serbian state and the lifestyle of population, including important facts of topographical and onomastical material of 14,000 names: about the life of Stefan of Decani, Monastery properties that were spreading from the Beli Drim River in the Metohija-Prizren valley to Komovi Mountains on the present day boundary to Montenegro, and from Pec to the River Valbona in Albania, upper and middle Polimlje, Kosovka Drenica, Potarje and Zeta; on the the builder of the Church, about the organization and management of the Monastery, about the time when the earthly remains of the patron were laid to rest in the Church’s tomb and later canonization of King Stefan of Decani, which raised Decani Monastery above many other Serbian royal endowments comprising exceptional treasury of icons, liturgical implements and hand-written and printed books. The First founding Decani Charter in the form of manuscript book was written by the calligraphic uncial in the Old Church Slavonic and the vernacular language to testify the Serbian Medieval literacy and the high degree of education among the scribes and authors of the text.

The founder of the Visoki Decani Monastery was King Stefan Uros III of Decani /1285-1331/, the son of Holy King Milutin and the father of King-Emperor Dusan. The Serbian Orthodox Church celebrates the Holy King Stefan Decanski as Great-martyr on November 11/24 /according to the Julian and Gregorian calendars, respectively/. As a ten year-old boy Stefan was given as a hostage to the Tatar Khan Nogai and as a youth was falsely accused of an attempt to overthrow his father /King Milutin/ from the throne, blinded and imprisoned in the Monastery of Christ the Pantocrator in Constantinople. Mild-nature and compassionate, King Stefan Uros III of Decani won the favor of monks and lords alike, and even of Byzantine Emperor Andronicus II himself. Seven years later, after the mediation of Serbian and Greek bishops, his father reconciled with him and gave him to rule the region of Budimlje /in present day Montenegro/. In 1321 after the death of King Milutin, Stefan was crowned in Prizren as King Uros III. Before his coronation he removed the bandages from his eyes and revealed to everyone his miraculous healing through the intercession of St. Nicholas the Miracle-Worker. Stefan Uros III Decanski inherited a huge state from his father Milutin that was rich in silver and gold mines, and had developed agriculture, livestock farming and commerce. He ruled wisely and in a God-pleasing manner with love towards both his people and God. The Holy King Stefan Uros III concerned himself with philanthropic works and the building and decorating of churches located in his fatherland and outside it : in Jerusalem and the Holy Land, Alexandria, Sinai, Thessaly, Constantinople, and especially on the Holy Mountain of Athos for the famous Monastery of Chilandar. The pinnacle of Stefan’s endowment efforts was the construction of the glorious Decani Monastery, whose name the shrine would later carry /Saint Stefan Decanski/.

The construction of the Visoki Decani Romanesque five-nave basilica with a dome, and with a three-nave narthex in the west and a three-section altar space in the east, was built from 1327 until 1335 by the experienced master-builders George and his brothers Dobroslav and Nikola conducted by the famous Franciscan master-builder Fra Vito from Kotor and his stone-cutters who were in charge of sculpture decoration of the Decani Church in bas-relief. The name of the main constructor Fra Vito is found on the portal of the southern entrance to the church. The Visoki Decani Monastery shrine with its length of 36 meters and the height of 29 meters, ending with en elegant cupola entered through an impressive medieval gate, was always widely admired and through centuries got its title “high” – meaning “visoki”. The central-main part of the Visoki Decani Monastery church is entered from the narthex through the ornate Romanesque portal with a huge fresco of Christ Pantocrator dominating the eastern wall above, 14th century. Decani Monastery narthex is lower and narrower than the central part of naos and wonderfully fresco painted, among which is the scene of the Exaltation of the Holy Cross, Menologion (September 27), from 1345. Bearing its bold structure formed by a skillful combination of the Christian Orthodox liturgy requirements with the western, Romanesque manner of construction using marble blocks and beautiful sculptural decorations which amaze by the richness of their themes and contemporary method of manufacture, the Dečani church is the most monumental Serbian church preserved unto this day.
The facade of Visoki Decani Monastery is covered in beautiful white, gray and pink marble, lined in rows, whose harmony is intruded only by three portals, two triforiums, 21 biforiums and several one-bay windows. The corbels adorned with beautiful anthropomorphic and zoomorphic heads decorate the top of the Decani Monastery facades. In many aspects the decoration of Visoki Decani Monastery copies the one of Studenica Monastery. This is best viewed in the large central apse triforium that is the exact copy of the one in Studenica Monastery. The main, western portal – doorway features figures of Christ on the throne and two angels surrounded by zodiacal signs and two guardian lions on the columns. The southern one shows in sculpture the Baptism of Christ; underneath it is a Cyrillic inscription in Serbian on the church facade. The north Decani portal is also richly decorated with a representation of the Cross which spreads into flowers. To complete the glorious external appearance of Visoki Decani Monastery, the interior is entirely made of hewn stone, gold and other precious materials and covered with magnificent frescoes – more than thousand of them in over 20 depicted cycles. 

Groups of master painters performing different styles accomplished the magnificent mural paintings in the Decani church, completing their work by 1347-1348. The fresco paintings of Visoki Decani Monastery are distinguished by bright colors, lively design and great interest for details that was a novelty in the Byzantine art, including a multitude of standing figures. Depicted scenes of Decani Monastery from the life of Saint George, the whole church calendar of 365 days, portrays of Emperor Dusan with his family and himself alone and the magnificent Nemanjic Dynasty Family tree are painted in the narthex. One enters the Visoki Decani Monastery nave through the other nicely carved portal with lions holding the head of men at the sides, an illustration of the belief that a lion cries over the head of the man he killed. On the walls of the Visoki Decani Monastery nave are numerous liturgical, dogmatic and biblical themes represented, as well as those from the history of Christendom, all showing the excellence of founder’ theological education.

The Commander of the KFOR Regional Command “West”, Italian Colonel Andrea Bertazzo and his associates handed over the first part of the valuable donation of the Army of the Republic of Italy to the monastery of Visoki Dečani – the equipment for digitization of the frescoes of the monastery church, which is on the UNESCO World Cultural Heritage List. In addition to their selfless commitment in protecting the Monastery, together with their other KFOR colleagues of the RC-West, the Italian army has thus made a significant contribution to the preservation of world cultural heritage – the 700 old Serbian Orthodox monastery of Visoki Dečani in Kosovo and Metohija. The donation was received by the Visoki Dečani monastery abbot, Archimandrite Sava, and hieromonk Petar, who worked diligently with the Italian friends on the realization of this project. Colonel Bertazzo who will soon be completing his six-month term, and his colleagues were awarded by the Monastery with Letters of Gratitude.

The authentic low stone masonry iconostasis of Decani Monastery is the only one preserved in Serbia with extremely beautiful icons and dates back to the 14th century, as well as the greatest part of the church furniture. Besides it lays the minutely carved and lively painted sarcophagi of the founder where the Holy incorruptible and fragrant relics of the Holy King Stefan Decanski are kept and displayed for all to see. It is considered the holy relics of Saint King Stefan Decanski feature healing powers and Decani Monastery is treated as the source of miracles. Among the usual scenes in the altar space there is also the representation of King Stefan Decanski bringing his monastery to Christ, which is without doubt his best portray. Of the many painters who worked on the frescoes in the Decani Church of Christ the Pantocrator, the name of “Srdj the sinner” is painted on one of the capitals. Above the southern entrance into the Decani church there is the stone inscription about its construction – Fra Vita, small brother and construction master from the royal town of Kotor had erected this church of Christ Pantocrator for the enlightened lord King Stefan Uros the 3rd and his son, reputed lord King Stefan Dusan. The church was built in eight years and was fully completed in 6843 (1335).

The oldest sample of the cross with four fire steels on the Serbian ethnic territory can be found in the Decani monastery, namely on the candelabrum. It dates from the 14’h century. It was restored in 1397 by the princess Milica, meaning that it had been placed there even earlier. The fire steels on the candelabrum are in the shape of letter S, open-styled, which is Serbian style, unlike the Byzantine fire steels. Candelabrum from Decani Monastery, where the cross with fire steels is placed represents one of the sources of the Serbian national awareness. Marko Atlagic

During the Turkish rule, the Dečani Monastery church was spared major destruction despite it became a part of the Ottoman Empire until the beginning of the 20th century. After the Battle of Kosovo /1389/ this royal monumental Decani Monastery was in difficult position. Princess Milica visited the Decani Monastery with her sons in 1397, returned its property that had been taken away and donated it richly. From the end of the 14th century the Decani Monastery treasury and library expanded with valuable donations and a scriptorium was active in the monastery. The Decani Monastery has never been abandoned, and it experienced great prosperity after the restoration of the printing house in 1557, which lasted until the end of the 17th century. Although many of its landholdings were taken from the Decani Monastery, and Ottoman historical sources proved the violence and usurpation of the church property, the Visoki Decani Monastery retained important privileges and won the favor of Ottoman sultans, holding the imperial falconers. In the once rich Decani Monastery Treasury, nowadays, there are about 60 icons preserved as well as over 170 manuscripts and ecclesiastical liturgical artifacts, gold and silver vessels, precious vestments, ornamented pearls and other valuable objects preserved. Among them is the famous Icon of Holy King Stefan Decanski, the 16th century work of famous Serbian Medieval iconographer Longin, which represents the whole life of the King, and especially the Velbuzdh Battle.

The Albanian terrorists bombarded the surroundings of the Monastery during the night of the 17-18th March 2004 but the Monastery of Visoki Decani remained intact.
Visoki Decani Monastery is a cenobitic male monastery with continuous monastic tradition since the 14th century. Bishop Teodosije of Lipljan, the monastery Prior has led the brotherhood since 1992. Followed by seven young monks with the blessing of the Bishop of Raska-Prizren and Kosovo-Metohija Diocese, Father Teodosije moved from Crna Reka Monastery to Decani Monastery. Since then the number of young men desiring monastic life has grown each year and the Visoki Decani Monastery have improved its conditions and re-established its former significance and glory. Monastic life of Decani Monastery is performed by clear wish for the overall salvation. Decani Monks accomplish perfect monastic life, living liturgical life above all means, so that regular tasks come first in the lives of the Decani Monastery monks. The typicon /liturgical rule/ includes the complete cycle of daily religious services, which begins at 05,00 a.m. with the midnight office, orthos, the hours and Liturgy, and concludes in the evening with vespers and compliance. Vigils the night before Sunday and other religious feast days are especially solemn. Vigils in Decani Monastery, that come in the form of exceptionally harmonious chanting usually last several hours, while the church is lit by dozens of candles on the famous Decani choros. Most beautiful of all are holidays and Sunday liturgies in Decani Monastery when the Monastery Prior, Bishop Teodosije officiates together with his priest-monks, they throw open the doors of their monastery to strangers, poor and weak. However, the midnight festive Easter Liturgy is the most astonishing experience of visitors and faithful people, who attend it with special joy and admiration, no matter it lasts pretty long, until 04 am. The chanting of the Decani Monastery monks and gracefulness and beauty of the church reach their fullest expression on those occasions.
Besides religious services and prayer, the monks of Decani Monastery spend most of their time carrying out their tasks they have been assigned by the Monastery Prior that serve to enhance the life of the whole community. Decani Monastery constantly provide rich essential support to the local population living in the enclaves in remote areas of Kosovo and Metohija, like providing them cattle, seeds, vines for their vineyards, taking children and youth to summer vacations to seaside centers in Greece and Montenegro… The Association Amici di Decani is of special help to the Serbs living in extremely difficult conditions in enclaves taking children to Italian hospital to find cure and relief of the most complex illnesses.

In addition to regular tasks, such as the works and maintenance the monastic estates, food preparation and delicious cheese and red wine production, more than some twenty highly educated Decani Monastery monks also use the most modern technology, and carry out administrative tasks, such is preparation and editing of publications for publishing or do the handcraft woodcarvings and icon-paintings. The highly educated Decani monks are also involved in translating texts by the Holy Fathers and maintaining the Decani Monastery renowned website…..
Holy King Stefan Decanski himself planted the grapevines in Velika Hoca village near Orahovac according to folk tradition where Decani vineyards are located. The growing of grapes and the production of the “lozovaca” /grape brandy/ and famous Decani red wine is an “obedience” that takes place on the Monastery estate /metochion/ in Velika Hoca village. This unique small village with thirteen Orthodox churches, is the place where “blessed” wine of exquisite quality is made in the wine cellar managed by Decani monks with the help of local residents. It is around 50000 liters of the red and white wine produced yearly from the grapes grown in the Visoki Decani monastery vineyards in Velika Hoca village, which spread on around 10 hectares, from the wine sorts of Merlot, Vranac and Cabernet Sauvignon. The red wine of the Visoki Dečani Monastery, made by monks in the traditional way of the ancient wine cellars of the Dečani estate in Velika Hoča, is dark ruby colored with purple nuances. Its aromatic accord is composed of fine forest fruit tones, roasted hazelnuts, and a mild touch of cinnamon and saffron. Its taste is full, its texture smooth like silk… The secret of its flavor, scent and harmony is each time gradually revealed as a new pleasant experience. For centuries old chestnut forest surrounds the Decani Monastery, which is favorable for the development of organic natural honey production and bee-keeping. Chestnut honey from this area is highly prized, and the Decani monks continue to produce it today, using the unpolluted natural environment and its numerous benefits and gifts.
Immediately after the arrival of KFOR peace-keepers in Kosovo and Metohija, the Monastery of Visoki Decani was placed under the protection of Italian KFOR, which continues to guard it to this day, provide escorts for the travels of the monks and regularly attend the Liturgies, as the shrine is set amid growing radical religious threats and possible riots. Decani Monastery Complex has preserved its traditional hospitality and is thus becoming one of the favorite destinations of numerous visitors from all over the world, international civilian and military representatives. Orthodox Serbs, pilgrims from Kosovo and Metohija and other parts of Serbia, Montenegro, Macedonia and Bosnia-Herzegovina also visit the Monastery regularly escorted by military or police.

Monks of Visoki Decani Monastery came under attack by the Kosovo public for greater Serbian nationalism, due to their latest counter efforts to halt the construction works of the Pec-Plav road near the monastery, which, they claim, has entered the protected monastery zone.

In 2004, Dečani Monastic Complex with the related hermitages was listed in the UNESCO List of World Cultural and Natural Heritage as the Serbian cultural heritage of exceptional value and today, as it was during history, in spite of endangered and unstable political and security situation, is famous throughout the world thanks to its overwhelming spiritual and cultural brilliance. UNESCO recognized the Visoki Decani Monastery for its outstanding universal value.

All our visits to Visoki Decani Monastery make us truly delighted and preciously enlighten us !

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