Saturday, July 07, 2007

Žiča Monastery

Our last stop was Žiča, a monastery on the outskirts of Kraljevo. Also belonging to the School of Raška, Žiča was the joint endowment of King Stefan and St. Sava. A priest who served at the monastery for 48 years provided a wealth of knowledge and stories. According to a legend, St. Sava founded the first Patriarchate on his return from his long sojourn at Mt. Athos. A golden thread is said to have lead him to this site, hence giving the monastery its name, meaning cord or thread. In 1208, St. Stefan was crowned here as the first king of the Nemanjić dynasty (followed by the next 8 kings). Last year Žiča celebrated its 800th jubilee. In 1251 the archbishop seat was moved to Peć in Kosovo, but state councils continued to be held in Žiča and kings crowned here. For the first seven kings, each time a king was crowned, a new door was created and the king would walk through that door.

Žiča’s identifying feature is its red color, symbolizing (as ordered by St. Sava) that the Church is based on the blood of its martyrs. The architectural style of the church is copied by nearly all of the 13th century churches. The entryway passage into the monastery grounds contains frescoes from the 14th century, with a transcription of the founding charter of the monastery – a very important historical document. They were in much better preservation than those in the church.

Žiča was looted many times, first by a Bulgarian prince, renewed by King Milutin in 1309, then raided several times by the Turks. The lead of the roof was melted by the Turks, leaving the church without a roof for many years, causing extensive damage, particularly to the frescoes. It was again damaged in WWII, bombed 5-6 times. After the church still stood, the Germans poured petrol in the church and lit it on fire. According to our priest guide, 61 monks were killed (1 survived), along with others in the village. After this, the remaining frescoes were conserved, but not repaired or repainted. In 1928, all archives were taken to Belgrade for restoration and learning. Unfortunately in October 1941, the National Library where they were held was bombed and completely destroyed, along with it the precious documents.

Although the frescoes inside the church were badly damaged and many completely lost, the priest pointed out that much of Serbian history can be found in the frescoes. One fresco has three doctors (2 holding surgical tools and another with medicine) – a testament to the modern medicine of the time, still pictured in modern medicine books. The “Dormition of Our Lady” is another significant fresco. As in Studenica, photography was not permitted inside of the churches.

The monastery grounds also contains a baptistery reconstructed from found fragments and a smaller church built at the same time as the main church, with remnants of a few 14th century frescoes. Residential buildings were extensively restored between 1925 and 1935.

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