Wednesday, 26 July 2017

The Serbian Patriarchate of Peć: Wild, Barbaric Colours against the Dark Prokletije Mountains

Text by Balkan Travellers | Photographs Serbian Orthodox Diocese in Raska and Prizren   
The contemporary convent of Peć once hosted the medieval Patriarchate of Serbia and it is one of the earliest preserved Orthodox edifices in Kosovo. As headquarters of the Serbian church from around 1250 till 1766, it was created as the most representative example of the Raška aesthetic school.

Its group of thirteenth and fourteenth century churches, situated on a plane at the beginning of the Rugova gorge, several kilometres from the town centre of Peć, is secluded from the road by high walls. The churches’ light-coloured masonry shines against the dark silhouette of the austere Prokletije Mountains in the background, offering a majestic emotional introduction into the spirit of Balkan Orthodoxy.

The oldest of the complex, the Church of the Holly Apostles from the thirteenth century, possesses an interior copied from the Jerusalem Church of Sion. On the inside, its walls are covered with sober and monumental frescoes and its darkness and strange collection of objects reflect more or less what English traveller Mary E. Durham, who visited the Patriarchate at the beginning of the twentieth century, describes:

“The general effect, made up of a mass of extraordinary detail, is old-world and barbaric in the extreme. The walls are entirely covered with frescoes of the most primitive description, a jumble of fierce colours toned by age into a rich harmony. Quantities of cut glass chandeliers hang from the roof, and from these again dangle numbers of ostrich eggs. Dim gilt icons and holy pictures, blackened by the tapers that with pious zeal are stuck on their frames by a blob of hot wax, hang on the walls. Reading desks, taper stands, candle-sticks, all are of the most early pattern and the rudest make. A curious seat, under a canopy hung with dingle-dangles, is the throne upon which was crowned Stefan Dechanski, the Sveti Kralj.”

The other two churches in the complex were built a century later. The church of St. Demetrius boasts a series of biblical scenes, painted in the fourteenth century, but extensively reconstructed in the seventeenth century. The Church of Our Lady of Odigtrea resembles a portrait gallery of the Nemanjići Dynasty, especially around the narthex.

Next to the churches is situated what is probably the biggest VIP graveyard of medieval Serbia. Most of the archbishops and patriarchs of that époque are buried here, their tombs filling the monastery's grounds.

As the spiritual centre of a flourishing kingdom, the patriarchate of Peć once possessed a serious treasure - allegedly when the Serbs decided to move it to Gračanica, further away from the invading Turks, they needed nine horses to carry it. Their precaution measures did not help, and the treasure disappeared in the seventeenth century.

Practical information: The Patriarchate is on the outskirts of the town of Peć /Peja in Kosovo.

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