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Morača Monastery


Montenegro Hostel Ltd

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Morača Monastery is set in a spectacular position right at the beginning of the dreaded canyon of River Morača, in the very mist of the highest mountains of Montenegro. The position is further emphasized by the scenic Svetigora waterfall some 25 meters high, plunging noisily just behind the complex, making it one of the famous motifs on many pictures. The monastery was founded in 1251-52 by Price Stefan, son of Vukan and grandson of Stefan Nemanja, the founder of the Nemanjić dynasty. Its main church, dedicated to the Assumption is a fine example of mature Raška style of Serbian medieval ecclesiastical architecture-single nave with a narthex, cupola above the square base, semicircular apse and a chapel each side.  The detais, such as the main portal and the double windows, are clearly Romanesque and revival that the builders came from the town of Kotor. The monastery was looted ( including its cooper roof) and burnt down by the Turks 1504 and remained in ruins until the renovation of 1574 when the best Serb artists of the time were summoned to help. In the 6th and the 17th c. it became an important artistic and cultural centre and played and important role in political life. Most notable of such evens was when in 1608 Serb patriarch Jovan came to the monastery to convene with the local clan leaders and request help from the Savoy dynasty against the Turks, but the scheme met with no response. In the 1877 war the monastery was site where the advancing Turkish army was stopped with a heroic defence led by its abbot Mitrofan Ban, the future metropolitan of Cetinje.

The western portal of the Church of Assumption is made of dark stone and with somewhat naive representations of the Virgin Mary, Curcifixtion and beasts of hell. Above the door is the original inscription by the patron and fresco of the Virgin surrounded with angels. This painting is one of the rare surviving medieval originals as almost all other frescoes here date from the time of the renovation by copy the themes represented by the destroyed medieval ones. The western front of the church is additionally decorated with now blanched wall- paintings including the large representations of the St Demetrios and St George on horseback. These frescoes as well as those in the nartex date from 1616 and are the work of Georgije Mitrofanović who was invited the famed Monastery of Hilandar on Holy Mt Athos. Before you enter notice the fine door from the same period, influenced strongly by the contemporary oriental arts. The most impressive compositions in the narthex are the huge Tree of Jesse on the north wall, Last Judgment as well as the Christ sitting on the throne in the composition known as the “Emperor of the Emperors”. The walls of the nave were painted by priest Strahinja of Budimlje: the Dormition of the Virgin, see above the door, and scenes from the life ofSt Elijah on the north wall. One of the rare surviving original frescoes from the 13th c. is the “Ravens feeding Saint Elijah” hidden in the diaconicon ( to the left of the altar), regarded by many as one of the masterpieces of its time. The frescoes of the Annunciation and the Deisis are from the same period. The splendid iconostasis, with remarkable large icons and the gilded crucifix that alone took 11 years to carve, dates from the very beginning of the 17th century. One should also note the portrait of Vukić Vučetić who led group of locals donors who paid for the renovation. In the church are displayed some of the monastery’s many valuable icons such as those by the painter Jovan: one portrays St Sava and his father S Simeon ( Nemanja’s monastic name), with the life of St Sava depicted in the smaller pictures around it; similar to it is the one representing St Luke painting the icon of the Mother of God, in which one can also see the construction of the monastery. The small chapel to the left of the narthex is dedicated to St Steven, protector saint of the Nemanjićs and of Prince Stefan. Its excellent frescoes are also the work of painter Jovan from 1642. Among them the most important is the one depicting St Stefan leading the patron ( carrying the model of his church) to the Virgin.

The small Church of St Nicholas, lying closer to the entrance of the monastery compound was built in 1639 on the foundations of the medieval tower which once guarded the gates. The monastic tradition holds the church to be even older that the main one, but this was probably invented at the time of construction as building of new churches was prohibited in the Ottoman Empire. Its frescoes dating from 1639, work of painter Jovan, rank amongst the best of their time. The main subject on its walls is the life on miracles of St Nicholas, displayed with some interesting iconographic solution such as the scene “St Nicholas saving the boy from the Saracens” in which the Saracens are portrayed as Turks dressed in contemporary fashion and seated alla turca on an oriental rug. In other frescoes the saint helps the seafarers, gives sight back to Serbian king Stefan Dečanski and introduces Prince Stefan to the Mother of God. Also notable are the frescoes of St Sava and St Simeon as well as the large composition of the Assumption above the entrance.

Not a long way up the river is the Monk’s Bridge (Kaluđerski most). This half ruined piece of amateur engineering was built monastery fraternity in 1842 at the point where at the river gets very narrow. One of its arches collapsed and was replaced by a wooden construction, which still stand giving it a hazardous look, but is nevertheless still in use.

 

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