THE CHURCH OF THE MOTHER OF GOD THE BENEFACTRESS is one of the best-preserved Christian temples in the world dating from the 12th century. This building of extraordinary beauty and harmonious dimensions was constructed by the most talented and experienced builders and stone-craftsmen of that time. Serbian Grand Župan Stefan Nemanja, a ruler with cosmopolitan views, who had a chance to see first-hand both the Byzantine and the Occidental art, realized that the best ideas and the greatest achievements in styles of that era – Romanesque and Byzantine – could be combined. He decided that his memorial would be made as a specific synthesis of the two architectonical styles. The inner area is structured in accordance with the principles of Byzantine art, with the altar placed on the eastern side, while walls and the outer surfaces of the church are made in the fashion characteristic of Romanesque art. Such practice was to a certain extent widespread along the western and eastern Adriatic coastline, where influences from the East and the West blended and amalgamated. It was precisely in the coastal part of his state that Nemanja found the best artisans and craftsmen to work on his memorial. For its time, the Church of the Mother of God in Studenica Monastery was a very expensive construction, which was built using top-quality material and groundbreaking knowhow, by expert builders and stone-craftsmen. The power and the economic prosperity of the Serbian state, especially in mining, made the construction of such a memorial possible. Great efforts were made and significant resources were used in order to complete the construction of the main temple within the Monastery, the sepulchral church of its founder, together with auxiliary buildings, within a period of only 10 years (1186-1196).
The Church of the Mother of God in Studenica was built with cubically cut pieces of top-quality white and grey marble, which was very expensive, excavated in the quarry on the Radočelo Mountain, 3 km away from the Monastery, which still exists, just like the remains of the mediaeval settlement of the laborers who worked there. Even nowadays, in the Studenica area, this precious stone is dug and cut, and this work requires extraordinary skill. The outer surface of the marble blocks used in the building of the Church of the Holy Virgin in Studenica was carved in such a way that it appears polished, and at some places, it is even sculpted. Such kind of delicate work can be done only by very skilled and experienced master artisans. On the eastern side of the church, there is one beautiful marble window with three openings, adorned with ornaments. All entrance doors, high and majestic, are also cut from the finest marble, decorated with marvelous wall sculpture in relief. Just under the ceiling, there is a series of chiseled figures, which is a specific, extremely rare form of ornamentation, and hence very valuable. Another interesting detail can be seen in five lovely drawings, which are engraved on the façades, with the purpose of facilitating the construction of complex entrances and the base for the dome. These drawings are actually unique sketches that are among the oldest preserved architectonic drawings, of great importance for our understanding of the process of building and construction in the Mediaeval Period. The impressive outer side of the main temple in the Studenica Monastery is additionally stressed by a broad red-colored dome. The interior of the Church of the Holy Virgin is spacious and with a high ceiling. There is also very old and valuable original furniture made in stone. Sepulchers of Stefan Nemanja, i.e. Saint Simeon, and his sons Grand Prince Vukan and King Stefan the First-Crowned, i.e. monk Simon, are located in the western section of the temple. Sepulcher of Venerable Anastasia, who used to call Ana as Nemanja’s wedded wife before taking monastic vows, is located in the narthex, together with the sepulcher of Vukan’s son Rastko, i.e. monk Teodosije, who was Stefan Nemanja’s grandson. After the fashion on the Church of Mother of God the Benefactress in the Studenica Monastery, many similar temples were erected during the time of Stefan Nemanja and Saint Sava, and later on, until the early 14th century, which were subsequently classified under the common designation of Raška architectural school, also known as the Raška style, named after the town of Ras, which used to be the capital of the Mediaeval Serbian state, located in the proximity of the town of Novi Pazar. However, the Church of the Mother of God has special significance and it is reasonably held to be the paradigm of architectonical beauty beyond compare, worthy of the high rank of its founder Stefan Nemanja, i.e. Saint Simeon. Nemanja’s son, Serbian King Stefan the First-Crowned, who wished to point out the great spiritual joy that his father felt when he eventually saw his memorial church, wrote in the Hagiography of Saint Simeon that his mind was uplifted like an eagle soaring to the sky. Indeed, when you find yourself in Studenica, particularly in the morning, when it is clear and quiet, your spirit will easily lift up like a soaring eagle flying high, way above the frenzied notions and ideas, worldly confusion and turmoil, which seem so distant when you are there. It is a place where time stands still, while the cycle of recurring religious services and rites sets the pace and rhythm like the heart beating inside the stone chest of an ancient creature, whose soul keeps growing stronger with each century, a place where begins the story about the creation of architectonic and artistic harmony of unparalleled beauty.
The following, 13th century, saw a new building uplifted within the Studenica Monastery. Around 1230, just in front of the western façade of the Church of the Mother of God, Serbian King Radoslav, son of Stefan the First-Crowned, and Stefan Nemanja’s grandson, constructed a big outer narthex with lateral chapels, which was dedicated to Saint Nicholas and Saint Simeon. It is a long, very spacious and high construction with a rectangular foundation. Its façades are built with bricks, which is in contrast to the marble outer surface of the main church, thus creating a special effect. All the windows, as well as the main entrance, are built from light-colored marble. The construction of Radoslav’s narthex provided protection of lavishly decorated, valuable western entrance to the Church of the Holy Virgin; inside it, there is a large stone vessel that served as a holy water stoup.
Approximately at the same time when the outer narthex was constructed, an unknown ktetor, probably someone from the Nemanjić dynasty, erected the small church dedicated to Saint Nicholas. Thanks to the copperplate engraving from 1733, we know what this temple looked like then.
The church of Saint Joachim and Saint Anne is located south of Radoslav’s narthex is, better known for its ktetor as the King’s Church, this church was uplifted in 1314 by Serbian King Milutin, Stefan Nemanja’s great-grandson. A small, elegant temple with a cross-shaped foundation is a masterpiece of Serbian 14th-century architecture.
High up in the Radočelo Mountain, over rugged hillsides, amid intact landscape, approximately 10 and 12 km away from the Monastery, there are two hermitage cells, the Upper and the Lower Cell, which were founded, according to the legend, by Saint Sava, around 1207, when he was the Abbott at Studenica. Situated on steep high rock faces, these hermitage cells are not easy to reach. In the 16th and 17th centuries, when the Ottoman invaders ruled over the territory that extended beyond present-day Serbia, they provided shelter and a place of refuge for ascetic monks who spent time there saying their prayers, writing and transcribing books. The Lower Hermitage is a small church that was probably built in the 16th century, and it was dedicated to the Protecting Veil of the Mother of God. The church of the Upper Hermitage of Saint Sava dates from the same period, and it can be reached from the Lower Hermitage in 30 minutes on foot. There is a saying: “If you want to see the most wonderful place that belongs to Studenica, yet it is not in it, you should head north of the monastery through the terrain known as Nemanja’s Tower”. There, at the end of the path that winds up through rocky highland terrain, we reach a very steep cliff, where the Upper Hermitage of Saint Sava is situated at an elevation of more than 1000m above sea level. It is a unique cave temple dedicated to Saint George, and in its immediate vicinity there is a spring of health-giving water that never runs dry; the legend relates its healing property to Saint Sava. Not without good reason, the entire complex of the Studenica Monastery, with these two hermitages, has been described throughout history as the “true Ark of the Covenant of the Serbian nation”.
Високо у брдима планине Радочело, на тешко приступачним местима нетакнуте природе, око 12 km удаљеним од манастира Студеница, налазе се две испоснице, Доња и Горња, које предање директно везује за Светог Саву и време око 1207. године, када је он био игуман. Подигнуте при странама стрмих и високих стена, испоснице су тешко приступачне. То је током 16. и 17. века, у време власти турског освајача над територијом данашње Србије и шире, пружило сигурност и уточиште монасима-подвижницима који су ту проводили време у молитви, бавећи се писањем и преписивањем књига. Мала црква Доње испоснице настала је највероватније у 16. веку, а посвећена је Богородичином Покрову. Црква Горње Савине испоснице из истог је времена и удаљена је од Доње испоснице око пола сата хода. Њена црква, приљубљена уз стену, посвећена је Светом Георгију, а у непосредној близини је и извор лековите воде који никада не пресушује и предањем је везан за Светог Саву.
As for the architecture of the Church of the Mother of God of the Studenica Monastery, its particular value lies in its wall sculptures, the oldest and most important whole in the old Serbian mediaeval history of art. It was created over the course of the last two decades of the 12th century. The most magnificent sculptures are the ones at the entrance on the western side of the Church of the Holy Mother of God, which is now sheltered by Radoslav’s exonarthex. A wide marble arch rests on the backs of a lioness and a griffin standing on top of columns supported by two lions, guardians protecting the entrance to this sacred place, in their pedestal. The arch is adorned with a garland made of various figures of mythical creatures, animals and birds that are fighting, as a symbolical representation of the spiritual world in which the eternal struggle between good and evil takes place.
Particularly important are the representations of the eagle, supposed to symbolize Stefan Nemanja, who is called “the soaring eagle” by his hagiographers, and the mythical bird of paradise with a human face, supposed to symbolize Nemanja’s son Saint Sava. The inside wall of the western entrance to the Church of the Holy Virgin is adorned with the images of twelve apostles masterly chiseled in marble, with the Christ in Majesty standing above them. High up is the sculptural representation of the Holy Virgin the Benefactress, protectress of the Monastery, sitting on the throne with small Jesus and two archangels at her side. This sculpture used to be painted in colours and bore inscriptions written in the old Serbian Cyrillic language.
Inside the Church of the Mother of God there is an outstanding example of mediaeval window made of metal and multicolored stained glass. On the outside, on the eastern side of this temple, there is a richly decorated marble window with three windowpanes. It is adorned with a lush garland with different patterns of flowers and floral representations symbolizing Paradise, which are contrasted with the symbols assuming to represent the seven deadly sins, with figures of two monks on their knees in its base, one holding an open book in front of him. In the head of the window frame there is the basilisk, a mythical creature with the body of a rooster and the tail of a serpent on the right side, and the Devil embodied in a terrifying creature that is devouring a man, on the left side.
Through a world of symbols and representations of salvific events from the life of Jesus Christ, which are annually celebrated in the Studenica Monastery on special festivity days, the works of art in this remarkable center of monastic life, chiseled in stone and painted on its walls, are eternally full of life, permanently testifying to the history and the people who invested their lives in them in times gone by. The ephemeral and fleeting nature of time is represented in the Byzantine sundial chiseled in a marble block built into the façade next to the southern entrance to the Church of the Holy Virgin. According to the legend, the sundial, carved into the stone four meters above the ground, is linked to Saint Sava.
Next to the Church of the Holy Virgin, in the interior of the entrance tower, portraits of Nemanja’s two sons, Grand Prince Stefan the First-Crowned and Grand Prince Vukan were painted in 1210; these paintings are the oldest portraits in the history of Serbian art.
In 1568, when it was necessary to restore the damaged frescos in the Church of the Holy Virgin dating from Saint Sava’s time, the brotherhood of Studenica Monastery hired a group of most talented Serbian painters, and among them was the monk Longin. The task assigned to them implied that they had to preserve as much as possible of the precious 13th century paintings, and only frescos in the narthex, with Saint monks, Judgment Day, and the Passion of the Christ, were painted anew. Two types of forks that can be seen on the table in the Last Supper painting are valuable detail depicting the mediaeval culture. A particularly important picture from the narthex is the image of the Venerable Anastasia, portrayed as a nun praying on her knees before the Holy Virgin on the throne.
Time passed and in 1846 it became obvious that another restoration of frescos was necessary. For the plaster to hold faster, many valuable antique wall paintings had to be damaged in a physical way. In 1951, when conservation works were done, these wall paintings were removed, and since then conservation-restoration works have been carried out aimed at preserving the frescos dating from the 13th and 16th centuries.
Studenica Treasury was founded by the Grand Župan Stefan Nemanja, who made valuable gifts and donations. Over the centuries, the collection of the treasury grew in size, thanks to its many donors. In troubled times throughout history, a significant part of the antiquities and most valuable artifacts and documents has been lost, since Studenica Monastery was plundered and ravaged on several occasions, particularly during the Ottoman invasions in the 15th century and the wars in 1689 and 1789. Nowadays, works of priceless historical, cultural and artistic value, created in the period from 12th to 20th century, are kept at the Studenica Treasury, including royal charters, artifacts made of silver and gold, reliquaries for the relics of saints, treasure bindings for the Gospels, vessels and chalices for religious service, icons, manuscripts and books.
The oldest and most important exhibit kept at the Studenica Treasury is the golden ring that belonged to the Serbian King Stefan the First-Crowned, dating from 11th or 12th century, which was discovered together with his mortal remains. Especially valuable among its treasures are the sacred shroud of Antonios of Herakleia, a priceless work of Byzantine applied art dating from the early 15th century, and the Epitrachelion from the 16th century decorated with medallions with busts of saints, including Saint Simeon and his son Saint Sava. Another invaluable artifact is the marvelous Reliquary of the True Cross, dating from 1628, made of gilded silver and adorned with semi-precious gemstones. The collection of manuscripts and old books includes the Four Gospels dating from the 16th century, illuminated with gold-adorned initials. Among the latest archeological findings discovered in the Studenica Monastery is a marvelous small bas-relief icon of the Holy Virgin with the Christ, carved in light green steatite, which was made in the 12th century.
A pioneer project aiming to represent the artistic, cultural and sacral heritage of the Studenica Monastery via new media, augmented reality, an interactive monograph and a permanent exhibition at the visitor’s center. Visitors and others, possessing an interactive Studenica monastery monograph, after installing the HOLOGRAD application, available for Android and Ios (free of charge), enter the fascinating world of Sudenica Monastery heritage.
The project “Digital Studenica” was launched in 2018, within which the digital upgrade of the monastery complex was created, along with a modern interactive setting in the visitor center, also known as St. Sava’s Dining Room. An educational and informational platform has been assisted by new media and technologies. The data are presented through innovative recordings which display the sights and cultural and historical heritage of this monastery complex. At the entrances to the monastery interactive boards with basic information on the project and instructions for using the application were placed. The project is authored by Marko Todorović. Special emphasis is given to the three-dimensional animation of Saint Sava, which was modeled according to the fresco but created for an enlarged and virtual reality. Abstract landscapes, motifs of soil with background and haloes that associate on sunny landscapes, get the final meaning using the application and appearance of Saints from the members of the Nemanjić dynasty in expanded reality. Incorporating animated frescoes of Saints in expanded reality, a audiovisual experience has been made through which visitors can familiarize each of the presented member of the Nemanjić family.
The Vertical VR is a concept created on the idea of using the HTC Vive glasses for virtual reality to allow the visitors to experience the symbolic rise, or vertical VR 360 video of climbing inside and above of the main Studenica Monastery church. The vertical movement within a computer-generated church provides the possibility of looking at physically inaccessible frescoes from different views, while a video, made using a drone with an 8K 360 camera, presents a panorama of the monastery complex from the air.
With 3D models and animations, numerous photographs and short films present the monuments of the monastery within the interactive catalog of “Digital Studenica“. In addition to the creative workmanship and digital upgrade of the exhibits, within the project technical solutions have been realized and implemented, representing how the technology of expanded reality can in a quality way enrich the existing experience of individual objects and improve the presentation of cultural and historical heritage. Faintly visible architectural drawings, carved on the northern facade of the Mother of God’s church fully appear, thanks to the application and 3D models of the objects.
Production: Live view Studio
Note: After installing the application, wait for the application to load, then scroll down to “Studenica” from the menu, in the Settings button at the upper right corner choose one of the languages available: Serbian, English, or Russian; then click on the blue button AR/VR at the bottom. Depending whether You are at the Visitor’s center or You want to watch the interactive parts of the Digital Studenica book, click on the “Exhibition” or “Catalog”.
Studenica Monastery is located in the municipality of Kraljevo, Republic of Serbia. It was declared a cultural monument in 1947 and was categorized as a monument of exceptional importance in 1979.
Studenica was inscribed on the UNESCO List of World Cultural Heritage and Natural Heritage in 1986 http://whc.unesco.org/en/list/389
Covering an area of 1.16 hectares within its inner perimeter and extending over a wider protected area of 269 hectares, Studenica Monastery has a unique, exceptional, unmitigated, universal cultural and historic value, which is why in 1986 it was included on the UNESCO list of World Heritage Sites. Studenica Monastery is a remarkable, extraordinary example of Serbian Orthodox monastery complex, which is significant not only because it has preserved its original shape as constructed in the period from 12th to 19th century, but also because it stands out for its beautiful surroundings where the mountain river Studenica with its fresh, thirst-quenching water stills flows in its immediate vicinity. Because of its exceptional quality, the appearance of the Studenica Monastery main church has remained unchanged until this day. A team of experts constantly oversees and observes the condition of all the monuments, in particular the fine, delicate, and valuable wall paintings. Meticulous archeological and architectural research is still being carried out on the site.
In 2001, as part of the natural park and Golija-Studenica Biosphere Reserve, Studenica Monastery was declared a site of the natural heritage of exceptional importance by the MaB/UNESCO Committee. The Committee has ranked 75,183 hectares of the Reserve in the first category of protection for the preservation of forests, forest ecosystems, geoheritage, springs, watercourses and lakes, and for its population of wild animals (bears, wolves, does, rabbits, foxes, badgers, and wild boars) and rare species, endemic and relict flora and fauna, among which are the European grayling, fish that lives only in the Studenica River, and as many as 95 bird species.