“I instruct, therefore, to all of you in the name of our Lord God
the Ruler of All that this holy monastery be independent among
all the governing ones, free of any supervision, not subjected to any other
rights, but only governed by the Mother of God the Benefactress,
and by the prayer of our venerable father, and consolidator, [by]
the one acting as an Abbot in it”.
St. Sava, The Studenica Typikon, chapter XII
Studenica is one of the most important Serbian monasteries from the Mediaeval period, a very significant cultural and historic site. Spiritual and monastic life in Studenica have never been cut short or suspended, so today it can pride itself on the continuity of more than eight centuries. The monastery was founded in 1186 as the memorial and sepulchral church of the first Serbian ruler of the Nemanjić Dynasty, the Grand Prince (Župan) Stefan Nemanja (circa 1113‒1199), who was later ordained and became monk Simeon. Cloistered and surrounded by peaceful hills, pine groves and forests, situated 57 km away from the town of Kraljevo, and 11 km away from the lovely gorge of the Ibar River and the village of Ušće, Studenica Monastery is a place dedicated to the quietude of monastic life. Аs the cradle of literature, spirituality and arts, it is an institution for all time embedded into the very foundations of the Serbian statehood and cultural history of the Balkans, Europe, and the Mediterranean. Studenica is a remarkable, extraordinary example of a 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. The spatial unit of Studenica Monastery includes inside its circular wall with two fortified gates several churches built during the reign of the Nemanjić dynasty – from 1186 to the first half of the 14th century, refectory, monks’ quarters and archeological remains of different buildings.
Copper engraving with a representation of the Studenica Monastery, 1733.
Since its founding, the rulers of the Serbian State and hierarchy of the Serbian Orthodox Church, as well as the entire Serbian people, have shown special care and love for this Lavra that had independent status in the middle ages, „governed by the Mother of God the Benefactress“. With the uplift of the famous Hilandar Monastery, Saints Simeon and Sava of Serbia added themselves and their fatherland to the “flock” of benevolent turtledoves of God-loving monastic communities on the Holy Mount Athos. By the construction of Studenica Monastery and the transfer of Stefan Nemanja’s relics, the very heart of the Serbian Orthodox Church began to beat, whose head, to this day, remained the sublime and holy Peć Patriarchate. Saint Sava himself kept returning to Studenica, not forgetting his father’s endowment and the sepulchral church. He listened with special care to the veins of its being, taking care, even from afar, of the Studenica fraternity and its archimandrites. From one of his travels to the Holy Land (probably in 1234), he wrote to hegoumenos Spiridon from distant Jerusalem to Studenica, informing him about himself with a lot of brotherly love, longing and care for the homeland and Studenica brotherhood, sending him gifts. Monk and writer Domentian recorded two sermons that Saint Sava delivered in Studenica, one as the hegoumenos of this monastery, and the other as the archbishop of the Serbian and maritime lands. The heirs to the throne of Stefan Nemanja, for generations through the centuries, proved to be prominent endowers of Studenica, either with material support or with the construction of new foundations of sacral or profane purpose. King Radoslav, the grandson of Stefan Nemanja, erected a monumental outer narthex in front of the Church of the Mother of God around 1235. In 1314, Serbian King Milutin built a small church dedicated to Saints Joachim and Anne, hiring the best Byzantine artists. On the basis of a copper engraving made in 1733 in Vienna by the order of Patriarch Arsenije IV Jovanović Šakabenta, it is known that there used to be as many as 14 churches in the Studenica Monastery complex itself, three of which are now fully preserved and actively used.
When the Mediaeval Serbian State collapsed in 1459, Studenica Monastery was left to its fate just as the other Orthodox monasteries that fell under the foreign yoke of Ottoman Turks, who stormed through the Balkan Peninsula, conquering the largest part of its territory, and at one point even threatened Western Europe, reaching as far as Vienna in Austria. Only one hundred years later, in 1557, did the Serbian Orthodox Church, now under the name of Patriarchate of Peć, manage to recover its independence and autocephaly, subsequently prompting fundamental reconstruction of many temples, in the first place the most important among them, which included the reconstruction of Studenica Monastery in 1568. With the Serbian rulers and nobility absent, the Monastery managed to endure many hardships in the 16th, 17th and 18th centuries. It was burdened with many taxes levied by the Ottomans, damaged in an earthquake and in fire, ravaged by outbreaks of plague, constantly pillaged and plundered, and received its most significant material support from the rulers of free Orthodox countries, namely Russia, Wallachia and Moldova. The Monastery was on the poverty line when it saw the days of short-lived Serbian liberation in 1788 and 1813, which were actually just announcements of the true freedom and the recovery of national independence that were to come in 1817, which eventually led to a new period of restoration. After more than two decades of living outside Studenica, the relics of Venerable Simon – King Stefan the First-Crowned were returned to this monastery in 1839.
Unfortunately, the Church of the Mother of God in the Studenica Monastery underwent an insufficiently professional renovation in 1846. Then, in order for the new layer of plaster to adhere better to the wall, before the frescoes were painted by the painter Živko Pavlović, a “beating” of the original fresco layer was done, which permanently damaged very valuable frescoes from the early 13th century. On that occasion, the gilded inscription on the painting of the Church of the Mother of God from the time of Saint Sava was damaged and covered with plaster, that was made under the dome according to his order and design. One hundred years later (1951), under the direction of the architect Miloš Jovanović, during the conservation and restoration works, this new layer of the frescoes was removed and the founder’s inscription from 1208/1209 appeared. It was, in fact, one of the greatest discoveries in the history of Serbian church art in the 20th century.
The renovation of the Studenica Monastery in the second half of the 20th century was led by the State of Serbia. On several occasions, in the period from 1968 to 1987, old lodgings were excavated. Since 1986, the Studenica Monastery has been under the protection of UNESCO. Even in our time, the State is continuously making sure that everything that is significant in Studenica is preserved for the generations to come, which is of inestimable importance. Only during the last decade, the remains of the monumental founder’s residence of Stefan Nemanja, destroyed around 1400, and monastic lodgings from the 13th century were excavated. All the walls, found during the excavations, have been successfully restored and preserved and are visible today, serving as a valuable testimony to the church and cultural continuity of the Studenica Monastery.