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monastery MILESEVA
(MEE-le-she-va)

Monastery Mileseva

The monastery of Mileseva was founded by Vladislav, King of Serbia, son of Stefan the First-Crowned and grandson of Stefan Nemanja, founder of the Serbian medieval dynasty. Ancient Serbian biographers recorded that the erection of Mileseva started immediately after Vladislav's accession to the trone in 1234. However, some specific details of the church frescoes lead to the conclusion that Mileseva might have been constructed some ten years earlier, at the time when Vladislav was a royal prince ruling over the Black Mount (Crna Stena) area in which the monastery was located.

After having spent ten years on the trone, Vladislav was to pass the scepter over to his younger brother Uros in 1243. Residing thereafter in the coastal region of Zeta, he died in the eighties of the 13th century and was buried in his royal foundation - Monastery of Mileseva.

As the earlier royal foundations, monasteries, the church of Mileseva was built in the style of Raska (Rascia). This style was characterized by the Romanesque type of building, common in the Serbian Adriatic Coast, land of that epoch, and which, in its basic disposition, was adapted to the needs of the Orthodox worship. The church is one nef building with two lower chantries, a wide central apsid and two small apsids. It had originally one dome and later on, probably in the 19th century, it got one more over the exonarthex. This narthex was built by King Vladislav around 1235. in order to bury his uncle, Archbishop Sava, who at that time had died in Bulgaria on his way back from the pilgrimage to the Holy Land. Because of the tomb of St. Sava, Mileseva acquired enormous prestige in the eyes of the Serbian nation, becoming a center of pilgrimage, while under the Turkish rule it was a source of hope and courage for the enslaved people. In order to suppress the spiritual ascendancy of St. Sava the Turks took away his relics from the Monastery of Mileseva and burnt it at the stake on Vracar in Belgrade.

It was in Mileseva in 1377 that Stefan Tvrtko was crowned King Bosnia and Serbia, since Monastery Mileseva was within the territory of his state. In the year of 1446 Stefan Vukcic Kosaca, ruler of Zahomlje, added to his titles that of "Herzeg (Duke) of St. Sava", and hence, his dominion, which extended even to the Monastery of Mileseva, got the name "Herzegovina". Therefore, in the Serbian epic poetry the Monastery of Mileseva used to be mentioned as "Mileseva of Herzegovina". In the 16th century, one of the Serbian printing-shops operated in Mileseva.

Towards the end of the 17th century, during national uprisings against the Turks and the later migrations to the northern Serbian lands, Mileseva was burnt by the Turks few times. For that reason and because of later tribulations, the monks had often to leave it. The well-known Russian writer of travels Hilferding found Mileseva in ruins in 1857. The Monastery church, as well as the refectory, was rebuilt in 1863 by efforts of citizens of Prijepolje. This action saved the church and the frescoes from the further decaying.

Nowadays Mileseva is mainly known for its frescoes. These frescoes are reckoned by many experts among the most beautiful achievements not only of the Serbian, but even of the European painting in the Middle Ages. The greatest artistic value is ascribed to those frescoes of Mileseva, which are the portraits of the first kings of the Nemanjic dynasty. Among them one can find the portrait of Stefan Nemanja (canonized as St. Symeon), then the portraits of St. Sava, King Stefan the First Crowned, King Radoslav and King Vladislav. The portrait of St. Sava has an extraordinary significance for the Serbian people, since it was painted during his lifetime.

In our days the renown of Mileseva has been mostly spread out by the figure of the Angel on Christ's tomb, a suggestive figure, which by the skillfulness of drawing, harmony of colors and spirituality of expression emanates with nearly a transcendent beauty. In addition to this, the other frescoes of Mileseva - compositions or individual figures - make an entity - a remarkable gallery of pictures. One might easily say that together with the frescoes of the monastery of Sopocani these frescoes of Mileseva represent the greatest treasury of the old Serbian painting.