Studenica monastery is one of the most beautiful Serbian monasteries not just due to its refined Byzantine Raska school of architecture, but also for the lovely landscape where it is located. Studenica was built by Stefan Nemanja in the period from 1183 to 1196 AD; during the same time, during the national assembly (council), Stefan abdicated in favor of his middle son Stefan and afterwards became monk Simeon.
Under custody of his son Sava, Studenica became a cultural, spiritual and medical center of medieval Serbia. Apart from other works, Sava wrote the Typikon of Studenica, an old Serbian literary work.
„I command you, therefore, by God the Lord Pantocrator, to all of you, that his holy monastery remain free from all those who rule and to remain under custody of nobody but one, the all praised Theotokos the Benefactress and through prayer of our blessed father and benefactor of this monastery and hegumenos of this monastery.“
The Catholicon of Studenica monastery was erected in the period of 1183 to 1196 AD by its founder and benefactor great Stefan Nemanja. It is one of the most precious monuments of the Raska School of architecture. The Church is a one-nave basilica with the altar space and inner narthex. A later addition of the outer narthex was built by King Radoslav. The external look of the Church maintains a harmonious relationship between two architectonic movements: Romanesque, a dominant style in the West, and the Byzantine style. The combination of these two styles gave birth of a specific style called the Raska school.
The apex of Studenica art is four portals, especially the western portal located between the internal and external narthex.
On the northern wall beneath the sub-dome space, there is a window decorated with squares and medallions, carved in the lead board which indicates eight fantastic animals—the symbols of the Theotokos’ virtues, and two rosettes which symbolize God’s eyes.
In the arching portal of the church there is a fragmented inscription: “This all-holy temple of the Theotokos, our lady, was erected by the will of the very renowned ruler and son-in-law of the Hellenic emperor Alexios, Stefan Nemanja, who took an angelic honor (tonsure) as Simeon the monk… by Vukan the ruler 1208/9 AD, indict of ninth, and remember me a sinner, Sava who worshiped in here.”
The fresco writing of the church was completed during Prince Vukan’s time and probably with the help of his brother Stefan the First Crowned. The original frescoes are partially conserved in the altar, the sub dome space, the western wall and the lower zones of the nave. The composition of the Theotokos with angels occupies the central altar space. Beneath it there is Christ giving communion to the Apostles. Parts of the original frescoes are the Annunciation and the Meeting of the Lord situated on the western altar divider. The most monumental and artistically most perfect composition is the Crucifixion in the nave.
In 1569 AD, there was a fresco restoration, and this was witnessed by the preserved inscription on the western wall in front of the composition of the Great Dormition. On the southern wall there is a benefactor’s composition where the Theotokos brings forth Simeon, the benefactor, with a model of Studenica in his hand, to Christ, the Judge of righteousness.
There is a cycle of frescoes of the last Judgment painted in 1569 AD in the upper zone of the western and eastern wall of the narthex. The earliest fresco writings of the Theotokos’ church are actually the highest apex of the byzantine art at the beginning of the thirteenth century. The fresco renovation in the sixteenth century was done with a lot of skill and knowledge and represents the first restoration project among Serbians. Due to some fresco features, there is a hypothesis that a monk, Longin, one of the best artists of his time, was part of that project as well.
The frescoes of Radoslav’s narthex and the side paraklises are originally from the fourth decade of the thirteenth century. The fresco style is similar to the main Church. In the northern paraklis dedicated to Saint Nicholas, there is a cycle of scenes of Nicholas’ life next to the composition of the offered sacrifice. In the northern paraklis there are: Nemanja, Stefan the First Crowned, King Radoslav with his wife Anna, and on the northern wall three Serbian archbishops: Sava, Arsenije, and Sava, the younger brother of King Radoslav.
Northwest of the Theotokos’ church there is a church dedicated to Joachim and Anna, which is called the King’s church after its benefactor, King Milutin. On its facade, beneath the roof arch there, is an inscription in stone: “In the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit, I, Stephen Uros, the servant of God, great grandson of lord Simeon and grandson of Stephen the First Crowned, the son of great King Uros and King of the all Serbian and maritime lands, have erected this temple in the name of holy and righteous ancestors of Christ, Joachim and Anna in 1314, indict 12, and I enclosed the Chrysobulls to this church. One who changes it may be condemned by God and me the sinner, amen. The church was erected by efforts of the archimandrite and protosingelous hegumenos Jovan…”
The Church is a work of great masters. Even though the construction leaves an impression of simplicity, it is, in fact, a much elaborated complex model. The basic concept of the church is the shape of the cross structure. Similar to the Theotokos’ church, here also there is an inscribed cross structure proportionally enlarged. The idea of cross structure is emphasized through the skillfully arched roofs. This church symbolizes an image of cosmos too. In the dome, a symbol of heaven, dwells a heavenly king. It appears that artists and very educated contractors tended to point out the unity of earthly and heavenly liturgy in the Divine economy of salvation and praise of the Most High.
Of greatest value in this church are the frescoes. Largely preserved and uniform in style and aesthetic value, the frescoes cover all the walls from the ground to the dome. The fresco painting of this church dates back to second decade of the fourteenth century as the masterpiece of King Milutin’s artists who fresco-painted most of his endowments. Thanks to its artistic value, this church, though modest by size, is one of the most precious Serbian monuments of the fourteenth century. The uniformed artistic level of the entire assembly of frescoes make this work art one of the greatest reaches of the classic style of an early paleolog’s epoch in the entire Byzantine cultural sphere.
In the second decade of the fourteenth century, when the King’s church was fresco-painted, there was a singular comprehension of art in all of Eastern Christendom. King Milutin decided to dedicate the church of Joachim and Anna to this renowned monastery. Celebrating St. Joachim and Anna, the king celebrates and glorifies the Theotokos herself.
The Church of St. Nicholas or Nikoljaca is the smallest and the simplest of all churches preserved in the monastery complex. The single nave basilica with a semicircular altar apsidal on the east leaves a semi-rounded shape. The three emphasized parts of the liturgical space was accomplished by well-known and thorough construction methods of the eleventh and twelfth centuries on the southern sea shore of the Adriatic Sea. The Church was made of broken and carved stones in limestone mortar. There are two beliefs about the church’s period: first, it was a liturgical space while building the main church, and second, it originates from the time of iconography.
Hitherto, the Church gave the impression of a small building like a paraklis. The excavation studies in 1968 AD determined that the church was cluttered by one meter of dirt. After its cleaning, the church retrieved its proportionality. Apart from that, there are remnants of the porch, frescoes on plinth and many medieval tombs also. The church was originally fresco-painted in full, but the remaining is preserved only in fragments.
Today in the altar, there is a composition of the Theotokos with two angels glorifying her, and underneath, three bishops. The most impressive of all standing figures is St. John the Forerunner. The only remaining from the composition Great Feast Days is the Entrance and Myrrh bearing Women on the western wall. During restoration, very interesting ornaments of tied circles, rosettes, medallions and graphics entwined in vine were discovered. This rich and almost fully preserved ornamentation completes the quite modest existing fresco decoration of the church.
Studenica monastery is known as one of the most beautiful Christian and Serbian monasteries, not just for its fine byzantine Raska school of architecture, but also for the amazing landscape where the monastery is situated. Stefan Nemanja erected the monastery in the period of 1183-1196 AD. In that period he abdicated in favor of his middle son Stefan. Stefan Nemanja was tonsured in Studenica and received the name Simeon. Two years after his tonsure, he left for Mount Athos. Simeon died in 1199 AD in Hilandar monastery, which he built together with his son Sava. Simeon is canonized as saint in the (Serbian) Orthodox calendar.
Upon the request of his brothers Stefan and Vukan in 1206 AD, Sava brought the holy body of their father Saint Simeon to Studenica. His body lies in the crypt of the main church dedicated to the Holy Theotokos. The Archimandrite Sava remained in Studenica as the Abbott until the second decade of the thirteen century. Under his guidance, Studenica became a cultural, spiritual and medical center of the medieval Serbia. He wrote the Typikon of Studenica where he narrated the life story of his father, Stefan Nemanja, later Saint Simeon. In his writing, Sava left references of the spiritual and monastic life of his time. The beginning of the Typikon of Studenica is actually the life story of Saint Simeon, an old Serbian literary work.
Nemanja’s descendants continued to maintain Studenica monastery. Nemanja’s grandson, the King Radoslav in 1230 AD, erected the monumental narthex of the main church in dedication to the Holy Theotokos (the Theotokos Church). Inside the narthex, there is a church dedicated to the Saint Simeon the Myrrh-streaming. The Serbian King Milutin in 1314 AD erected the small church dedicated to Saints Joachim and Anna, parents of the Theotokos.
There used to be fourteen churches and paraklises (smaller churches) inside the complex, of which there are only three preserved (three paraklises) and used actively for worship today. There are two preserved foundations of the churches; and two paraklises are partially preserved since the guest houses were rebuilt on the same site. The Theotokos Church was completed in 1209 AD, of which the founder’s inscription on the edge of the dome witnesses: “This most holy temple of the most holy virgin Theotokos was erected by the highly praised lord and son-in-law of the Greek lord Alexis—Stefan Nemanja—who received the tonsure under the name of Simeon the monk…and it has been completed by endeavor of the great lord Stefan and the great ruler Vukan in 6717, that is 1209 AD, indict no. 12 and myself, Sava, who worked there, remember me a sinner.”
The period under Ottoman occupation was difficult for the Serbian people as well as for the monastery of Studenica. At the dawn of their rein, the Ottomans melted the lead roof construction of the church and used it for ammunition. After the retreat of the Austrian army in the great Austrian-Turkish war (1683–1699 AD), Studenica was robbed, but the greatest suffering underwent during the First Serbian uprising—the Ottomans burned the monastery. One group of monks took refuge in Vracevsnica monastery, bringing with them the incorruptible body of Simon the monk (The First crowned). The incorruptible body was transferred to Kalenic monastery and finally returned to Studenica in 1839 AD. Joakim Vujic noted the monastery was burned twice. Apart from the fire, the monastery was unprofessionally rebuilt in 1846 AD when the fresco writers put a new layer of plaster and frescos on the current frescos. A hundred years later, under the restoration in 1951, the new layer was removed. At that point, the founding inscription of Saint Sava was found. The Theotokos Church was built as the family sepulcher or crypt. On the right hand side in the nave, there is a crypt of the incorruptible body of Saint Simeon, the founder of the Nemanjic dynasty. In front of the altar screen, on the right, lies a sarcophagus of Saint Simon (Stefan the First crowned), and on the left, a sarcophagus of Saint Anastasia, the mother of Sava. Studenica has been on the list of cultural heritage sites under the protection of UNESCO since 1986 AD.
There are the oldest portraits of the great King Stefan and Prince Vukan conserved in the Studenica treasury. Sava’s brothers and Stefan Nemanja’s sons are portrayed in Studenica in 1208/9 AD. Their portraits (done in fresco technique) are removed from the entrance gate for protection and endurance. There are a few preserved liturgical and other ecclesial artistic goods: plastanica (σινδών) of Anthony Heraclitus embroidered with a golden and silver thread (fourteenth century); a shroud of King Stefan the First Crowned sarcophagus made by Olivera, a daughter of Prince Lazar. The most interesting item is King Stefan’s ring, made of gold in filigree by Byzantine craftsmen in the eleventh or twelfth century.
An extraordinary artistic piece is the stavroteca (the Cross collection) from 1628 AD made of gilded silver, decorated with blue and silver enamel along with the relief presentation of Ascension, and the gospel writers. The rims are decorated with scenes of a hunt as well as Stefan Nemanja and Stefan the First Crowned. There are quite some exposed items of gilded silver such as icons mounted on wood, five loaves stand and two glasses with hunt motives dating from seventeenth century. Finely updated gothic censer of hegumenos Sava was made in 1590/1.
A few manuscripts are preserved. The most important one is the fifteenth century Four Gospels decorated with great headings and intertwined initials richly painted. There is a richly decorated Alexei Mihailovic gramme (1663 AD), the second ruler of the famous Romanov dynasty. There are also the letters of dukes of Vlaska which testify of ramified relations of this monastery. A pectoral triptych from 1750 AD decorated with a nacre marquetry and gilded filigree shackles also deserves attention for its artistic merit.
For group visits, please contact:Phone:+381-64-64-67-493
A Slava is a ritual glorification of one's family's patron saint in the Serbian Orthodox Christian tradition.)
There are two inns as part of the monastery complex. The first one on the east side is located nearby the monastery with terrace faces the monastery. The other and older inn is located on the west side with a terrace facing Studenica River.
For information and reservations please contact:
For group visits, please contact:
His eminence Justin, Bishop of Zica (Stefanovic) was born on May, 25, 1955, in Cacak. His father Stanislav, later monk Nektarios, and mother Danica, later nun Christina, named him Miroslav on baptism. Justin completed his elementary education and economics high school in Belgrade. He entered the monastery of Crna Reka in 1980 and three years later received a tonsure by the bishop of Raska-Prizren, his eminence and late patriarch of Serbia, Pavle.
Obeying the monastic life style, he also applied at the Theological School in Belgrade and graduated in 1987. In Athens he completed post graduate studies at the University of Athens School of Theology. He became hegumenos of Crna Reka monastery in 1991.
At the regular session of the Holy Synod of the Serbian Orthodox Church on May 27, 1992, Justin was elected for the vicar bishop of Hvost and an assistant to the ill effected bishop of Timok, Milutin with all the rights and obligations of the local bishop. He was ordained by the patriarch Palve with many bishops in Sopocani monastery on the day of Sts. Cosma and Damian July, 4, 1992.
Justin worked tirelessly to restore church and monastic life in his diocese. He was elected twice as a member of Holy Synod of the Orthodox Church in Serbia. He is also a participant of many domestic and international theological congresses and symposiums. He translates from Greek and publishes theological and other academic titles.
For more than three decades, Justin has been creating art—xylograph crosses and wood carving. An exhibit of his artistic works has been done independently or corporately. One of them is an exhibit of contemporary Orthodox art at the gallery of Applied Art in 1995 in Belgrade. On the twentieth anniversary of his acending the bishop’s throne in the Timok diocese, Bishop Justin presented an independent exhibit entitled “Power of the Holy Cross” to the town of Zajecar on September 29, 2012, at the National Museum. The same exhibit took place in the Stevan Mokranjac Gallery on January, 27, 2012, in Negotin. In March 25, 2014, Bishop Justin defended his magisterium under the title Repentance according to the teaching of Apostolic Fathers.
For his great work in the church as a bishop, he has received many ecclesial and social recognitions. In 2006, he received the title of an honorary citizen of Zajecar.
During the regular session of the Holy Synod in Belgrade, Bishop Justin was elected for the vacant diocese of Zica. He was enthroned by his holiness, Patriarch of Serbia, Irinei in August 3, 2014, at the St. Sava Church in Kraljevo.
Vespers in the winter period starts at 5 pm and in the summer time at 6 pm.
The Serbian king Stefan the First Crowned, later Simon the monk, died on October 7, 1228 AD, and was buried in the narthex of the main Church across the tomb of St. Simeon, his father. Upon Sava’s arrival to Studenica to venerate the tomb of St. Simeon in 1230 AD, he also transferred the body of his brother to Zica monastery, Stefan’s endowment and the throne of archdiocese. The uncorrupted body of canonized St. Simon became national relics of primary significance. With this year starts a history of holy relics and sarcophagus of Stefan the First Crowned, the holy king, an unusual history of transferring relics witnessed through seven centuries by biographers, chroniclers, and monks.
Stefan’s body remained in Zica until 1290 AD, when they are transferred to Sopocani monastery. There are two possible reasons: the Bulgarians’ break-in or the fire in Zica. Until the death of Stefan Lazarevic in 1427 AD, the relics were displayed in the church, after which they were buried in the ground where they remained till 1629 AD. In this period the relics were excavated and buried twice. From 1629 AD the relics remained in the sarcophagus made by a sinful artisan named Antonije. Under the order of metropolitan Simeon, Antonije built a sarcophagus in 1607 AD. The sarcophagus is placed in a glass case across Nemanja's tomb in the main Church.
The relics remained in Sopocani monastery until 1687 AD when during the Great (Vienna) War, for safety reasons, the sarcophagus was transferred to the church of Archangel Mihail in Crna Reka monastery where they remained, until 1704 AD when they were returned to Studenica. Mojsije, the ecclesiarch of Studenica, transferred the relics to Crna Reka monastery, and also took them back as current metropolitan or Raska. The same year Mihailo repaired the Turkish covers for Stefan’s sarcophagus.
During the new Austrian-Turkish War in Serbia, the Studenica monks leave the monastery carrying with them Stefan’s relics. Turks attacked Studenica monastery on January 7, 1790 AD, and the monks arrived to Belgrade via Jagodina and remained there from February until September 1790 AD. According to the church council in Temisoara, the decision was to transfer the relics in Vojilovica monastery near Pancevo where they remained until December 1791 AD. After the peace of Svistovo (1791), it was willed by all to return the relics to Serbia. Turks also willed their return in order to pacify the situation among Serbians and so they declared general amnesty for all war partakers. The bishop of Raska, Joanikije, wrote to the metropolitan of Karlovci, Stefan Stratimirovic, and he gave his blessings for the transfer of relics. The departure of relics was on Decemeber 1, 1791, and they arrived in Studenica on February 5, 1792.
Right before the first Serbian uprising, a young monk from Studenica, Melentije Niksic, upraised the whole diocese against the Turks, which made them angry. Under the command of Sulejman pasha Skopljak, they attacked Studenica. On the eve of the attack, the monks ran away with the relics and into the nearest hills and watched Studenica burning. The ramble of monks with the sarcophagus was at dawn as described by monk Gerasim:
The holy things we took
where would they conserve
our things which they preserved,
holy wood and holy cross,
the holy king, God’s pleaser, Saint Sava, Simeon
There lied the feast day icon,
The holy and life giving cross,
Many saints’ goods
And other needs from the church,
Epitrahilion and holy vestments.
At the end, they took cover in Vracevsnica monastery where they remained for six years. Vracevsnica is a sort of gathering point for rebels where Karadjordje assembled meetings with “the holy king” on the occasion of Bucharest peace in August 1, 1812 AD. Bad times continued the next year in September when the monks, along with the relics, leave Serbia. This triggers turbulence among Serbians. The monks moved in groups towards Belgrade, then they crossed the Sava and Danube Rovers. The first one to cross into Austria was archimandrite Vasilije:
„The holy King was transferred to Zemun
and the ecclesial goods redeemed.”
In that time, Karadjordje and his family were in Zemun. His wife Jelena gave a sarcophagus shroud the same year. Metropolitan Stratimirovic made a decision to transfer the relics and monks to Fenek monastery (hegumenos Melentije Niksic), where the first inventory of the treasury was conducted. Since Fenek monastery was near the border, it became a hot spot for Serbian rebels. That is why Austrian authorities transferred the monks to Beocin in 1815 AD. Upon Prince Milos’s request, the relics and treasury arrived to Serbia in Kalenic monastery on December 28, 1815 AD.
The renovation of Studenica started in 1833 AD. The relics were ceremoniously transferred via Ljubostinja and Dubocica on August 23, 1839 AD, and set in the Theotokos church, and the treasury was restored.
The relics left Studenica once more in the twentieth century. The relics and other goods, escorted by the Serbian army, left the monastery and were transferred to Gornji Ostrog via Pec in the fall of 1915 AD. From there they were returned to Studenica after 1919 AD.
On the eve of St. Simon day in 2015, the relics were moved for few days to Zica monastery and the town of Kraljevo. The locals and pilgrims from abroad came for the veneration and prayer.
“And like an eagle in the sky… stretched into the heights…”
This is how blessed Simon the monk (The First Crowned) at the beginning of the thirteenth century describes his father blessed Simeon Nemanja.
According to an old monastic tradition in Studenica, the embossed marble eagle from the twelfth century at the entrance of the main church represents Stefan Nemanja, the Serbian people, and state, which switches from the earthly cares in order to take off to the eternal pier—Christ’s Kingdom (the Kingdom of Heaven).
The famous Cross of Studenica was carved in the last two decades of the twelfth century. It is located above the northern entrance of the main church. This cross became a characteristic feature of the architecture, culture and period of Stefan Nemanja. The cross represents two types of symbolism: an early Christian symbol of an anchor, i.e. salvation and security in the Kingdom of Heaven, and as a symbol of growth and progress indicated in the decorative plant ends of the cross.
Recorded by: Ilija Ramic, The photo edited by Vladan Zlatic
The Crucifixion of Studenica was fresco painted in 1208/9 AD. Sava as the hegumenos brought the artists, managed the disposition of scenes on the walls and supervised the whole process of fresco painting. An inscription found in Studenica in the old Serbian language witnesses this art project in 1209 AD. On the inscription there are names of the benefactor of Studenica, Stefan Nemanja as Simeon the monk, along with his three sons: lord Stefan, lord Vukan, and Saint Sava mentions himself at the end.
The inscription states the following: “This all-holy temple of the Theotokos, our lady, was erected by the will of the very renowned ruler and son-in-law of the Hellenic emperor Alexios, Stefan Nemanja, who took an angelic honor (tonsure) as Simeon the monk (and the fresco was completed by the efforts of great lord Stefan) and by Vukan the ruler 1208/9 AD, indict of ninth, and remember me a sinner, Sava who worshiped in here.”