History and Art

Part 1

The Church of Holy Apostles, 13th century

A structure added to an earlier place of worship near Hvosno at the point where the Bistrica River emerges from its lengthy and picturesque gorge was of far-reaching significance for the overall subsequent life of the Serbian Church. The site itself with its fortification was called "The Gorge," while the numerous caves scattered about on its rugged cliffs, deep and often hardly visible, gave the neighbouring village its name of Pec (cave). Because these grottoes were very early populated by anchorites this locality was placed under the aegis of the Zica Monastery and together with them, mentioned in the very first deed granted by King Stefan Provovencani (the "First-Crowned"). Moreover, the entire region was called Metohija (Metochion, in Greek) by token of these monastery estates.

Patriarchate of Pec
Patriarchate of Pec 13-14th c.


The extensive lice holdings and the monastic community were governed by the Archbishop; it was therefore logical that the churches on these estates were built at his behest, often under his direct supervision. The renewal of an earlier single-nave church in the Pec area and the structures added to it are ascribed by Archbishop Nikodim in 1319 to St. Sava himself, who is also mentioned as its founder in an inscription under his somewhat younger portrait inside the church. It may well be that this first Serbian Archbishop was engaged in the raising of a church in the remote locality of Zica, but there is reason to believe that Sava's successor Arsenije (12331263) deserves full credit for the undertaking. The long ceremonious inscription under the Deesis in the altar apse ends in a prayer with his name at the close of it. The interior of the church dedicated to the Holy Apostles was painted in the years between 1250 and 1260. The Archbishop himself manifested his ties to this locality by his decision to be buried there. After his death, when it became known that miracles occurred about his tomb, the church was referred to as Arsenije's.

Of the earlier building, dating from the 11th century the elongated naos was retained, while the remaining parts were expanded on in the Raska architectural mode. Here, too, a dome was built over the central space against the gently pointed arches with pendentives whose lower, square area was shaped into a circular base of the drum. The subdomical area was, by custom, enlarged with rectangular choirs while on the eastern side the altar space was extended with a bay that enabled freer circulation. At the same time, a separate prothesis and diakonikon were erected on the north and south sides, both vaulted and ending in semi-circular apses.

The funeral of Archbishop Savva II of Serbia in Pec Patriarchate

The remains of the walls outside the present foundation have not been sufficiently investigated; it may well be that there were parakklesia originally on the lateral sides which were later removed when larger churches were raised on these sites.

The fairly rough manner of construction here was perhaps a reflection of the modest monastic environment for which the church had been commissioned. However, the forms and construction design of the church demonstrate the builder's skill and assurance. He covered the facade of the building with mortar and, as in Zica by emulating the Mt. Athos churches, he painted it in a vivid shade of red. The monastic tradition interpreted this colour as being the blood of the martyrs who perished for the sake of their faith.
Regarded as a part of the Raska architectural school in which every monument - despite its similarity and kinship with other monuments - had specific traits of its own: the Church of the Holy Apostles had a plan and spatial conception as well as certain forms that corresponded to the ecclesiastical needs of the Eastern Church and belonged to Byzantine tenets. At the same time, however, the specific method of construction revealed elements indicating that the skills and practice of western builders had been mastered and that analogous edifices could be found along the coast and on the opposite shore of the Adriatic Sea.

Holy Apostles Church, Patriarchate of Pec
The Holy Apostles Church 13th c.

The interior decorative elements of the Holy Apostles, despite its damaged aspect in its present-day impoverished ambience and the changes that took place in later centuries, still present a fairly rich picture of the spiritual life and sophisticated ideas of the time. The church's iconography and artistic craftsmanship, more than the edifice itself, its size and character, prove that on the estate of the Archbishopric, it had acquired a special place not only within the borders of lice, but also throughout the land. Above all, the wall-paintings show that already by Archbishop Arsenije's time the sepulchral character of the church was emphasized by the presence of a sarcophagus in the western part. Moreover, the idea that the church should become the resting place of other Serbian prelates had certainly been widely adopted when Arsenije's successor, the second member of the Nemanjic dynasty, namely, the youngest son of Stefan the First-Crowned, Sava II (1263-1271) was buried there. The dedication of the church to Christ's disciples was undoubtedly inspired by the grand Church of the Holy Apostles in Constantinople, built at the time of Justinian. the Serbs were well aware that the church, with its appearance, reliquaries and other treasures as described by countless pilgrims, was the mausoleum of a number of Byzantine emperors, and especially of the Ecumenical Patriarchs. The dedication was, of course, linked to the missionary calling of the highest ecclesiastical dignitaries in the Orthodox world, so that the choice of patron for the church for the church that was being built, had the same role in Serbia.

The historiography of art has long endeavoured to discover the specific thematic and iconographic elements that reflect the spiritual atmosphere of the environment to which a church belonged, as well as to ascertain the immidiate historical circumstances that could have influenced the choice of depiction to be drawn and the ideas they purported to express. In this sense, much attention was earlier paid to Zica, the first independent see of the Serbian Church. The bulk of its wall-paintings had been damaged and replaced at a later date (1309-1316), but it is assumed that they repeated the earlier themes and disposition of St. Sava's times. The conclusions arrived at also refer to the Pec Church, because it was precisely the cathedral church that they took as their model not only for its construction but also for its decorative elements.

Archbishop Arsenios
Archbishop St. Arsenios - the founder of the Patriarchate Monastery in 13th c.

The sepulchral nature of the church was primarily expressed by the monumental painting of the Deesis in the spherical part of the broad apse, clearly visible above the low altar screen. The church-goers knew that the prayer to the enthroned Christ offered by the Virgin and St. John Prodromos referred mainly to the dignitaries buried there. But the believers were themselves comforted by their faith in salvation and by the knowledge that grace would be granted them on Judgment Day, the depiction of which on the walls showed the same personages in iconographic form as defenders of the human race.

In the lower part of the church, as was customary from the end of the 12th century onward, there is depicted the Service of the Hierarchs together with a series of the most prominent representatives of Christian teachings, holding scrolls with excerpts from liturgical prayers. It is noteworthy that this procession ends with the figures of St. Sava of Serbia, the already deceased and widely venerated founder of the autocephalus Serbian Church. Even earlier custom allowed that eminent prelates of local churches could be portrayed in the altar space, while from the 11th century onward they appeared not only as a part of the autocephalous archbishopric, as in Ohrid and Cyprus, but also in a series of other bishoprics, principally in the Greek ones. It was natural for the image of St. Sava to have first appeared in the Church of the Holy Apostles in Pec as it was most closely linked to the very heart ot the Serbian Church. Possibly about the same time an artist of less expressive power repeated Sava's image in the prothesis, representing him as officiating together with his successor Arsenije, but without the other holy fathers to whom this act should have been a priority honour.

Mother of God - Pec Patriarchate, 14th century

The frescoes in the cupola and subdomical area express a complex and unique notion: on the broad circular surface painted in ochre tones conjuring up the light enhanced with gleams of the gold leaf in the painting, Christ seems to ascend towards the dark azure of the sky, leaving behind him the disciples with the Virgin and the Archangels disposed between the windows of the tympanum. As usual, on the pendentives below them the Evangelists are shown as engaged in writing the Saviour's life. Between them are the figures of Christ in Mandylion and Keramidion. But on the divided surfaces formed by the substructure of the dome, a number of episodes are illustrated in a special layout which totally differs from that depicted in other cycles. On the western side is the Sending Out of the Apostles; on the southern side is the Resurrection of Lazarus and the Doubting Thomas, while on the northern side is the Last Supper and the Descent of the Holy Spirit. In this unusual disposition, the paintings on the eastern surface, probably of the Annunciation, are no longer visible. The reasons for this manner of linking scenes from various thematic entities have been sought in the statements made by Archbishop Nikodim (13171325). In the Preface to his translation of the Jerusalem Typikon from Greek, done in 1319, the head of the Serbian Church notes that St. Sava built the church in Pec modelling it on the famous and sacred Jerusalemn edifice visited by Sava in his journey through Palestine. This refers to the church in Zion and the monastery of St. Sabbas the Consecrated. This connection should not be interpreted as meaning that the shape of the models was emulated, but that their significance was invoked. Of the episodes to be painted in the central part of the church, three were chosen from the upper part of the Zion church: the Last Supper' the Doubting Thomas and the Descent of the Holy Spirit.

The supposition that it was precisely the Zion church that served as a model for the Serbian sees in Pec and Zica, becomes more convincing if we bear in mind that up to the 12th century, Zion, too, had been dedicated to the Holy Apostles and that Christ, before the Ascension, sent his disciples out to preach the new faith from that very church. The iconography of the Pec church, closely connected with Serbian Church leaders, was directly concordant with the scene recalling their apostolic role. Finally, in view of its significance, the church in Zion was called "The Mother of all Churches" and therefore this appellation was conferred in Serbia on the cathedrals in Zica and later in Pec.

Archbishop Daniel
Archbishop Daniel the founder of the church of Theotokos

By being arranged along church's walls whose surfaces were not always suitable for complex compositions, biblical scenes were adapted to the space available, but not always in a harmonious relationship in the architectural framework. Their simple depiction with an orthogonal projection of the ambience and its forms belong mainly to the tradition of earlier artwork. A new period in the development of the so-called monumental 13th century style portrayed mature and powerful plastic forms. The pictures are dominated by figures interpreting events in darkly resonant colors with surfaces lit by sudden rays of light and faces with gleaming eyes and finely modulated brighter tones. The surprising facial expressiveness is barely supported by the ancillary elements as, for instance, in the Ascension episode which is a veritable masterpiece but has only frail treetrunks in the background. The highest achievement of these artists - analyses indicate that a number of hands were at work here - are testified to by the individual portraits and group figures deftly accompanied by seemingly neutral yet tastefully coloured surfaces and interiors. The scenes of the Doubting Thomas and the Resurrection of Lazarus are examples of such a pictorial language, though an archaic one, due to the exaggerated size of Christ's figure which nonetheless is successfully adapted to the requirements of the available space. The former scene is depicted with firm symmetry under a gently pointed arch, and the latter on an irregular segment of the vaulted field. Both evince an exciting rhythm in which the elements of the richly narrated stories are arrayed.

Certain figures of the Apostles, especially the younger ones, evoke reminiscences of the Hellenistic legacy, so discernible in the radiance and gentle sensuality of the figures that could not have been seen in the works of an older, severer spirit. It was as if the artisans glanced back to the earlier works and directly copied their delineations, their plasticity and color harmonies. This was not a new phenomenon: Byzantine art always relied on classical models, sometimes in waves felt powerfully during specific epochs, creating unique paraphrases leading to a distinct style. Broadly speaking, the Pec artwork was not isolated in this sense but it came at the outset of a period in Serbia that reached its fullest expression in the more recent Sopocani church.

Lord Jesus Christ, The church of the Holy Apostles, Pec Patriarchate, 14th c.

It is not easy to fathom the environment in which the Pec artisans were trained nor the traditions they followed. It must assuredly have been a matter of the involvment of some larger centres where a broad artistic culture could be attained and where there were monuments and collections of old manuscripts that preserved the traditional artistic accomplishments and transmitted them to subsequent generations.

During the ensuing decade, the Archbishopric's Metochion in Pec enjoyed a calmer existence than the Zica centre which was threatened a number of times and which finally suffered from hostile incursions from the north. This was why the remains of Archbishop Joanikije (1279-1286) were transferred to the Holy Apostles. At the same time, valuable objects which were a temptation to attackers were also removed for safe-keeping. It was recorded that the governor of Vidin, John Sisman, descended to "The Gorge" itself (1291-1292) with the intention of seizing the treasures of the Church of the Saviour. It was under this name that historical sources referred to the Church of the Saviour's Ascension in Zica. But the same appellation was later also given to the Pec church together with the role it had acquired in the last decade of the 13th century. For after the calamity that had befallen Zica, the Serbian Archbishops temporarily moved to Pec. In recent times, it has justly been observed that this move did not simply mean transferring the see of the Archbishopric, but also taking over some of its functions. Zica continued to be regarded as the centre of the Serbian Church whose prelates occasionally sojourned there in later centuries as well. Neverthless, the ecclesiastical administration gradually shifted southwards where, in the following period, the residences of the Serbian kings were frequently located.

Parallel with these developments, the anchorites continued their peaceful lives in their nearby cave abodes. At the time of the Archbishop Jakob (1286-1292), two Greek monks left a Decani cell for Kotrulica, doubtlessly one of the caves in the Bistrica river Gorge of Pec. Their cave was "enclosed" with walls for their needs. Like other hermits, they spent most of their time in isolation and only on Sundays descended to the Church of the Holy Apostles for prayers and

Today one can still see a number of these hermits' caves on the left side of the river. As in Korisa, the Pec du ellings u ere enclosed that walls that have been preserved in many places. some of them several metres high. Here, likewise, in places set aside for religious activities, traces of frescoes are still visible. These rough-hewn abodes were usually inter-connected by steps carved into the rock or else made of wood which also covered the light roofs and the narrow passages. Incised supports that carried the wooden beams can still be seen on all sides. However, some of the cells could be reached only by rope ladders while heavy loads had to be raised by pulleys.

The Resurrection and the Preaching of St. Baptist in the Hades

Thus these modest dwellings whose living conditions were made even more arduous by rain and snow, and their accessibility most hazardous, were neverthless islands of intensive intellectual activity. The renowned writer and subsequent Patriarch, Jefrem, between 1355 and 1371 wrote most of his canons and 170 stychiria in such a cell, where the scribes did not enjoy any better conditions. Thus, there are no grounds for the generally held belief that the scriptoria were housed in spacious, specially built premises. Examples from the Meteore in Thessaly likewise confirm the fact that those cells, clinging to the cliffs like nests, also produced exeptional works in the fields of transcription and illumination.

The sudden assaults from the north were a concrete reason why the site of the Church of the Holy Apostles had to be protected by a fortification. Like other monasteries in similar locations, attacks on the monastery and church coming from the heights above them, had to be withstood. Ramparts were therefore built up on a steep incline forming a stronghold of a triangular base. From its highest point, one can still clearly see the lower portions of the formerly stalwart tower.

The frescoes in the western part of the Church of the Holy Apostles were painted during the closing years of a century that brought about certain changes. These were probably the work of Archbishop Jevstatije II (1292-1309). We learn from his biography that he had earlier been engaged in restoring the burned church in lice. In Pec, it was necessary to undertake the first indispensable renovative work in the interior of the church where complex divine services had to be held with the participation of a numerous clergy.

At present we do not know what all the wall-pairings were like, since the original frescoes in one part of the subdomical area were replaced by later ones. But the faithful entering the church were welcomed here by impressive scenes on walls that had in the past been better illuminated. In two of the highest zones of the church, along the broad, vaulted western wall, the episodes of the Sufferings of Christ and above the entrance, the figures of SS Constantine and Helena, are portrayed while on the left and right sides, we can see the large busts of St. Nicholas and the Virgin. In the lowest zone where, judging by the fragments, there were the portraits of the members of the dynasty, the only remaining figures are those of Kings Stefan the First-Crowned and Uros I. Both are clothed in monastic vestements and both are named Symeon, a name they assumed after retiring from the throne in order to emulate the venerated founder of their family. These latter portraits no longer belong to the traditional donor composition in the form of a procession headed by Symeon Nemanja and approaching Christ or the Virgin to receive their Grace. Nor are they characterized by earlier assiduously delineated facial features. These scenes were done by painters who favoured robust shapes while eschewing delicate modelling and creating artwork of totally different configuration. Their spirituality was best expressed in the dynamic scenes of Christ's Sufferings drawn in a continuous sequence with emotional gestures in a setting of intricate architectural tracery. Among the Serbs, this was the first "new wave" monument, usually referred to as the Palaeologian style in Byzantine art. Somewhat prior to the Pec frescoes, the distinct new traits were manifested in 1294-95 by masters Michael Astrapas and his assistant Eutychios in their first famous monument, the Virgin Peribleptos in Ohrid. These accomplished artists, schooled in
Thessalonica where other members of the Astrapas family also participated in the city's intellectual and artistic life, worked together long afterwards, predominately in Serbia. It has not been proven that they made additions to the frescoes in the Church of the Holy Apostles, but this could have been done by one of their assistants or by artisans with a similar training background. Parallel to them, other painters traversed the same developmental path, altered the church programmes and iconography and, in particular, the artistic expression. Members of the old Constantinople studios whose monuments are less known today, also had a large share in effecting these changes. The Protaton frescoes in the large three-aisled church in Karyes on Mt. Athos are essentially similar to those in the church of the Holy Apostles, although they exhibit a greater measure of refinement and softer modelling. The two monuments, however, display a greater degree of refinement and the softness of modulation. They did not conserve the signatures of the artists nor any other inscriptions relating to the patrons of the church or the dates of their painted creations. It is only the Athonite tradition that has long and insistently been attributing the frescoes of its main church to well-known artist Manuel Panselinos. Those frescoes could have originated around the year 1300, as did those in the Church of the Holy Apostles. The subsequent development of this style, it will be seen, can be followed in the somewhat later churches in Kosovo itself.

The tomb of Archbishop Daniel
The tomb of Archbishop Daniel, 14th c.

The church of Saint Demetrios (architecture) 14th century

The Home of the Savior in lice was considered the see of the Arcbishopric, but in the first decades of the 14th century Serbian church dignitaries preferred Pec, as it was safer and closer to the royal court. The archbishop's obligations regarding supervision of spiritual life, ecclesiastical judiciary and other matters imposed the need for more capable and broadly educated clerics; conditions for their work should have been but were not provided in the old metochion. Also some of the services which the archibishop needed to conduct were complex and required a more elaborate ritual space. The heads of church, therefore, rebuilt 2;ica and added new churches to the Holy Apostles in Pec, enlarging the ritual space and adapting it to various religious rites.

The first archbishop, Nikodim (1317 - 1324), added a church to the northern side dedicated to St. Demetrios, patron saint of Thessalonica, whose cult, due to close ties with this Greek town, was revered by the Serbs. Nikodim replaced the 13th-century lateral parekklesion, its length corresponding to the western part of the Holy Apostles, up to the height of the added transept. Appended to the main church, St. Demetrios was constrained in its design; best suited was the concise form of a single-nave church. It had an octagonal dome, large apse and certain extensions in places where the choirs were located in the older tradition of the Raska school. From the outside, in the roof construction, this is noticeable on the northern, open side.

In accordance with the spirit of earlier architecture, the interior of the church is well-lit and designed of a piece, while the altar space is separated from the nave by a well-preserved stone iconostasis. Parapet panels with door-ways in the middle, where the royal door is situated, are placed between nicely fashioned colonnettes; they, too, stand on the northern side in front of the prothesis, while everything in the upper part is joined a whole by a horizontal beam (epistyle). The low-relief ornaments on the panels belong to the elegant and strict dictates of Byzantine sculptural art and probably are the work of the same master who made the frame of the church portal, also resorting to ornaments from the classical repertoire (astragal, vine with palmettes and billet moulding). Broader analogies attest to sculptural work dlstmgulshlng parts or tne sculptural decoration in Banjska as well.

In appearance and construction - the already mentioned "cellular" (i.e. cloissone) style of building with cubic stones, tiers of bricks and mortar links - St. Demetrios is an articulation of the Byzantine concepts. The procedure itself is closely aligned with the manner of building of the Decani entrance tower, the work of master-builder Djordje (George) and his brothers. A wider circle of builders and stone-masons from Serbia and the Adriatic coastal area was employed on raising shrines in Serbia, particularly in Kosovo, during the entire first half of the 14th century.

The character and position of the church of St. Demetrios in relation to the Holy Apostles can hardly be understood if taken in isolation, out of the context of the entire complex of the Patriarchate of Pec, which was to be built at a later date. Subsequent construction on the southern and western sides gave full meaning to the endowment of Archbishop Nikodim. One may well wonder whether the first, early deceased, donor had in mind the same design achieved in the following decade by his teacher and successor to the spiritual throne, Danilo II (1325 - 1338). Similar examples show that both of them may have been inspired by the same idea.

The church of the Theotokos
The Church of the Virgin Mary Hodegetria 14th c.

The Virgin Mary Hodegetria

Archbishop Danilo - as recalls Danilo's anonymous biographer - had the church of the Virgin "Hodegetria of Constantinople" built to the south of the Holy Apostles. He did so out of gratitude for the support given to him in days of distress by the protectress of Mt. Athos and the imperial capital, and he provided ".Greek books and all church necessities" for the shrine and let monks "of Greek origin to ... perform divine service according to their custom." Broadly educated, Danilo was emotionally tied to Greek-language literature, as was his predecessor Nikodim who had translated from Greek the famous Jerusalem typikon (rule) of St. Sabbas the Consecrated with its regulations of monastery life and description of divine services. Experts in Greek language and literature were needed in Serbia for many reasons, particularly after 1334 when Stefan Dusan conquered extensive areas of the Byzantine Empire.

Holy Bishops
Holy Bishops, the church of the Holy Apostles, 13th c

The Virgin's shrine was symmetrical to the church on the northern side. With its forms and internal structure it repeated the widespread cross-in-square layout typical of Byzantine architecture, clearly manifested not only in the ground plan, but also in the lead-sheathed roofs. The central part is topped by an octagonal dome on a low cubic base supported by four piers; laterally, the arms of the cross are barrel-vaulted, making the upper section cross-like, while lower, longitudinally vaulted bays are in the corners. In accordance with the ideas of Archbishop Danilo himself, the prothesis chapel and the diakonikon as independent ritual areas are dedicated to St. Arsenije of Serbia and St. John the Forerunner. At a later date, when Archbishop Danilo was buried there, the north-western part of the nave was separated by a canopy. The interior, however, retained its original layout which was not disturbed by the installation of a stone altar screen with Romanesque capitals.

The apertures which were executed, either at the wish of the donor or by their own intent, by masters from coastal workshops, render a more complex image of the stonework. Single-light and two-light windows, generally distinct both in profile and in the selection of modest decorative motifs, display, in this case as at Decani, Romanesque forms and Gothic slightly pointed arches, sometimes with quatrefoil apertures in the lunette. To them belongs the two-light mullioned window on the northern side of the St. Demetrios, executed at a later date, perhaps because the Archbishop Nikodim died before the building was finished.