Holy Archangels Monastery
Near Prizren

Approaching the monastery - reconstructed living quarters in the background

Holy Archangels Monastery was built on the site of an older church during the period from 1343 to 1352 as the pious endowment of Tsar Dušan. As one might expect of the monumental endowment of the most powerful Balkan ruler of the age, it housed no less than 200 monks and its first abbot, the blessed Metropolitan Jacob, who was responsible for the construction of the monastery. The monastery estate stretched from Mt. Sara to the Adriatic Sea. In his Founding Charter the Tsar gave Holy Archangels 93 villages, an iron mine in Toplica, fertile land and vineyards. The revenue from the rich Prizren market belonged to the Monastery. Cooking oil arrived from Bar and fish from Lake Skadar and Lake Plav. Among the craftsmen also given to the Monastery by the Charter were master builders Petros, Vojislav, Srdan, Nos and Vojihna, who are believed to have participated in its construction.

Tsar Dušan was interred in the main monastery church. The reconciliation of the Serbian Church and the Patriarchate of Constantinople, which took place in the Monastery, is the most important event after Dušan's death. The historian Constantine Jiricek wrote that in 1375, after the reconciliation of the Serbian and Greek Churches, representatives of both Churches served a Divine Liturgy at the tomb of Tsar Dušan and on that occasion the Greek representatives removed the anathema from Dušan, Tsar Uroš, and Patriarchs Joanikije and Sava. At one time the Monastery was the residence of St. Jefrem, the Serbian Patriarch in the time of the Battle of Kosovo.

There is very little information about the life of the monastery in the period following the arrival of the Turks in the Balkans. After the fall of Prizren in 1455, the monastery was occupied and damaged. Sparse historical sources and archeological excavations give evidence of the decline of the entire monastery complex and in the second half of the 16th century its total destruction began. The church was completely destroyed by Sinan Pasha and the material from the destroyed monastery was used by him in 1615 for the construction of his mosque in Prizren. Abandoned, leveled to the ground and flooded by the river, the holy shrine remained in this condition for three centuries. During all this time the people never forgot it. Even in those troubled times Serbs gathered at its ruins twice a year, for the summer and fall feasts of the Holy Archangels, keeping alive the medieval tradition of church assemblies in Prizren which continued to be held in the Monastery.

In 1927 Dr. Radoslav Grujic conducted extensive research and archeological excavations of the Monastery and he transferred the articles found to the present-day Archeological Museum in Skopje. After the Second World War, in the 1970's, after the Second World War, extensive conservation and restoration work was done in order to protect the foundations and remaining walls.

Interior of the Monastery
Interior of the Monastery


Having inherited the rich building tradition of his predecessors, Dušan's demands with respect to the architecture and richness of the Monastery were great. He probably wanted the pious endowment in which his earthly remains were to be interred to be a symbol of the power and greatness of the state which he ruled.

Holy Archangels is a monastery complex encompassing an area of approximately 6,500 square meters with an exceptionally strategic location in the gorge of the Bistrica River, some three kilometers from Prizren. It was encircled by massive walls and connected to the fortress of Višegrad, added to the Monastery for defensive purposes in times of war. In addition to the large Church of the Holy Archangels, residential quarters, library and other buildings, within the Monastery there was another, smaller church, the Chapel of St. Nicholas. In the Monastery Charter one can read that a separate building within the complex was designated as the infirmary. The monumental refectory was cross-shaped with an apse on the eastern side. A bridge across the Bistrica River connected the Monastery with Dušan's castle at Ribnik and the royal palace in Prizren.

Holy Archangels was a great imperial pious endowment, lavishly decorated with rich materials. Although the name and origin of the main architect are unknown, it is almost certain that a building of such harmonious proportion and shape and such exquisite workmanship could only have been the work of an architect who had fully mastered the experience of the architects of Constantinople architects in spatial exposition and wedded it to the Mediterranean, Romanesque-Gothic sensibility in the use of stone. In Holy Archangels we appear to have the full flowering of the long-awaited synthesis of religious art forms of the European East and West which matured in the Raška school, on the one hand, and in the monuments of Kosovo and Macedonia, on the other.


The main church, dedicated to the Holy Archangels Michael and Gabriel, was a monumental structure (28.5 meters x 16.75 meters) with a foundation in shape of an inscribed cross but with somewhat narrower lateral naves, which was not typical in churches of this kind. On the eastern side were three apses: the middle one was wider and externally in the shape of a pentagon and the lateral ones were smaller and externally in the shape of a triangle. A large dodecagonal dome 6.4 meters in diameter rested on four arches supported by four pillars. On the western side there was a narthex with five vaults partially closed by parapet plates and architecturally decorated. The façades were covered with white and red marble and divided in three levels by decorated stone wreaths. Inside the church stood a marble iconostasis and a lavish floor quite famous throughout medieval Europe; in the narthex, it was of white and blue tiles and in the nave of stone reliefs with mosaic tiles inserted between them. In addition to complex geometric motives, mythical animals, griffons, lions, birds and fish were depicted on these floor mosaics. The interior of the church was painted with frescoes and the capitals, portals, windows and church furniture were richly decorated with plastic artsculptures. The area around the Tsar's tomb was architecturally decorated with a series of small arcades connected in a unique fashion with now destroyed frescoes.

The Church of St. Nicolas was considerably smaller in size (13. 2 meters x 7 meters) but it was built and decorated in the same way. It was a single-nave edifice with an apse in the east and an open narthex on the west side. The dome rested on the wall to the west and on two pillars in the sanctuary. There was also another dome above the narthex.

Holy Liturgy
Holy Liturgy in the Holy Archangels' Monastery - summer 2001


Both churches were decorated by lavish sculpture. So far around 1,700 sculpture fragments (angels and saints, human heads, animal and floral ornaments) have been found which once decorated the two imperial shrines.

The transitional period of Serbian medieval art is also apparent in the sculptures of Holy Archangels. Even though its iconography and program are not known, in many of the preserved fragments one can easily discern stylistic characteristics closely linked with sculpture which was transmitted from the coastal workshops of Kotor, Cavtat and Dubrovnik to the Serbian interior and the architecture of Studenica, Banjska and Decani Monasteries. The motifs are the same; the manner of stone cutting is similar; novelties appear in two cases only. The first is if a rather damaged head figure is accepted as the likeness of Tsar Dušan, which would make it the first and only likeness in Serbian medieval sculpture. The other novelty is more formal, sculptural and expressed in some of the fragments with floral ornamentation in which sculptural workmanship is replaced by bas-relief and the stylization is so strong that the ornament is transformed into the geometric double-border which would later be developed in the sculpture of the Morava school. The same process observed in architecture is true with regard to sculpture and we can say that Holy Archangels concludes one great sculptural and spatial tradition, while at the same time announcing a new art form.

Preserved fresco fragments in the Church of Holy Archangels bear witness to the beauty and monumental character of the frescoes. The Church of St. Nicholas was also painted with frescoes as evidenced by the fresco fragments in the niche of the south wall by the altar, as well as by fragments on the north wall of the parvis.


Abbot Stephen in the Chapel
Hieromonk Stephen in the Monastery Chapel

Holy Archangels in Art

"At dawn I found myself on my own tomb, in a strange land"
Slobodan Rakitic

Because of its strong association with Prizren and Tsar Dušan, as well as its unfortunate fate, the Holy Archangels Monastery was a frequent motif in Serbian art. Chroniclers from the 14th century who had the opportunity to see the building in its full splendor claimed that nothing under the sun was equal to it. Enumerating the important and beautiful attributes of each monastery, the writer of Karlovac Generation Book mentions first "the floor of the Prizren church". Other references are relatively scarce and the Continuator of Archbishop Daniel II in his Biography of Tsar Dušan does not even mention this great masterpiece. The absence of written historical records has been compensated by folklore with numerous stories and legends about the monastery. One of them says that on the top of the cross on the dome was a precious stone which emanated a light so strong that one could travel by night as far as the Svanjski Bridge, 30 kilometers north of the Monastery, as if by day. There are also stories about the suffering and punishment which befell Sinan Pasha for destroying the Monastery.

The Romanticist renewal of national consciousness in the 19th century idealized the Serbian medieval state and rejuvenated some important places and characters from its past in a new way. It was as if the scarce testimonies about Dušan's glorious pious endowment became the inspiration which turned the monastery into a symbol of "the tarnished Serbian empire and dignity". One of the most important, if not the most important, spot during this period belongs to Prizren and the other symbols closely associated to it. The fact that the greatest Serbian ruler was interred in the Monastery has never been forgotten.

After the great wars of liberation at the beginning of the 20th century, artists continued to reconstruct in their works that which was slated for reconstruction after bondage under the Turks but never was.

In recent times the Monastery has become a favorite theme of poets with a decided apocalyptic bend, both in the historical and in the present day contexts.

Details from the floor mosaic at Archangels are frequently used both in secular and religious architecture. The floor of the recently completed New Gracanica near Trebinje in Hercegovina is decorated with scenes from this mosaic. Recent works of art produced in the Monastery itself in recent years are attracting much attention in the world of art.

The brotherhood of the Holy Archangels with Bishop Artemije
and their guardians


With the arrival of Bishop Artemije to the throne of the Orthodox bishops of Raška and Prizren, a momentous reconstruction of monasteries and coenobia in Kosovo and Metohija began. Thus, with the blessing of His Grace, in the 1990's the reconstruction of Holy Archangels near Prizren began, too. The necessary infrastructure was built and within the old walls a new residential quarter (konak) was built for the brotherhood of monks. A chapel was built inside the konak dedicated to Holy Bishop Nicholas of Žica. The first monks arrived in 1998 and the monastery since then has gained an important role in the spiritual life of the Serb people, especially in this area.

Full reconstruction was interrupted by the war in this region, which has not spared the brotherhood of the Holy Archangels. In June 1999 a monk from the monastery, Fr. Chariton, was abducted. Immediately afterwards, a dozen of monks, together with the majority of the Serbs from this region, left the monastery. The headless body of Fr. Chariton was found in mid 2000 and buried in Crna Reka Monastery. After the arrival of KFOR the brethren gradually returned to the monastery. German soldiers surrounding the monastery complex maintain a security zone.

The life of the monastery unfolds in complete isolation and consists of everyday services and monastic duties. The woodcarving workshop produces miniature carved items which are very rare and have become well-known abroad. The tailoring workshop is also busy and the monks are learning to work with computers. Today the monastery has become a spiritual center gathering the remaining Serb Orthodox people from Prizren and Sredacka Župa. and tThe young monastic brotherhood is full of religious enthusiasm and remains confident that one day Holy Archangels will be completely reconstructed.

History of the Holy Archangels Monastery
Historical Survey of this famous monastery built by Emperor Dusan

Abbot German with two of his novices

Everyday Life at the Holy Archangels Monastery
Photo Story

Fr. Chariton Lukic abducted by Albanian extremists in June, 1999 and murdered

E-mail: arhangel@EUnet.yu


Approaching the monastery

 Vojislav S. Jovanovic


The first Serbian emperor, Stefan Dusan (1331-1355) during his tempestous reign and despite constant warfare, conscientiously fulfilled the most important duty of a ruler: to richly endow churches and monasteries throughout Serbia, in Greece and in Jerusalem as well as in Bari. Judging by the number of churches that he built, he did not surpass his grandfather, King Uros II Milutin, but he became the founder of the two largest Serbian churches: he completed the church of Decani begun by his father King Stefan Uros III, and he built the monastery of the Holy Archangels, his principal endowment and mausoleum. In this way, the two major monuments of our old architecture, painting and sculpture, are linked to the name of the most powerful Serbian ruler, warrior and law-maker. Just as many centuries ago, so the varicouloured facades of Decani are as ever resplendent today in the Metohija sunshine, while its interior walls are still the most valuable gallery of frescoes. The Holy Archangels church, however, due to its ill-fated destiny, was destroyed when Prizren fell under Turkish domination in 1455. This was not the last of its misfortunes because around the year 1615, Sinan-Pasha built his mosque in Prizren, using the large blocks of Dusan's mausoleum. The remaining stones were used to build other Turkish structures in that town and its environs. The formerly beautiful imperilal monastery rapidly disappeared under the piles of soil covered with thick vegetation.

The site chosen by Dusan for his lasting resting-place is located in the gorge of the Bistrica River, about three kilometers south-east of Prizren. Here on a plateau near the river among steep rocks, there had been an old church dedicated to the Holy Archangels and known for its miraculous powers. Written sources indicate that after recovering from a grave illness, Dusan decided to build his memorial church in this place of healing and in gratitude to Christ and his Archangels Michael and Gabriel. Preparatory work was started in 1343 under the supervision of the future hegumen Jakob. The site was consecrated in 1347 while the foundations were laid in 1348. It is assumed that the monastery was completed in 1352. A mass of data on the running of the monastery has been learned from the gold-sealed document issued by Emperor Dusan during the erection process. The hegumen was appointed by the Emperor in agreement with the monks. Among other gifts, the Emperor gave the monastery 93 villages, the iron mine in Toplica and the revenues from the customs and market-place in Prizren. The decree ordering the monastery to heal the sick testifies to the existence of a monastery hospital there. The structure itself was protected by strong walls and towers while a stone bridge linked it to the roadway on the left bank of the Bistrica River. In order to strenghten the defences of the Monastery, Dusan ordered that the neighbouring fortress of Visegrad should be taken from the Prizren metropolitanate and placed at the disposal of the monastery.

Archaeological investigations of the monastery were carried out in two stages. In 1927, professor Radoslav Grujic dug out the church of the Holy Archangels and a smaller church dedicated to St. Nikola, on a site where he also carried out the necessary preservation work.

The Abbot - Fr. German
Fr. German - the new Abbot of the Monastery

Dusan's memorial church greatly surpasses all the similar structures of his predecessors. Written sources have been confirmed by archaeological investigations. According to a chronicler of the first half of the XV century, the church was most beautiful and had no rival to it under the sun. With its beauty and artistry it surpassed the Decani church and its mosaic floor was particularly deemed unparalleled.

The main church is graced by imortant innovations in the selection of the plan, the sculptural ornamentation, the application of the floor mosaic and the conception of the emperor's tomb. Instead of a single-nave church of the Raska type, regularly found in earlier mausoleums, Dusan's church is based on the shape of an inscribed cross with three altar apses topped by five domes, which is typical of Byzantine architecture. Above the open narthex there was a calotte. The facades were covered with hewn blocks of greyish-white and purpurish marble. The portal, windows, bracket consoles, ribbon-like wreaths and the iconostasis were richly decorated with sculptures in wich there was an interplay between the romanesque-gothic and Byzantine influences. It has been concluded on the basis of remains, that there were lions in front of the portal and the kneeing figures of Emperor Dusan and his son Uros, in the lunette. The appearance of ribbon-like wreaths on the facades and the rosette on the western wall, testify to the stylistic eclecticism, which was later to be applied in the architecture of the Morava school whose formation was decisively influenced by Dusan's mausoleum, more specifically in the five-dome churches of Ravanica, Ljubostinja, Resava and others.

The ruins of once prosperous monastery
the bridge, entrance gate, living quarters, church in the middle, St. Nicholas church in
the background and a cross shaped refectory to the right.

The floor in the naos was covered with a special kind of mosaic whose original appearance cannot be reliably reconstructed. The floor is composed of large stone slabs of various shapes with figural representations of lions, birds, fish, griffins, executed in shallow relief and placed in geometrical fields edged in bands. The space between the figures and the edges of the fields is filled with mosaic. The "Prizren floor" as the chroniclers named it, is unique in the land of Serbia. Its geometrical ornaments have analogies in the floors, the portals and the stone furniture in the churches on Mount Athos, in Sicily and in southern Italy. Parallels for the figures are to be found in the church of the Pantocrator in Constantinople, in the St. Giovanni Baptistery in Florence and in that city's church of San Miniato al Monte.

The emperor's tomb in the southwest corner of the naos was erected in a manner that had not been known in the Serbian funerary tradition until then. Instead of a marble sarcophagus above the tomb and a wall fresco portrait, in the Holy Archangels church there was a special construction with a line of small columns linked by arcades, between the tomb and the western wall. Judging by remains, above the tomb there was the emperor's supine figure made of white marble and it is assumed that another sculpture of the emperor was placed against the western side of the tomb. This composition could be explained by the influence of the funerary plastic art found in the mausoleums of rulers in Venice, a city with which Dusan maintained friendly relations. The meaning of this radical change in the conception of a Serbian ruler's tomb was intended to glorify the empire and the Emperor Dusan himself, an attitude which was in keeping with the sudden rise of his powers. A large number of the fresco fragments found in close proximity to the tomb, among which many contain details characteristic of a ruler's vestments and are decorated with gold leaf, indicate that there were royal portraits in this part of the church.

The church of St. Nikola represents a concise variant of the church of the Holy Archangels. Besides the dome above the naos it also had a blind calotte above the narthex. This church exercised a major influence on the development of the churches of the Morava school. It also had a strong influence on the development of the Morava type of concise structures such as the Lazarica, Kalenic, Naupara and other churches.

The monastery refectory was a large building with a base in the form of a free cross, thus representing an exceptional solution among the old monuments of this type on the soil of Serbia.

Dusan's memorila church occupies the leading place among the medieval cultural heritages of Serbia thanks to the innovations introduced in the domains of architecture, decorative and funerary sculpture and in the application of the floor mosaic decoration.

More comprehensive archaeological research of the confirmed monasterial complex of the church of the Holy Archangels, motivated by the spiritual revival of this sacred site, is being conducted by Dr. Mihailo Milinkovic, since 1992.

Holy Archangels' monastery near Prizren under KFOR Guard

full frameset

/ Decani / Gracanica / Sopocani / Pecka Patrijarsija /
/ Crna Reka / Devic / Sv. Vraci / Sv. Arhangeli /
/ Sv. Trojica / Sokolica / Gorioc / Binac /
/Draganac / Djurdjevi StupoviDuboki Potok / Koncul

Banjska / Dolac / Budisavci / St. Mark / Korisa
Hvostanska / Ubozac
/ Kmetovci / St. Uros