MANASIJA


MANASIJA MONASTERY – XV century

Manasija monastery is situated by the Resava brook, close to Despotovac, and is one of the last monuments to Serbian mediaeval culture. The church was raised by Despot Stefan Lazarević, son of Prince Lazar Hrebeljanović. The construction of the church, an extravagant fortification and large refectory took from 1406 to 1418.

Since the end of the XVIIth century Manasija monastery has been assembling educated monks who have fostered literary and copying work, called the Resava Orthography. Already in 1456 Manasija was burnt by the Turks; after 1718, when Austrians took the monastery (and all of northern Serbia), they kept the gunpowder in the narthex, which exploded and blew the ante-church up. A new narthex was built in 1735. At the beginnings of the Serbian revolution, in 1804, the monastery was abandoned and in ruins again. The monastery was partly renewed, between 1807. and 1810, and the restoration works completed in 1845.

The impressive walls with 11 towers, surrounded by a trench, would at that time have been a modern system for the defence of the monastery. The most dominant and most imposing tower – the keep – is known as Despotova Kula (Despot’s Tower). The Monastery fortress, made up to defend the monastery, especially from the Turks, consists of 11 towers linked with huge walls and once, with trenches. The towers are mostly rectangular, save two hexagonal ones and one square-shaped. The castle was entered via a large gate on the western side.

The Church of the Holy Trinity is considered a prime example of Morava architecture. A particular rarity in Serbian mediaeval architecture is the mosaic floor.

In the inside, the original floor has been preserved in the narthex, made of marble tiles in various colours. Nearly half of the frescoes have been destroyed. Despot Stefan is portrayed with the church model on the left-hand wall, presenting a model of the church to the Holy Trinity. The lower register of the north choir depicts warrior-saints in armour with swords and lances, as an authentic representation of contemporaneous soldiers. The vault above the main door contains a picture of the Souls of the Righteous held by the Divine hand. On the left and right, the prophets David and Solomon are portrayed respectively. There are also 24 portraits of the Old Testament prophets and patriarchs in the spacious dome. Two compositions cover the whole first and second registers in the altar: the first represents the Adoration of the Lamb, the other the Communion of Apostles.

The frescoes in Manasija, together with those in Kalenić, are the most beautiful of the Morava properties and are considered among the best in old Serbian art in general. Besides the monumental depictions of warriors in the choir transept, especially beautiful are the prophets pictured in the dome, as well as the idealised depiction of Despot Stefan Lazarević.

Architecturally, the church belongs to the Morava School. The ground plan is in the form of a floral inscribed cross, combined with a trefoil. The twelwe-side dome above the central space rests on four free standing pillars. At the eastern end there are one large and two small apses, whereas two large choir conches flank the altar. Above the corners of the church there are four little octagonal domes. The narthex consists of nine bays. Above the central bay there is yet another dome that rests on four pillars. The church was built on ashlars and thin mortar beds. The facade decoration includes low pilasters, engaged colonettes on the conches and apses, as well as a frieze of small blind arcades on brackets running below the roof cornice. The ornaments have suffered serious damages.

Besides monastery churches and fortifications, Manasija partially preserves the remains of the old refectory and library. The library housed a scriptorium in which numerous books were copied for church use. The so-called 'Resava orthography' was greatly valued and was to influence later scribes for some time to come.