The Gracanica Monastery is located near Pristina on the banks of the Gracanica River. It is the endowment of King Milutin. It was built from 1310 to 1318, and was frescoed until 1321, on the site of a church that is believed to have been the seat of the Lipljan Episcopate.
The Church of the Assumption of the Mother of God is the only preserved building of the former medieval monastery of Gračanica. Despite the fact that other monastery buildings have disappeared without a trace, the church is one of the best preserved church monuments of medieval Serbia.
The site of the monastery was located on a very important road from Pristina to Novi Brdo, the largest Serbian mining center in the Middle Ages.
The charter of King Milutin, shown in the right chapel on the west wall, provides information about the course of construction. It is written in 53 lines, and ends with the king’s signature in 6830 according to the Byzantine calendar, that is, in 1321 according to the Julian calendar. Gracanica is the last of a total of 42 endowments of King Milutin. In 1539, a printing house was founded in the monastery, which is important for the cultural history of the Serbs during the Turkish rule. A few decades after the completion of the church, the outer narthex with the bell tower was added, which was destroyed in the first Turkish attacks, between 1379 – 1383, and the library with manuscripts burned in a fire. At the beginning of the 16th century, the church was covered with lead, and a large cross with a painted Crucifix was placed on the iconostasis. The Turks removed the lead roof and marble floor in the 18th century, which accelerated the decay of the temple. In the thirties of the 20th century, a large inn was built on the east side and two buildings on the north and south sides of the gate. The gate was then fenced off, and the main entrance to the monastery was built on the west side of the complex. After the Second World War, the monastery was renovated by nuns who still keep this great shrine.
Due to its uniqueness and beauty, the Gracanica Monastery was inscribed on the UNESCO World Heritage List in 2006.
The base of the church consists of two inscribed crosses, one inside the other. The facades are made of alternating arrangement of stone and brick. Marble was used for decoration. The temple is a five-domed building and a masterpiece of Serbian medieval and late Byzantine architecture. The building was erected by the best Byzantine builders of that time.
Today’s foundation of Gračanica consists of the main part of the church from 1321 and a narthex added at the end of the 14th century. In the main part of the church there is a nave, an altar, an inner narthex, patrol boats and side chapels. On the first floor of the monastery is a room known as the “secret chamber of Queen Simonida” where Queen Simonida prayed.
Mihailo and Evtihije, painters from Thessaloniki, finished painting the monastery in 1321. In the central dome, below the image of Christ the Almighty, the Heavenly Liturgy, the prophets and the evangelists are represented. The nave contains cycles of the Great Feasts, Christ’s sufferings, Miracles and parables, Christ’s posthumous apparitions, scenes from the life of the Mother of God, St. Nicholas and the Menologist. The altar has Eucharistic and Old Testament themes. Milutin and his wife Simonida, a Byzantine princess (daughter of the Byzantine emperor Andronicus Palaeologus II), are depicted as rulers by the grace of God, while angels bring them crowns from heaven. For the iconography, and especially for the study of the Serbian ruling ideology, the founder’s composition of King Milutin, who holds a model of the church with his wife Simonida in the passage from the narthex to the nave, is important. The family wall of Nemanjić is shown on the east wall of the narthex.
The ancestor of the Nemanjić dynasty, Stefan Nemanja, is painted at the bottom of the vine, and King Milutin is on top of it when Christ blesses while the angels bring him the insignia of authority. This unique composition exists only in the Serbian iconographic repertoire and appeared for the first time in Gracanica, and then in the Patriarchate of Peć and Decani. In the side aisles are images of holy martyrs and holy women. In the northern chapel, next to the altar, the Service of the Holy Liturgy is painted with the representation of St. John the Baptist and the cycle of the patron saint St. Nicholas. In the southern chapel, next to the Holy Liturgy Service, scenes from the Old and New Testaments and the Vision of St. Peter of Alexandria. The most eminent holy monks are represented in the side chapels near the altar. In addition to compositions from the cycle of the Ecumenical Councils, the Akathist of the Mother of God and Baptism, there are portraits of Serbian archbishops and patriarchs and performances of the funeral of Metropolitan Dionysius of Gracanica. The Gračanica treasury was destroyed in fires between 1379 and 1383. In the valuable collection of icons, the oldest is Christ the Merciful from the 14th century, unique in its dimensions (269x139cm).
Gracanica Monastery, Gracanica Tourist Organization, togracanica.org
Gracanica Monastery, Monasteries in Serbia, manastiriusrbiji.com
History of the monastery Gracanica, Pilgrim, hodocasnik.com