The monastery of St. Nicholas is located not far from Kursumlija, on a high plateau above the mouth of the river Banjska in Toplica. It was built between 1152 and 1166 and together with the monastery of the Most Holy Mother of God in Kursumlija, it represents the first endowment of Stefan Nemanja.
The records of Stefan the First-Crowned, Saint Sava and Domentian do not agree regarding the order of raising Nemanja’s endowments. While Stefan Prvovenčani and Domentijan put the construction of the Most Holy Mother of God in the first place, Saint Sava writes that the monastery of Saint Nicholas was built first. These differences are not so important, and everyone agrees that after the construction of the monastery, there was a conflict between Nemanja and his brothers, who challenged his fundraising work. In the conflict, Nemanja emerged victorious and in 1168 became a great prefect.
Since its founding, the monastery has enjoyed a great reputation and a strong spiritual life, which is confirmed by the Studenički tipik. Thus, e.g. the elder of the monastery, the great abbot, together with several other abbots, participated in the election and introduction to the title of Archimandrite of Studenica. Also, after gaining church independence in Nicaea in 1219, the monastery of St. Nicholas was the seat of the Toplica episcopate. Unfortunately, not many records have been preserved, but it is assumed that after the proclamation of the empire and the elevation of the Serbian church to the rank of patriarchate in 1346, the Toplica episcopate was elevated to the rank of metropolitanate.
It is not known what happened to the monastery after 1389 and the Turkish conquest of Toplica in 1453. This was a period of great struggles, so the monastery probably suffered. In the first half of the 16th century, a certain Metropolitan of Bela Crkva was mentioned, which means that the seat of the metropolitanate remained in the monastery of St. Nicholas, but within the framework of the Ohrid Archbishopric. Based on the research of Olga Zirojević, it is known that both Nemanja’s endowments in Kuršumlija were active between 1455 and 1530.
After the Great Migration of Serbs, the monastery was already deserted. The Turks took off his lead roof and poured bullets. This is probably where the current name of the city – Kursumlija – came from.
In the 18th century, according to the Tronoški letopis, the monastery was still deserted, and it was destroyed in the middle of the 19th century. It was allegedly demolished by Sulj Kurveša from Niš and Muli Halil asking for money. After the demolition, the Arnauts took stones and bricks for their needs, and during the liberation wars in 1876 and 1878, the army built bakeries and other military buildings from church material.
After the liberation of Toplica from the Turks, the Austro-Hungarian travel writer and archaeologist wrote that despite the severe neglect, the monastery was one of the most beautiful works of Serbian medieval architecture, and recommended to the Serbian minister that the monastery be renovated.
The renovation started in 1910, when the National Museum in Belgrade protected the sanctuary and a roof structure was made. After the Second World War, the reconstruction continued, which lasted intermittently until 2003.
The monastery belongs to the Raska school, so the features of both Byzantine and Romanesque style are noticeable. It was built in three phases. The oldest single-nave building with a slice-divided dome and a three-part altar. With the establishment of the Toplica episcopate in 1219, when the monastery became its seat on the west side, Stefan Prvovenčani added a narthex with two towers. In the 14th century, King Milutin built a chapel along the north side.
The interior of the Church is spacious and divided into several chambers. The altar space is separated from the nave by two columns, and the iconostasis does not exist. There are two distinct niches in the altar itself, where one serves as a proskimidia, while the other is in the service of a deacon. The throne stone, composed of three parts, still stands in the central part of the altar. The floor of the altar itself is made of brick slabs and is somewhat raised from the floor of the nave.
Masonry with bricks, the Church has a characteristic facade. Namely, every other row is indented and covered with plaster. Single-leaf or double-leaf oak doors, rotate around a metal shaft, and bifore windows have circular openings.
The interior of the Church was plastered and painted. Of the original decoration, which probably covered all the interior wall surfaces, only traces of frescoes from the 14th century have been preserved, on the window vaults and in the chapel of the south tower. With the exception of fragments of frescoes depicting the bishop and the Mother of God, the Church is not painted today.
Tombstones and plaques were found in the church itself. Along the southeastern part of the Church, chancel coins were found, minted during the time of the Byzantine emperor Manojl Komnin. Northeast of the Church there is a new monastery residence, as well as an old monastery well, where, according to tradition, there are church bells and other valuables. On the northwest side, not far from the Church, are the ruins of a former monastery residence. On November 18, 1947, the complex of the monastery of St. Nicholas in Kursumlija was placed under the protection of the State, as a cultural asset of exceptional importance under serial number SK 207.
- Orthodox Diocese of Nis, Monastery of St. Nicholas in Kursumlija, eparhijaniska.rs
1. https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Sveti_Nikola_Kursumlija1.jpg Milica Jovanović-Marković / CC BY-SA (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)
2. https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Sveti_Nikola_Kursumlija1.jpg Milica Jovanović-Marković / CC BY-SA (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)