The Fate of Serbian Cultural Heritage between 13-20th centuries

Milan Ivanovic

In the region of Kosovo and Metohia, the ancestors of the Serbian people have left invaluable traces of their life and creative work, from as early as the time of the first waves of their migrations towards the central parts of the Balkan Peninsula. The time of the disappearance and destruction of the antique towns under the attacks of the Avars and during the migrations and settling of the Slaves in this region is well-illustrated by the ceramics and jewellery of the Slav origin excavated from the ruins of ancient Ulpiana near Pristina, and dated around the late 6th century. The Byzantine historical records prove that the final settling of the central Balkan area by the Slav people ended during the course of the 7th century. Even though the early Slav archeology in Kosovo and Metohia was only sporadically paid attention to by experts, the archcological finding places - at Koretin near Kosovska Kamenica, in the far east of the region, at Maticani near Pristina, Doblibar near Dakovica, Prccvo near Klina, in the central part, as well as at Vrbnica and Vodica near Prizren, in the Belt Drim river valley, close to the Albanian frontier, in the far west of this region, have proved and uninterrupted and compact presence of the Serbian population in the region of Kosovo and Metohia from the time of their advent right down to the period of the ripe Middle Ages. The anthropological-archeological records which offered excellent proofs of the Slav character of this region in the early Middle Ages, were in the case of the Vodice location simply and deliberately destroyed already during the very excavation, in 1975!

Remaining to testify about Kosovo and Metohia as the centre of the governmental and social authority of "all Serbian countries", particularly in the 13th and 14th centuries, are not only the magnificent temples on monasteries Decani, Gracanica, Our Lady's the Ljoviska, and of the Pec Patriarchate, preserved until our day, but also the imposing ruins of the churches such as Isposnica (Ascetic Nun), Potar Koriski, Bogorodica (Holy Mother) Hvostanska, St. Archangel's, Banjska, Novo Brdo, Zvecan, Ubozac, Ajnovac, and tens of our other rulers' and feudal lords' pious endowments (foundations) from the 13th and 14th centuries. Some of these monuments rand among the highest artistic creations of the Christian civilization. But these landmarks and historical sights were never the only ones; they were followed by hundreds of rural churches, monasteries and temples of ascetic nuns which represented (and partly some others as well) a firm foundation in the evolution of our culture and arts.

With the Turkish conquests in the late 14th and 15th centuries, this rise was interrupted, and with the sufferings of the Serbian people came also devastations of their monasteries and churches, towns and villages. There are many historical and material records about it. On the Serbian Mcnaion in the National Library in Paris there is a note of monk Adonius who, on his arrival at Banjska, in 1419, found "the temple and books burnt down and the treasury looted". In the early 17th century, Sinan-Pasha of Prizren used the building material of the destroyed monastery of St.Archangel, the pious endowment of Czar Dusan, to erect his largo mosque in the same town. The Turkish Yegen-Pasha looted Monastery Gracanica and moved, on nine horscbacks, its valuables to Constantinople.

Particularly difficult situations were after the years of 1690 and 1737, when following the great anti-Turkish wars waged by the Austrian army sided by the Serbs, it came to the well-known migrations of the Serbian people across the Sava and Danube rivers.

The cruel Turkish retaliations also resulted in a series of destructions of Serbian churches and monuments. These revengeful acts were, by their consequences, heavier than those in all the preceding times. The oppression and driving of the Serbian people out of Kosovo and Metohija, destructions of their material and cultural wealth were continued even during the 19th century, especially after the Serbian Uprisings in 1804 and 1815 and the liberation wars in the last decades of the century. With brief interruptions they were continued in the 20th century as well, in the times of the Austro-Hungarian and German-Italian occupations of the country in the First and Second World Wars. Destructions of the Serbian churches and monasteries had been particularly heavy in the 19th century. Yashar-Pasha Dzinic, of Albanian origin, the usurper-master of Kosovo, had systematically carried out these destructions. Using the stones of the destroyed Kosovo former churches, he built up bridges on the Sitnica river near Lipljan and Vragolija.

The notorious persecutor of the Serbs, Haji-Zeka destroyed the big church at Josanica and transported its stones and columns to build his mosque at Ljestani. The Pec Mutesaphir (director) Mulla Zeka transported, in the '70s, from the church of Our Lady the Hvostanska its columns, capitals, ornamental cut-stones and elaborated stones to the Pec place to build a Turkish bath for himself. Some unknown Albanians swiped the finished cut-stones of the churches and monasteries at Slovinj, near Lipljan, and sold them as their own products to the contractors of the company which constructed the Pristina-Skoplje railway, so that they could build them in the bridges and passes along the Trans-Kosovo line. But, nevertheless, and in spite of everything done, what has left is by no means negligible. Basides those greatest monuments with their invaluable frescoes and treasuries, there are still those small churches and ascetic temples almost in every town or village or in the mountains - no matter if they were destroyed or left in ruins - that have remained as witnesses. And where neither ruins nor any traces of their existence were left, there are still their names that exist: the names of the church dales, hills and groves; fields and meadows; the names of the church and monkish draw-wells, brooks and springs (one of them is found today in the very pen of an Albanian house at the Village of Vrbovac in Drenica); then also tombs and cemeteries; bridges and wharfs - survived to keep the memory of the ancient times when the Serbian landmarks had existed there. Out of the presently officially registered 1445 places in Kosovo and Metohija, 1090 are found by this project to have been cither preserved or ruined remnants of the Serbian immobile (standing) monuments.

And what to say about the Serbian mobile objects-monuments: icons, books, textiles, and metals? If one has in view the fact that for maintaining the regular spiritual and religious life, according to the then valid regulations, every church was obliged to have an iconostasis (with the altar gates and at least two throne- and 12 holiday-icons) and that every church had to have 7 to 10 books, number of priest's garments and at least 3 to 4 church vessels (icon candles, disks, chalices, censers), then we could suppose that all these churches together possessed about 10 to 15 thousand icons, about 7 to 10 thousand books for religious services, several thousand sacred vessels and, of course, several hundreds of church bells and clappers. But even if that valuable property existed, it has for the most part disappeared, with the exception of the treasuries of Monasteries Decani and partly Gracanica and Pec.

Out of only fifteen of Serbian icons dating from the 14th century which have been preserved, two thirds are of the Kosovo and Metohijan origin, or kept in the yonder monasteries. And of others, there are maybe about 200-300 preserved icons, including those from the 19th century. The situation is no better regarding the Serbian charters, manuscripts and printed books that belonged to the churches and monasteries of Kosovo. There is only the original of the 1330 Bulla of Decani (Decanska Hrisovulja) kept in the Archives of Serbia, in Belgrade. The Big St.Stephanian Bulla (velika DeCanska Hrisovulja) by which King Milutin founds Monastery Banjska is now kept in the Sarai State Library in Istanbul. The Charter of King Stephan of Decani (Povelja Kralja Stefana Decanskog), donated to the Prizren Episcopate, in 1327, disappeared from Belgrade during the Austro-Hungarian occupation in the First World War. Only just in the fire of the National Library in Belgrade after the bombardment on the 6th of April, 1941, burned away 43 manuscripts and printed books from the period between the 13th and 18th century, brought to the Library during the 19th and 20th centuries from Kosovo and Metohia, then called Old Serbia, to be preserved and kept there. Among them were also the Prizren Gospel (Prizrensko Jevandelje) from the 13th century, the Memorial Service Ritual Book of the Bogorodica (Ouf Holy Lady) Ljeviska Monastery (Pomenik Bogorodice Ljeviske) from the 15th century as well as tens of the 14th- and 15th-century books from the rural churches of Kijevo, Dolac, Ljubizda, Sredska, Goruja Srbica and from the churches of Orahovac and Djakovica.

Tens and tens of the medieval Serbian manuscripts and printed books were carried off to museums and other institutions all over the world. Russian Slavist and Consul Al. Grigorovich took off 25 old manuscripts from the Pec Patriarchate, leaving to the hospitable Pec monks his receipts for 6 books only. The second Russian Consul in Sarajevo, A. Gilyferding, carried away 4 books from Gorioc, a Gospel (13th-14th c.) from Prizren, then a book, Metropolitan Melentiya's (Melentije) present to him, and an Anthology of prayers (14th c.); then 6 books from Decani, 3 from Pec, and 6 books (14th-15th c.) from Gracanica Monastery. The Psalter of Branko Miadenovic of Drenica is now kept in the Roumanian Academy of Sciences in Bucharest. The Octoich (Oktoih) from Sirinicka Zupa, written in 1353, together with the Gospel Readings (Citanje iz Jevandetja) written in the 13th century by the Sirinic Scribe Ravul, is now kept in the Chester Beatty Library in Dublin, Ireland. The Four-volume Gospel (Cetvorojevandelje) with a note of the same Sirinic Scribe Ravul is found in the National Library in Paris, and the Sirinic Religious-service Anthology (Bogosluzbeni zbornik) in St. Catharina Monastery, in the Sinai Peninsula. The manuscripts of the Novo Brdo Calligrapher Vladislav Grammaticus (Vladislav Gramatik) were carried off to many cities of Europe. His religious Anthology (Zbornik), written in 1469, is kept in the Yugoslavian Academy of Sciences and Arts, in Zagreb, Croatia; the other Anthology (Zbornik) of his, from 1456, is now in the University Library of Odessa, the USSR; the Book of Sermons of John the Goldmouthed, in the Rilski Monastery, Bulgaria; the Panegyric (Panegirik), in the Library of the Theological Faculty in Sofia; the Six-Day Ritual Book (Sestodnev), in the Roumyantsev Museum, in Moscow. Likewise, some other manuscripts and printed books dating from the 14th and 15th centuries are now kept in the most renowned collections in Leningrad, Moscow, Kiev, Odessa, Prague, Vienna, Berlin, Vatican, Paris, London, Dublin, Sofia, Arad, Dresden, Krakow, Leipzig, Munich, Zagreb, Belgrade, and in other cities of the world.

During the First World War, the Bulgarian Deputy Metropolitan, Stephan Karayanev of Veles took away from Pristina the Memorial Service Ritual Book of the St Trinity Monastery at Musutiste, which had been maintained since 1465 to that day. During the Second World War, the Albanian nationalists mined and destroyed Monastery Devic at Drenica, and on that occasion also a rich collection of old manuscripts burnt away; they burned down and destroyed the village churches of Bistrazina, Donji Ratis, Nec, Ponosevac, Rastavica and Cikatovo as well.

But, nevertheless, the cultural heritage of the Serbian people deserves an adequately beholden attention and a longer lasting recording. If we have given by this work even a modest contribution to this end, we shall be content.