Religious or not, if you want to understand Serbian tradition and get a wider picture of historical events and reasonings, there is no way to avoid visiting Serbian monasteries. While practicing religion is reserved for mostly older generations (and younger during the most important Orthodox holidays), Serbs take great pride in cherishing their tradition and history, and centuries-old Serbian churches and monasteries are an inevitable part of it. Settled in the forests near Prijepolje, in the pure air and calming nature, Mileseva Monastery is one of those traditional cores of serenity in Serbia.
The monastery was built from 1218-1228, by King Vladislav, the son of Stefan the First-Crowned, the founder of older and much-praised Zica Monastery. The tradition had it for the kings and rulers to build impressive churches and monasteries as a gift to their people and a place where their soul could rest, once they close their eyes forever.
As the Ottoman Empire ruled over the area for more than 500 years, this monastery had a similar fate like its predecessors - it was often raided, attacked, and burnt. However, written sources suggest that even during the years of occupation, it remained habitable, practicing religion, and providing shelter to hopeless Serbian people. Mileseva Monastery was a sacred place for faith, a refuge for oppressed Serbs, and also a cultural and educational station, as it provided learning opportunity for ordinary people.
The frescoes decorating the eight-century-old walls of Mileseva Monastery became iconic representatives of Serbian medieval art. Even though highly influenced by Byzantine religious art, that didn't allow much space for innovation and experimenting. They capture the essence of Serbian values of the time. This is also the place where the trend of painting the portraits of Serbian royalty started, only to instill faith and pride in the generations of people who cherished the place in search of hope and haven.
The monastery safeguards a medieval artwork of international value - the White Angel fresco. The inspiring fresco got world recognition for its uniqueness and its peaceful message and got sent to space in hope to represent a human story to the potential extraterrestrial beings.
Curiously, one of the first printing offices in the country was established in Mileseva Monastery during the 16th century. This only testifies of the dedication of the religious people to preserve history and spread education and culture. Such an effort during the Ottoman rule required not only courage but also true patriotism and well-balanced system of values, stripped of hate and urge for revenge.
Once inside its cold stone walls, you can feel the peace and calmness spreading through Monastery Mileseva. The smell of incense and an occasional sound of clinging bells will only enhance the experience, reassuring you that this sacred place is truly a core of serenity in Serbia, even to this day.
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