Gradac Monastery

Old Studenica, Interesting, Tourism0

Gradac Monastery is situated in Stara Raška region, on the wooded and secluded slopes of Golija Mountain on the place called by locals Petrov Krs. Gradac Monastery was built in the late 13th century /around 1275/, on the ruins of an earlier church. Gradac Monastery is the endowment of Queen Jelena Anzujska /Queen Helen of Anjou/,  probably from the Charles I Anjou Family, king of Sicily and Naples, the wife of the Serbian King Uros I.

The Church of Gradac Monastery is dedicated to the Presentation of the Holy Virgin. The Church of Gradac Monastery is one nave structure with the dome, tripartite altar and rectangle choir, whose central part consists of two chapels, the main naos and the altar. In the architecture of the shrine of Gradac Monastery that is example of monumental Raska school of architecture there are numerous Gothic /Romanesque/ elements, especially on the portals and on all biforas /windows divided by a colonnette into two arches/.

Gradac Monastery is included in Transromanica project (The Romanesque Routes of European heritage). The architectural plastic of the Gradac Monastery carries the properties of the mature and late Romanesque art, like some early Gothic, all being reflected primarily in the finishing of the portal capitol, mostly marble framed windows and a series of blind arcades of the roof corona.

As the Serbian Queen, Helen did a lot for development of education and support of arts. Queen Helen established the first girl school in Serbia  (most probably an orphanage), organized collecting and copying of books, took care about poor, erected and restored churches, both the Orthodox and catholic, in the Coast. Queen Helen took young and poor girls to her endowment in Brnjaci residence to teach them all skills and virtues they needed for marriage, and afterward they were married, richly gifted by the Queen.

In the temple of Gradac Monastery there is the marble sarcophagus where the Saint Queen Helen was buried. Helen became a nun at the Church of St. Nicholas in Skadar/Shkodër/Scutari, where she died on 8 February 1314. Her relics were moved from there during the Turkish invasion by monks and nowadays it is not clear where they are kept. Helen of Anjou was canonized by the Serbian Orthodox Church and her day is celebrated on the 12th November.  The relics of King Dragutin, son of Helen of Anjou and King Uros I /later monk Saint Teoktist/ were brought to Gradac Monastery from Decani Monastery.

The fresco decoration of the Gradac Monastery interior is considerably damaged but the founder’s composition is still visible. The original stone iconostasis is preserved in its primary appearance. During the Ottoman rule, in the 17th century, Gradac Monastery was abandoned to be partially restored in the middle of the 20th century. Gradac Monastery is nowadays functioning as a nunnery and in its glorious beauty represents one of the most attractive medieval Serb cultural and historical monuments and spiritual centers. Nuns of the Gradac Monastery happily live their evangelical lives and do the icon-painting and handwork /weaving and gold-embroidery on silk/. Abbess Efimija says – in Gradac Monastery everybody is free to express “his-her God-given gift“.

During archaeological exploration of the Gradac Monastery undertaken in 2005, eight test trenches were opened, totaling 70 m2 on the outer side of St. Bogorodica /Holy Virgin/ Church. In addition to the medieval cultural layer and the Medieval cemetery that has been identified earlier, the prehistoric cultural layer with an overall thickness of 0,8 meter was also discovered. This prehistoric cultural layer with three building horizons and associated archaeological material, formed over a long period of time, from the very end of the early and throughout a large part of the developed Bronze Age. In the earliest prehistoric layers to which two building horizon belong Early Bronze Age pottery was found.

“Days of Queen Jelena“, the unique cultural event /manifestation/ is held in Gradac Monastery, nearby Maglic Fortress and city of Kraljevo, at the beginning of May every year to celebrate the Queen Helen and her endowment and all her pious deeds. Every year in the beginning of May, Gradac Monastery remembers an event when king Uros I, out of love for the French princess Helen D’Anjou, the future Serbian Queen, ordered that the whole valley upstream the Ibar River, in honor of her coming to Serbia, be planted with fragrant lilacs so that her new country would remind her of old homeland – Provence, France. As time passed, the whole Ibar River Valley has been named the Lilacs Valley or the Kings Valley, after the memory of the possibly most beautiful and romantic Medieval love /between King Uros and Queen Jelena/ in Serbia.

During the amazing Lilacs Days festival numerous performances, competitions, knights’ games and presentation of well-preserved customs and old crafts are organized which attract lots of culture-lovers. Gradac Monastery is favorite destination in our tours, and soon market will be provided with the amazing tourist animation of the MEDIEVAL KINGS VALLEY as the outstanding travel through time experiences.

Izvor