Saturday, 17 March 2012

Monasteries in Fruška Gora

Serbian Orthodox monasteries are of major concern for Serbia. They are both the living symbols of the Serbian Orthodox Church and cultural monuments. As a cultural monument they are important for the historical sciences (in the spiritual and political history of Serbia, they played an important role), the economy (tourist attractions) and the politics (Serbian heritage).

Serbian or
thodox monasteries are spread over the country (and beyond): from Vojvodina in the north to Kosovo in the south. The oldest Serbian Orthodox monasteries are located in Kosovo. The monastery of Gračanica, one of the most important Serbian shrines, is listed by UNESCO as a World Heritage property. In Vojvodina, the majority of Serbian Orthodox monasteries are located in Fruška Gora national park, south of the Danube river near Novi Sad. Once there were about thirty-five monasteries in Fruška Gora; nowadays there are only fifteen of them.

Serbian orthodox monasteries suffered more than once from serious aggression. The Ottoman conquerors were the first to cause devastations (with migrations as a result). During World War II many monasteries (including their libraries) were destroyed and looted by German Nazis and Croatian Ustaša. In 1999, NATO's bombing damaged several monasteries, including some in Fruška Gora. And more recently, in 2004, at least thirty Serbian Orthodox churches and monasteries in Kosovo were destroyed by the Albanians.

All monasteries in Fruška Gora are owned by the Serbian Orthodox Church and designated by the Serbian state as ‘heritage of extraordinary national importance’. Most of them consist of a church surrounded by buildings with the living quarters of the monks (women or men). With one exception, the monasteries in the Fruška Gora are still used for religious purposes. The attraction of these monasteries for religious tourists also lies in the fact that in its churches relics of saints are kept.

The Provincial Institute for the Protection of Cultural Monuments, established after World War II in Novi Sad and initiator of the restorations in 2004, examined the condition of the monasteries in Fruška Gora. The institute looked after the structural condition of the buildings, the state of the murals, iconostases and religious objects, to the number of monks and whether these women and men, few in number, were capable to maintain the buildings and its gardens, meadows and forests. The results were alarming.

In 2010, I visited in Fruška Gora three monasteries: Krušedol, Grgeteg and Novo Hopovo. The baroque frescoes in the church of Novo Hopovo – one of the monasteries that suffered from the NATO bombing in 1999 – are very beautiful. As an art historian, I would like to learn about them. Art historical publications about Novo Hopovo and the other monasteries in Fruška Gora in a language other than Serbian are, however, hard to find.

In terms of history and culture,  Krušedol monastery is the most important of the monasteries in Fruška Gora. Krušedol is a large monastery, reasonably maintained, with large well-kept fields and gardens and a new-looking access building. The church is beautifully decorated with ancient frescoes. For centuries, Krušedol was for the Serbs the cultural, political and religious centre. It possessed the most valuable icons, paintings, manuscripts, gospels, vestments, sacred vessels and antique furniture.

The monastery church of Krušedol is also the mausoleum of prominent figures in Serbian history: patriarchs Arsenije III Čarnojević and Arsenije IV Jovanović, leaders of the two great migrations (the first ended in Szentendre on the Danube north of Budapest), Princess Ljubica, wife of Prince Miloš Obrenović, and King Milan Obrenović.

Some more pictures of the Fruška Gora monasteries can be found in my Dutch language weblog Kloosters in Fruška Gora.

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