Manasija Monastery

The monastery of Resava, today known under the name of Manasija, is the foundation of Despot Stefan Lazarević, son of Prince Lazar and Princess Milica.

By Ministry of Culture and Media of the Republic of Serbia

Aerial view of the monastery (1407/1418) by endowment and mausoleum of despot Stefan LazarevićMinistry of Culture and Media of the Republic of Serbia

Across hills and fields and deserts he went…

looking for a place to build the desired family, an abode for silence. Having found the most suitable and the best place to build the home, he said a prayer, set about his work and laid the foundations in the name of the Holy Trinity, universal Divinity
– Constantine the Philosopher, The Life of Despot Stefan Lazarević

Aerial view of the monastery (1407/1418) by endowment and mausoleum of despot Stefan LazarevićMinistry of Culture and Media of the Republic of Serbia

The Resava monastery lies near Despotovac, secluded in a peaceful and quiet place, in the picturesque river Resava gorge, with Pastorak and Maćija peaks towering above it. Today it is known as Manasija.  With its magnificent temple and strong fortification it has attracted attention of travel writers for centuries.   

Manasija Monastery winter (2021) by author Manasija MonasteryMinistry of Culture and Media of the Republic of Serbia

By building the monastery with the temple of the Holy Trinity Despot desired when he was living, in to the tradition of the foundation of the Nemanjić and of his father, edified a mausoleum where he will be buried.   

Aerial view from the east, unknown author, 2013, From the collection of: Ministry of Culture and Media of the Republic of Serbia
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Aerial view from the east, unknown author, From the collection of: Ministry of Culture and Media of the Republic of Serbia
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View of the fortification from the south, author Ljubisavljević from Despotovac, 2013, From the collection of: Ministry of Culture and Media of the Republic of Serbia
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Surrounded on all sides with high hills, the silhouette of twelve preserved towers alone leaves a strong impression; it is intensified by shimmering of six metal domes with golden crosses of the white marble church, which, against the dark background of the brown fortress rim, stands out as a shiny gemstone.”       – Felix Kanitz   

View of the church from the entrance gate (2020) by author Manasija MonasteryMinistry of Culture and Media of the Republic of Serbia

After the battle of Kosovo, Serbia has been under the permanent threats of invasions of the Turks in the south and in the meantime, in the north to the pressure of Hungary. Princess Milica invested herself painstakingly, with wisdom, ability to maintain the State. Soon as her son reached majority, she ceded to him the Serbian throne and remote herself to the monastery, from where she continued to help him to run the country.

Manasija Monastery winter (2014) by author Ljubisavljevic from DespotovacMinistry of Culture and Media of the Republic of Serbia

The young prince Stefan had to dedicate himself to the arrangement of the inner situation in the country, torn by conflicts between the nobles, but also tried to economically reinforce the country. As a vassal of the Turkish sultan, he took place in the Turkish war campaign.   

View of the Church and the Refectory from the western rampart (2020) by author Manasija MonasteryMinistry of Culture and Media of the Republic of Serbia

By its spiritual and symbolic importance and the position of the monastic community, the church dedicated to the Holy Trinity represents its central achievement.

View of the Church and Donjon Tower (2020) by author Manasija MonasteryMinistry of Culture and Media of the Republic of Serbia

According to its disposition, its architectural gathering and numerous details, it belongs to the group of the monuments of the developed Serbian Moravia type. Two clearly distinguished parts – the Naos on the east side and the Narthex on the west side.

View from the eastern part of the complex (2020) by author Manasija MonasteryMinistry of Culture and Media of the Republic of Serbia

The plan of the Naos is rectangular. On the east side, it is ending by a tripartite altar space with semi-circular apses inside. Outside, the central apse is pentagonal and the lateral apses are tripartite – they are the endings of the proscomidium and the diakonicon.

Eastern appearance of the Church (2014) by author Manasija MonasteryMinistry of Culture and Media of the Republic of Serbia

The foundation of Despot Stefan Lazarević is one the very best realizations of Serbian architecture of the late middle ages. The fortification is a very special particularity of the monastery of Resava. It has been conceived according to all the rules of medieval fortification and built to defend the monastery community.

Biphores, author Manasija Monastery, 2013, From the collection of: Ministry of Culture and Media of the Republic of Serbia
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Biphores, author Manasija Monastery, 2013, From the collection of: Ministry of Culture and Media of the Republic of Serbia
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Window of the naos, author Manasija Monastery, 2013, From the collection of: Ministry of Culture and Media of the Republic of Serbia
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The windows of the naos are disposed in two zones, with the exception of the west wall, and their stoned frames are only partially preserved. In the apses of the proscomidium and the diakonicon, the windows are only opened in the lower zones. They have been executed as a small single part and very tight openings that ended in specially broken arches with very simple stoned frames.  The other windows were double – like the biphores, which openings also ended with broken arches.

View of the Church and the Refectory from the eastern rampart (2014) by author Manasija MonasteryMinistry of Culture and Media of the Republic of Serbia

After the church, the residence was the most important and most monumental building in the monastery. The Refectory of Resava is located south from the Church, parallel to it, built as freestanding edifice with an extended rectangular plan.  Although greatly damaged in the upper zone, it is the best-preserved building of the monastic community.   

Reconstruction of the original appearance of the Refectory by Institute for the Protection of Cultural Monuments, BelgradeMinistry of Culture and Media of the Republic of Serbia

The Refectory in Resava is a building with an exceptional size 32m long, 16.8m wide, this is the largest Refectory in medieval Serbia, between 250 and 300 persons could be accommodated which could indirectly testify of the possible number of monks in the monastery.

View of the Medieval Refectory (2017) by author Manasija MonasteryMinistry of Culture and Media of the Republic of Serbia

The residence has two storeys – a ground floor and an upper storey. The ground floor, today recovered by soil up to 1.5m to the parapets of the windows, served as a store for food. The piece devoted to meals, the dining room was located on the first floor.    

View of the church from the entrance gate (2020) by author Manasija MonasteryMinistry of Culture and Media of the Republic of Serbia

The construction of the Resava monastery lasted more than ten years. Inside the monastic yard, surrounded by high fortifications and towers, was built the church of the Holy Trinity, the monumental refectory, the buildings with the cells of the monks, and maybe even the residence of Despot.

View of the Church (2012) by author Manasija MonasteryMinistry of Culture and Media of the Republic of Serbia

The chroniclers wrote that Resava was built in 1418 and then, “they settled down in the new quarters of Resava, the Holy Trinity”.

Calotte furnaces (2011) by Institute for the Protection of Cultural Monuments, BelgradeMinistry of Culture and Media of the Republic of Serbia

In the immediate vicinity of the western wall of the medieval Refectory, three mutually linked dome-shaped furnaces were discovered. It is reasonably assumed that these are furnaces unique to this area. Their discovery substantiated active trades and economic activity of the monastery in the 15th and 16th centuries.

Kitchen with oven (2013) by Institute for the Protection of Cultural Monuments, BelgradeMinistry of Culture and Media of the Republic of Serbia

Results of archaeological research in the south-western corner and southern part of the monastery courtyard are particularly important. Well preserved remains of the large stove and monastery kitchen were found there, and their importance for the life of the monastery community ranks immediately below the church and refectory. By its size and level of preservation, the discovered kitchen with the large stove is the only known example of building of this kind on the territory of medieval Serbia.

Manasija is beautiful, Manasija is wonderful.
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Charter to the Mileseva Monastery, unknown author, 1413, From the collection of: Ministry of Culture and Media of the Republic of Serbia
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Manuscript of Minej for the month of September, author Manasija Monastery, From the collection of: Ministry of Culture and Media of the Republic of Serbia
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Despot Stefan Lazarević was a great patron of art and culture providing support and shelter to scholars from Serbia and exiles from surrounding countries occupied by the Ottomans. He was educated at his parents home, he spoke and wrote Serbo-Slavic; he could speak Greek, and was familiar with Latin. He was an author in his own right, and his main works include „Slovo ljubve” (Letter of Love) that he dedicated to his brother Vuk and  „Natpis na mramornom stubu na Kosovu” (Inscription on the Marble Pillar at Kosovo). Some of the original works he wrote during his reign have been preserved. During the Despotʼs reign, rich transcribing activity – The Transcription School of Resava – was developed in his foundation, the Manasija Monastery.

Naos, Manasija (2020) by author Manasija MonasteryMinistry of Culture and Media of the Republic of Serbia

In the middle of the north and south walls of the Naos, are built choral apses- conches. Like the Altar apse, they are semi-circular from the inside and pentagonal from the outside.

Outside view of the Narthex (2017) by author Manasija MonasteryMinistry of Culture and Media of the Republic of Serbia

The Narthex of the Church of the monastery includes the space on the west of the Naos of which it is separate by a wall. The Narthex has a squared base of which the height corresponds to the one of the Naos.  The upper vaulted construction is built, as in the Naos, in the shape of the developed engraved cross. Slightly elliptical arches support the main slightly elliptical vaults.

Narthex (2020) by author Manasija MonasteryMinistry of Culture and Media of the Republic of Serbia

The arches are leaned on four octagonal pillars and, through the profiled console, on the vast walls. The stoned ground made of mixed materials that includes the white marble and the red limestone is partially preserved in the inside of the Narthex.

Under the dome, is made an octagonal rosette with an almost geometric very stylish vegetal motive, boarded with circular and crenulated bands. The ground of the Narthex is the only realization that, through its polychromatic effects, the choice of motives, and the techniques has no relevant comparison in the medieval art of Serbia.

Tympanum of the entrance to the Naos (2020) by author Manasija MonasteryMinistry of Culture and Media of the Republic of Serbia

The disposition of frescoes is adapted to the architectural conception and to the sacral function of the inner spaces of the temple, with the application of the hierarchic principle “of the vertical and horizontal saint” in the repartition of the themes in the Orthodox Churches of the Byzantine artistic circle.

Altar part, detail (2020) by author Manasija MonasteryMinistry of Culture and Media of the Republic of Serbia

The shining of the painting in the Temple filled the faithful with spiritual beauty of the ideal world, in which reigns the cosmic order, therefore the very entrance in the Temple was for them equal to the entry in heaven. Despot Stefan, aristocrat brilliantly educated, cosmopolitan and with a good knowledge of arts, really brought the most experienced painters, in the whole Byzantine circle.

They painted in Resava frescoes of an exceptional beauty, aristocratic elegance, a rich palette, with a fine spiritual message – elitist by their belonging because they have been painted according to the rules of Despot Stefan himself, a representative of a spiritual and social elite that Serbia never had after.

Altar part (2020) by author Manasija MonasteryMinistry of Culture and Media of the Republic of Serbia

In the Serbian Morava region, in the principality of Despot Stefan Lazarević has been created a spiritual and artistic atmosphere where the classicist late Byzantine chef-d’oeuvre of the time of the Paleologues in Resava could be created.   

Composition Non-sleeping eye (2010) by author Manasija MonasteryMinistry of Culture and Media of the Republic of Serbia

THE BEAUTY OF MANASIJA PAINTINGS PLACE THEM AMONG THE MOST IMPORTANT ACHIEVEMENTS OF THE MEDEIVAL SERBIAN PAINTING.

The Manasija paintings are not fully preserved. The inscriptions about the time of their creation are also missing.

Assumption of the Holy Mother of God (2013) by author Manasija MonasteryMinistry of Culture and Media of the Republic of Serbia

It seems probable that it was already completed in 1418. That year, according to the writings of an unknown chronicler, on the Holy Trinity Day, Despot Stefan called the people to convene at his foundation on the occasion of its consecration.

Founder's composition on the west wall (2013) by author Manasija MonasteryMinistry of Culture and Media of the Republic of Serbia

Stefan Lazarević (1377-1427) is the elder son of Serbian Prince Lazar and Princess Milica. After the battle of Kosovo (1389), in which Stefanʼs father, Prince Lazar was killed, Stefan came to power when he was only twelve, and with the help of his mother ruled until he came of age (1393). As an Ottoman vassal, he successfully led the Serbian knights in the battles of Rovine, Nicopolis and Ankara.

Despot Stefan (1418) by endowment and mausoleum of despot Stefan LazarevićMinistry of Culture and Media of the Republic of Serbia

After the battle of Ankara, he was awarded the title of Despot in Constantinople by the Byzantine emperor Manuel II Palaiologos (1402). In early 1404 he became an ally of the Hungarian king Sigismund, who presented him with Mačva and Belgrade. Stefan turned Belgrade into his new capital.

Service to the Lamb (2010) by author Manasija MonasteryMinistry of Culture and Media of the Republic of Serbia

Of the former paintings that adorned the entire interior walls of the church with the Narthex (about 2,000 m2), just over on third has been preserved to this day. The original paintings in the Narthex disappeared. During the conservation works, small, completely faded fragments were discovered, the contents of which can hardly be discerned.

Holy Warriors (2010) by author Manasija MonasteryMinistry of Culture and Media of the Republic of Serbia

One of the most preserved compositions in the monastery. Dressed in medieval knightly uniforms, the Holy Warriors are in movement, sending a very strong message of continuously spiritual movement.

Holy wariors Great Martyrs St. Artemius and St. James the Persian, author Manasija Monastery, 2020, From the collection of: Ministry of Culture and Media of the Republic of Serbia
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Holy wariors Great Martyrs St. Demetrius and St. Procopius, author Manasija Monastery, 2020, From the collection of: Ministry of Culture and Media of the Republic of Serbia
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Holy wariors Great Martyrs St. Mercury and St. Theodore Tyron, author Manasija Monastery, 2010, From the collection of: Ministry of Culture and Media of the Republic of Serbia
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Holy warior Great Martyr St. Andrew, southwest pillar, author Manasija Monastery, 2020, From the collection of: Ministry of Culture and Media of the Republic of Serbia
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Holy Warriors, endowment and mausoleum of despot Stefan Lazarević, Author of the photo Pavle Marjanović, 1418, From the collection of: Ministry of Culture and Media of the Republic of Serbia
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Archangel Michael, unknown author, 2015, From the collection of: Ministry of Culture and Media of the Republic of Serbia
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The surviving frescoes in the main part of the Church, the Naos, offer a possibility to understand their original layout and indicate what they were like in their entirety. Certain preserved monumental compositions and individual figures of saints reveal the order of the painting topics by zone. Constantine, The Philosopher is describing the efforts of the founder in the construction and the decoration of the Church, and that Despot reunited “the most talented and most famous workers” calling them from everywhere, even from remote islands.

View of the western part of the fortification (2020) by author Manasija MonasteryMinistry of Culture and Media of the Republic of Serbia

The Resava fortification has eleven towers and a specially defended area on the eastern side, with the twelfth tower. The towers have identical defense and architectural features – all have the ground level, six floors and a promenade with battlements.

View from the west passage to the Despot's Tower (2020) by author Manasija MonasteryMinistry of Culture and Media of the Republic of Serbia

They are linked by the defensive walls – ramparts, with merlon cranelation. The connection between the towers and the ramparts is made through special passages on the 4th floor of each tower, allowing the defenders to easily move around and successfully defend the monastery. Only the Donjon (dungeon, keep) was built differently.

Appearance of the Refectory from the inside (2020) by author Manasija MonasteryMinistry of Culture and Media of the Republic of Serbia

The towers and ramparts are equipped with machicolations –elements of defensive architecture of which very few have been preserved in our medieval architecture, so they are a rarity characteristic of the Resava monastery and some other places.

Aerial view of the monastery (1407/1418) by endowment and mausoleum of despot Stefan LazarevićMinistry of Culture and Media of the Republic of Serbia

Although machicolations were used in the Western military architecture as early as the 12th century, in the fortifications of the medieval Serbia, they only appear in the late 14th century-early 15th century, but their use was limited.

The Resava monastery fortification, with its ramparts and towers, is the best preserved fortification complex on the territory of medieval Serbia.

Its shape, volume and its defensive characteristics underline the dungeon of the fortification of Resava better known as the tower of Despot. It is the only closed tower, with a squared plan of which the sides are 14.5m high.

In its inferior part, the tower enlarges itself diagonally keeping its squared shape; with means its ground plan is almost 20m. The Dungeon has a ground floor, five floors and a promenade, so the total useful surface is about 360m².

View of the southwest side of the Donjon Tower (2016) by author Manasija MonasteryMinistry of Culture and Media of the Republic of Serbia

The ground floor of the tower is at the level of the entrance, i.e. 10.5m above the courtyard of the monastery. The size of interior space is 6*6m, and along the big walls has been made a low bench. Below the ground floor there is a circular room supposedly used as a granary.

Appearance of the Donjon Tower from the inside (2014) by author Manasija MonasteryMinistry of Culture and Media of the Republic of Serbia

It could receive more than 20 tons of wheat, which is enough to feed 100 persons during a year. Through the passage below the vault it could be possible to get out at the first floor of the tower by using built stairways, from where it was possible to arrive with a wooden stairway.

View of the Despot's Tower (2014) by author Ljubisavljevic from DespotovacMinistry of Culture and Media of the Republic of Serbia

During the research and construction works in Resava has been executed the restoration of the dungeon surely the most important tower of the fortification of Resava.

Northern appearance of the Church, Institute for the Protection of Cultural Monuments, Belgrade, From the collection of: Ministry of Culture and Media of the Republic of Serbia
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Basis of the monastery complex, Institute for the Protection of Cultural Monuments, Belgrade, From the collection of: Ministry of Culture and Media of the Republic of Serbia
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Resava Monastery: 1.Holy Trinity Church, 2.Despot Stefan’s tomb, 3.Kalojan Rusota’s tomb, 4.Refectory, 5.Despot’s Tower, 6.15th – 18th century structures, 7.15th century kitchen, 8.Hidden road, 9.Scarp, 10.Ditch, 11.Counterscarp, 12.Small Town. 

View from the parking lot (2020) by author Manasija MonasteryMinistry of Culture and Media of the Republic of Serbia

On Saturday, 19 July (1 August), Despot Stefan Lazarević suddenly died while hunting near the Crkvina hamlet, between Stojnik and Markovac. His biographer noted that people prostrated themselves on the ground crying for him not only as their ruler but “as a well respected and beloved father”, and stated that “he was carried towards the tomb he had built for himself in Resava”.

Naos, Manasija (2020) by author Manasija MonasteryMinistry of Culture and Media of the Republic of Serbia

During his life, Despot Stefan Lazarević built the mausoleum dedicated to the Holy Trinity, in the monastery of Resava. Of this testify Constantine the Philosopher in his biography of Despot Stefan Lazar Lazarević “ He built himself there a grave, where he soon was buried” and when he speaks, the transfer of the body of Despot 

Reliques of Saint Despot Stefan (2020) by author Manasija MonasteryMinistry of Culture and Media of the Republic of Serbia

“ […] they brought him to the grave […] he built himself in Resava […] to lay him at the place he ordered” and “because of the hurry, they arranged him quickly and laid him in the Church in Resava on the right of the entrance to the Temple.”

Despot Stefan in hunt (2012) by author Manasija MonasteryMinistry of Culture and Media of the Republic of Serbia

The data left by Constantine the Philosopher about the death of Despot, the transfer of his remains and his place of funeral are plainly confirmed by the result of archaeological excavations. The confirmation that Despot Stefan, after his sudden death on July 19th 1427, has been transferred and buried in his foundation “[…] at the place he ordered”, is proved by the anthropological and D.N.A analysis.

Despot Stefan with the monks (2012) by author Manasija MonasteryMinistry of Culture and Media of the Republic of Serbia

They corroborate the kinship between the father and the son, Prince Lazar and Despot Stefan Lazar Lazarević. So, 600 years later was solved the mystery of the burial place of Despot Stefan Lazarević.

Tomb (burial place) of Despot Stefan (2020) by author Manasija MonasteryMinistry of Culture and Media of the Republic of Serbia

The space next to the south wall of the west bay was exclusively aimed, in medieval Serbia, to the funerals of the founder. In this place were buried all the founders of the Nemanjić dynasty, and also the parents of Despot Stefan, Prince Lazar and Princess Milica. This custom hasn’t known any alteration of someone not being the Founder being buried next to the south wall of the west bay.

Non-sleeping eye, detail, author Manasija Monastery, 2020, From the collection of: Ministry of Culture and Media of the Republic of Serbia
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The vision of St. Peter of Alexandria, author Manasija Monastery, 2020, From the collection of: Ministry of Culture and Media of the Republic of Serbia
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Non-sleeping eye, detail, St. Solomon the Prophet, author Manasija Monastery, 2020, From the collection of: Ministry of Culture and Media of the Republic of Serbia
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St. Onuphrius the hermit, author Manasija Monastery, 2020, From the collection of: Ministry of Culture and Media of the Republic of Serbia
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Parable of the Publican and the Pharisee, author Manasija Monastery, 2010, From the collection of: Ministry of Culture and Media of the Republic of Serbia
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According to the results of the first archaeological excavations published of the Church of the monastery of Resava, published for the first time it’s possible to estimate that in the grave located next to the south wall of the west bay have been discovered the terrestrial relics of the Founder – Despot Stefan Lazarević. Documentary about Life of saint Stefan Lazarevic.

Tomb (burial place) of Kalojan Rusota (2020) by author Manasija MonasteryMinistry of Culture and Media of the Republic of Serbia

In a historical annal has been conserved the note saying that Kalojan Rusota died on April 16th 1437 and he was buried at the Monastery of Resava, were his whole body rested. It is considered that in the Narthex of the Monastery of Resava was discovered the place of the burial of Kalojan Rusota, custom-officer from Novo Brdo in Kosovo, who had an influence at the court of Despot Stefan, but also at the court of his successor Despot Djurdje Branković.

St. Sava the first Archbishop of Serbia and St. John the Merciful, author Manasija Monastery, 2020, From the collection of: Ministry of Culture and Media of the Republic of Serbia
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Service to the Lamb, detail, author Manasija Monastery, 2020, From the collection of: Ministry of Culture and Media of the Republic of Serbia
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St. Basil the Great, author Manasija Monastery, 2020, From the collection of: Ministry of Culture and Media of the Republic of Serbia
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 More Christian works and capital works of ancient civilization were transcribed in the famous Transcription School of Resava than in all times preceding the Despotʼs ruling. By building a spiritual shield to his nation, bequeathing rich spiritual heritage and values rooted in Christian civilization, Despot Stefan made it possible for future civilizations to find own spiritual roots, deeply aware that historical recollection cannot exist without linguistic memory.

Flag of Despot Stefan, author Manasija Monastery, From the collection of: Ministry of Culture and Media of the Republic of Serbia
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Ceremonial Sword of the Order of the Dragon, Museum of Art in Vienna, From the collection of: Ministry of Culture and Media of the Republic of Serbia
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Twenty-four of most worthy of European knights, personalities characterized with high moral principles, elite in the broadest sense of the concept, were members of the First Order of the Dragon. The honorable place, according to the founding charter – first among equals – was Despot Stefan Lazarević, master of Serbia. The Order of the Dragon was established on 12 December 1408 by the Hungarian king, subsequently Roman Emperor Sigismund of Luxemburg. The order chose Saint George and Saint Magdalene as their patrons, and the reason for establishing it was to protect the Christian Europe and Christian values jeopardized by the young Asian civilization that aspired to aggressively impose its religion and its culture.

Signature of Despot Stefan, unknown author, From the collection of: Ministry of Culture and Media of the Republic of Serbia
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He was a personality whose name is inscribed in gold letters in the history of the Serbian nation. Immensely pragmatic, wise, able statesman, excellent diplomat, brave and successful military leader, broadly educated, remarkable poet, enlightener, Despot Stefan is almost an unreal mixture of knightly bravery, magnificent intelligence, rich education and outstanding spiritual and physical beauty.  Therefore, it is no wonder that in his lifetime he was awarded the title of the First Knight of the Order of the Dragon. He was obsessed by the idea that guided him: to make words sacred and world more humane. All modern substitutes to the knightly view of the world and moral principles that he served stay inferior before the life work of Stefan Lazarević dedicated to substantiation and confirmation of these principles.

View of the Church (2021) by author Manasija MonasteryMinistry of Culture and Media of the Republic of Serbia

Credits: Story

Monastery Manasija
Republic Institute for the Protection of the Monuments of Culture – Belgrade

The narration was provided by monastery Manasija.  

Video material credit:
Igor Milošević

RTS - Radio Television of Serbia  

Credits: All media
The story featured may in some cases have been created by an independent third party and may not always represent the views of the institutions, listed below, who have supplied the content.
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