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U V A C
M O N A S T E R Y

Text:
Dragisa Milosavljevic, historian of arts,
director of the National Museum in Uzice

Translation: prof. Ljiljana Kovacevic

Since 1994 the National Museum from Uzice has been working on realization of the scientific-research project referring to the Monastery complex of Uvac, which is situated in the valley of the river having the same name, on the slopes of the mountain of Zlatibor, on the territory of the Republic of Serbia. Thorough and detailed archeological works on preservation and restoration will have been finished in the course of 1997, by complete reconstruction of the monastery church from the beginning of the 17th century and some parts of the Monastery complex. These investigations will complete the cultural and civilization picture of the whole complex and the region, the public welfare of the Serbian science and culture as well as the Serbian Orthodox church in general.


 

UVAC MONASTERY

HISTORY AND LEGENDS

 

One of the most unaccessible medieval monasteries in our country, a real empire of stones and snakes is Uvac Monastery or Vuvac, the name which could be met in some scanty sources. It is situated on the river having the same name, at the foot of the Priboj's Crni Vrh (Black Peak) on the southwestern side and below the slopes of the mountain Zlatibor on the northeast. It is quite certain that a very long time ago a small church was erected on the border between despotism and medieval Bosnia, representing a special barrier against Bogomil heresy and penetrating Islam. Later, economically strengthened fraternity started to restore and widen the modest temple. Therefore, in the first decades of the 17th century, at the time of patriarch Pajsije, it represented the monumental monastery complex with all accessories, lodging houses and good economy. Enlarged and widened temple with rectangular choirs must certainly have found its models in the imperial lauras to which Vuvac was direcltly connected.

H i s t o r y

1. Excavation site before beginning of the works (June 1994)

Vuvac Monastery is not quite unknown to our cultural history. It is well-known that many travellers, chance guests, as well as high church dignitaries, visited it in the period of its greatest ascent in the first half of the 17th century. It is also known that Uvac has been destroyed and restored several times, but it was not recorded when it had experienced the last cataclysm, since after that it was not restored till our time. Together with disappearance of the monastery, for a great number of years vanished also the life in exotic and pleasant valley of the river Uvac. Interruption in cultural and spiritual continuity began at the time when this region was settled by people who came from distant places and had only fragmentary knowledge about Uvac Monastery. Disappearance of life in Uvac, sufferings and destinies will probably stay forever behind a veil of secrecy. Since the Serbian culture from that time was of oral and epic character, the history of Uvac was also most often replaced by stories handed down from generation to generation. As if it were our destiny that the most important events should stay in the epic memory, that miraculous institution from which we gathered our first knowledge.

The oldest written trace about Uvac Monastery has been found on the pages of an Old gospel dated in 1622. In that way we found out that the book was given as a present to "...Hramu precistije na reci Vuvcu..." i.e., "Sija knjiga monastira Vuvca hrama Rozdenstva Presvetije Bogorodice. Kto poimi da je otnimi ot svetago monastira da e proklet ot Gospoda i Precistie Bogomatere i vsih svetih bogougodnika kroma Sabora manastirskago..."

The next script from 1664 provides more data about some contributors, in fact it states their names and kinship. At the same time we found out that the head of the monastery, a certain Kir Gerasim, who had been staying at Uvac during following decades, probably contributed to remarkable ascent and prosperity of this spiritual centre. The script from 1664 runs like this: "Da se zna, kako prilozi siju bozanstvenuju knjigu glagolemije evangelije Presvetije Bogomatere rab boziji Milinko i podruzije jego Marija i sin jego Atanasije i unuk jego Obrad i snaga jego Sara i dasti jego Sara. Za svoju dusu i za vecni pomen i da im nepremjeno sluzi i da se svrsavaju svete tajne snjom i sa htitori svoju mazduju a spodvigom otca jeremonaha Kir Gerasima s bratijami. Sije bi v leto 1664..."

In the script recorded eighteen years later it could be seen that even then the head of Uvac Monastery was above mentioned Kir Gerasim, and that in 1682 he visited metropolitan Teofan of Skopje. According to some data it was not the only visit to this metropolis. It is also possible that Gerasim came from the southern regions, i.e., that he was a Greek and as a prior of Uvac had been staing in Stari Vlah for many decades. Free translation of the script runs like this: "...Da se zna kako pride proiguman Kir Gerasim k svestijemu mitropolitu skopskome Kir Teofanu i prilozi mitropolit siju knigu glagoljemu liturgiju v manastir Vuvac i podpisa se leto bitije 1682 meseca maja v gradu Skopju..."

One outstanding personality of the Serbian church spent some time in this monastery under Crni Vrh (The Black Peak). That was the metropolitan Josif from Timisoara, and it is supposed that he was responsible for hiding the treasure which belonged to Banja Monastery near Priboj, probably before expected Turkish invastion. The script dated from 1692 is of great importance for the destiny of already mentioned monastery treasure and is worded like this: "Siju duse spasuju i bozanstvenu knjigu prilozih az smireni mitropolit Temisvarski v hram presvjete Vladicice nase Bogorodice v monastir glagolemi Vuvac. I aste kto pokusit se otnimiti ot svetago mesta, da mu e prokleto ot gospoda Boga i Preciste Bogomatere i vsih svetih. Amin v leto 1692 godine..."

A fact from the end of the 17th century refers to the monastery of Uvac, but indirectly. Namely, that script imform us that a monk from Uvac some time later became even the bishop. That was Hristofor Dimitrijevic, known to be elected as the bishop of Backa on April 23rd, 1710. Unfortunately, this source does not provide information about the time when Dimitrijevic came to Uvac or where from, but according to available data, those were the last decades of the 17th century, when the monastery became a live spiritual centre, as already mentioned.

Almost during the whole 18th century Uvac Monastery had been covered with a veil of secret. There are naither data about destructions and sufferings nor about disappearance of life from the pleasant valley by the river having the same name. However, it is very likely that they really happened in the the first decades of the 18th century when a great number of places of worship in Stari Vlah in Serbia were burnt and demolished.

R e s e a r c h e s

An important source, which only partly refers to Uvac Monastery, is unpublished manuscript of the restorer of Banja Monastery near Priboj, Dionisije Popovic, dated from 1857, who visited this complex, gave a precise location and partial description. The following has been said about Uvac Monastery: "...Od Priboja na Uvac rjeku po sata,uz Uvac na srpsku granicu jedan cerek (15 minuta). Preko ima manje - samo edan sat uz tu rjeku Uvac srpska granica. Na granici i obstini jablanickoj zove se Cisti Do i Manastirina. Tu e bio metoh manastira Banje. Manastir se ednim kubetom, naokolo porta od kamena. U porti mnogo zdanja sto su pribavili monasi i eremonasi i narod koi e dolazio manastiru da se pokloni. Oko manastira ima i sada basce, voca svakojaka, vinograda, pomalo nive i livade. To drze Srbi, nazivaju se Didanovici ali ne zive dobro, buduci jedu ono manastirsko mesto..."

2. Excavation site during works (August 1995)

An outstanding researcher of our antiquities, head-priest Jevstatije Karamatijevic, in the third decade of our century visited the Uvac Monastery complex, trying to find a legendary "church Janja at Stari Vlah". Enthisiastic about epic memory of Serbian ethos, Karamatijevic supposed that Janja church, which allegedly had been built by the Nemanjas, was places somewhere in the region of the Uvac valley. Believing that such a church really existed, and that it originated from the Middle Ages, that it was famous for its luxury and wealth, he thought that Uvac Monastery was that particular old church, which had been built by the Nemanjas. Karamatijevic found the monastery complex overgrown with bush and woods and partly described it, precisely stating that "...Narthex - the western part of the temple was six paces wide and seven paces long. The middle part of the temple without altar was twice as big. The town around the church is 26 paces wide and 32 paces long. Close to the middle part, on the right side, there are three rooms built in the ground, 1.5 m deep and 4 m wide. These rooms were divided by separate walls...".

L e g e n d s

However, the greatest value of Karamatijevic work is in his legends and stories which he has written down. Some of those stories refer to the monastery itself, its destruction, restoration and life. He stated with great precision the numerous toponyms of the surroundings which represent the indirect way of solving many unknown things from the past of this whole region. At the end, when he was writing about the inaccessible place, where the monastery had been erected, the head-priest Karamatijevic mentioned "magnificent remains of the temple and some other buildings and town walls.../which/ testify about powerful Christian life that had been flourishing there...".

A great number of unknown things, connected with Uvac Monastery are still open questions. Vivid national memory, that unique interpreter of history, had been trying to reveal secrets of demolished monastery in the pleasant valley of the Uvac river. That remarkable center is not just any spiritual centre, but it used to be one of the greatest ones. Epis interpreters, who maintained historic consciousness especially at Stari Vlah, considered Uvac Monastery the very "Janja Church at Stari Vlah", which, for a very long time, had been attracting the attention not only of the curious people but at the same time arose the interest of the ethnologists, historians and local cultural workers. Of great importance is the knowledge that only at Stari Vlah there are five churches for which it is believed they were dedicted to this mythical female wonder-worker.

Who is really that female-saint Janja to whom the Serbs had been dedicating churches, especially in this part of Serbia. Should her origin be traced in the remaining elements of pagan myth with the Slavs or Janja was just a Christian symbol? Finally, does Uvac Monastery represent the very Janja Church, which the folk poet mentioned in the poem "Building of Ravanica" through words of the empress Milica and which is ascribed to the Nemanjas who had not been squandering their wealth but used it for erecting a great number of churches:

"... Sagradise mloge manastire;
sagradise Visoke Decane
bas Decane vise Djakovice;
Pacarsiju vise Peci ravne,
Studenicu ispod Brvenika,
Sopocane povrh Raske ladne,
i Trojicu u Hercegovinu;
Crkvu Janju u Starome Vlahu..."

According to some old stories Uvac Monastery is that particular Janja Church, which used to be unique of its wealth. On Orlic and Orahovica, the monastery had big flocks of sheep. It is said that milk used to be sent into the monastery economy for hundreds of years, where cheese and butter were made. All around were the land belonging to the monastery, orchards and vineyards. Numerous toponyms undoubtedly tell us of that. On the western part there were spacious meadows known as Bostaniste. Bukovi potok (stream) was flowing near meadows and close to the Uvac river there was another meadow called Gradina among the local residents. It was surrounded by a wall which is at some places well preserved to our time testifying about the old fortification, probably even older than the monastery itself. Uvac was undoubtedly an impressive spiritual and economic centre of the whole region.

Tradition, mostly oral one, had been transmitting from generation to generation, and once again connected Uvac Monastery with the Nemanjas memorial. That is the story about Janja, the sister of great district perfect Stefan Nemanja. Her brothers probably erected a monastery in this remote place, where she became a nun and spent the rest of her life. When they were descending from the slopes of Zlatibor toward Uvac, along rocky, narrow paths, and when Janja saw where her brothers confined her, it is said that her curse was echoing over the surrounding hills...

Powerful temple in the pleasant valley of the Uvac river was not easy to ruin. The Turks have tried it several times, but without success. It seems that each time somebody was killed. Then they were advised that the monastery could be ruined only by the Serbs. And they found the Serbs, settlers, some Tokovics, who, as the story says, ruined the monastery quite easily. They were richly awarded for their service by the Turks, but they were also cursed that their descendants would become poor and with no male offsprings and that their houses would always be below the road. Some think that it is the case even today.

3. Reconstruction of the Complex (September 1996)

According to some data the family of Didanovic was among the first settlers in the picturesque river valley after demolition of this Orthodox centre. The restorer of Banja Monastery near Priboj, Dionisije Popovic said that they lived badly because they "eat that monastery place". There are some stories which tell that on Christmas eve, a person with a crown on his head appeared in a dream of one of the Didanovics and revealed him the secret of the church treasure, but advised him to use it for rennovation of the monastery. As the Didanovic was indecisive, the same person used to appear in his dream in the period of two years more, twice on Christmas eve.

It is said that before his death this undecisive inhabitant of Uvac decided to reveal his secret to his son. However, the impatient young man was not resolute enough in his intention to restore the monastery, but made up his mind to dig up the treasure immediately. The day before the work should have been finished, it was raining heavily, making a great number of brooks down rocky regions, which rolled down the ground removing even the mark where the treasure had probably been hidden. People said that watre rolled down the Kaludjerska fountain from the hill and placed it at the very spot where it is standing now. Some time after this strange event, people gave up searching for monastery treasure. It was known for sure that under the influence of widely spread stories, searching for the treasure had been continued later, but without significant results. Life in the immediate surroundings of the Uvac river had been going on almost through the whole 19th century. The monastery was in ruins and only some rare travellers and Orthodox priests visited it from time to time. Tradition of the monastery fair has been revived and on Mala Gospojina the churchyard was collectively visited; that was the celebration of Uvac Monastery. Some traditional stories, that live folk memory and miraculous interpreter of the past, tell us that the inhabitants had been successful while the monastery fair was held and that life was revived in the whole region. Later, the reason is unknown, the fair was forgotten, and since then they have not had success "ni u malu ni u svladu"...

* * *

Destruction of the monastery and disappearance of life from the pleasant valley of the Uvac river is possible reason we are now deprived of important historical data from the past of this outstanding spiritual centre.Existence of the monastery was a condition for survival of the Orthodox inhabitants in this picturesque valley. Dying out of life for a longer period of time, then coming of some new refugees, but after a considerable time, meant a particular interruption in the historical and cultural continuity. Numerous important data and traces faded out with those who left Uvac or ran away from it or most often took them into grave.


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Design: DataVoyage IDS, Uzice, February '97.