Zica Monastery – Medieval Serbian Pearl
Žiča is an early 13th-century Serbian Orthodox monastery located near Kraljevo, Serbia. The monastery and the Church of the Holy Dormition, was built by the first King of Serbia, Stefan the First-Crowned and the first Head of the Serbian Church, Saint Sava.
Zica Monastery was the seat of the Archbishop from 1219–1253, and by tradition the coronational church of the Serbian kings, although a king could be crowned in any Serbian church, he was never considered a true king until he was anointed in Žiča. Žiča was declared a Cultural Monument of Exceptional Importance in 1979, since being protected by Serbia. In 2008, Žiča celebrated 800 years of existence.
In 1219, the Serbian Church gained autocephaly, through Emperor Theodore I Laskaris and Patriarch Manuel I of Constantinople. Archimandrite Sava then became the first Serbian Archbishop. The monastery acted as the seat of the Archbishop of all Serbian lands. Saint Sava crowned his older brother Stefan Prvovenčani as “King of All Serbia” in the Žiča monastery. In 1221, a synod was held in the Monastery of Žiča, condemning Bogomilism.
When Serbia was invaded by Hungary, Saint Sava sent Arsenije I Sremac to find a safer place in the south to establish a new episcopal See. In 1253 the see was transferred to the Archbishopric of Peć (future Patriarchate) by Arsenije. The Serbian primates had since moved between the two.
In 1289-90, the chief treasures of the ruined monastery, including the remains of Saint Jevstatije I, were transferred to Peć.
In 1219, Žiča became the first seat of the Serbian Archbishopric. The church, dedicated to the Ascension of Our Lord, displays the features of the Raska school. The ground plan is shaped as a spacious nave with a large apse at its eastern end. The central space is domed. The church was built of stone and brick. Architecturally, the Byzantine spirit prevails. There are three layers of painting, each being a separate entity.
The earliest frescoes were painted immediately after the first archbishop Sava’s return from Nicaea (1219), but only in the choir portions of these have been preserved. Sometime between 1276-92 the Cumans burned the monastery, and King Stefan Milutin renovated it in 1292-1309, during the office of Jevstatije II. Patriarch Nikon joined Despot Đurađ Branković when the capital was moved to Smederevo, following Turkish-Hungarian wars in the territory of Serbia in the 1430s.
Renovation was carried out during the time of Archbishops Jevstatije II (1292-1309), and Nikodim (1317-37), when the refectory was adorned with frescoes, the church covered with a leaden roof, and a tower erected.
The new frescoes were painted during the reign of King Milutin, but they have since suffered serious damage. Fragments have survived to the present day on the east wall of the passage beneath the tower (composition of King Stefan and his son Radoslav), in the narthex, nave and side-chapels.