The monastery of Mileševa was founded by Vladislav, king of Serbia, son of Stefan the First-Crowned and grandson of Stefan Nemanja, founder of the most influential Serbian medieval dynasty. Old Serbian biographers recorded that the building of Mileševa started immediately after Vladislav's accession to the throne in 1234. However, some specific details of the frescoes lead researchers to the conclusion that the monastery might have been constructed some ten years earlier. At that time, Vladislav was a royal prince ruling over the area of Crna Stena (Black Rock). After having spent almost ten years on the throne, Vladislav passed the royal scepter to his younger brother Uroš in 1243. Residing after that in the coastal region of Zeta, he died in the 1280’s and was buried in his foundation - Monastery of Mileševa.
Like many earlier royal monastic endowments, the church of Mileševa adheres to the “Raška [Rascian] school”. This style was characterized by the Romanesque type of building, common in the Serbian Adriatic coast and littoral of that epoch, which in its basic disposition was adapted to the needs of Eastern Orthodox worship. The church is single-nave building with two lower chantries, a wide central apse, and two smaller apses. Initially, it had one dome, and later on, probably in the 19th century, another was built over the exonarthex. The narthex was built by King Vladislav around 1235 in order to bury his uncle, Archbishop Sava, who at that time had died in Bulgaria on his way back from his pilgrimage to the Holy Land. Being the burial place of St. Sava, Mileševa gained immense relevance for the Serbian nation and became an important pilgrimage site. In order to suppress the spiritual ascendancy of St. Sava, the Ottomans forcibly removed his relics from Mileševa Monastery and burnt them at stake on Belgrade’s Vračar hill in 1595.
It was in Mileševa in 1377 that Stefan Tvrtko was crowned king of Bosnia and Serbia since the monastery was within the territory of his state. In the year 1446, Stefan Vukčić Kosača, ruler of Zahumlje, added to his titles that of "Herzeg (Duke) of St. Sava", and hence, his dominion, which extended even to the Monastery of Mileševa, bore the name "Herzegovina." As a result, in Serbian epic poetry, the monastery is often referred to as "Mileševa of Herzegovina." In the 16th century, one of the earliest Serbian printing-shops operated in Mileševa.
Towards the end of the 17th century, during national uprisings against the Ottoman rule and later migrations to the north, Mileševa was burnt by the Turks several times. On account of that and various other tribulations, the monks often had to abandon the monastery. The well-known 1857 travelogue of the Russian author A. Hilferding found Mileševa in ruins. The monastery church, along with the refectory, was rebuilt in 1863 by the efforts of citizens of Prijepolje. This endeavour saved the church and the frescoes from further decay.
Monastery of Mileševa is mainly known for its frescoes, regarded by many experts to be among the most beautiful achievements of the European fresco painting of the Middle Ages. The highest artistic values are ascribed to the portraits of the first kings of the Nemanjić dynasty. Among them, one can find portraits of Stefan Nemanja (canonized as St. Symeon), St. Sava, King Stefan the First-Crowned, King Radoslav, and King Vladislav. The image of St. Sava has an extraordinary significance as it was painted during his lifetime.
However, the renown of the Mileševa monastery rests primarily upon the famed rendition of the Angel on Christ's tomb: a suggestive figure, which - by the skilled drawing, the harmony of colors and spirituality of expression - radiates with an almost transcendent beauty. Together with its other frescoes - both narrative scenes and individual figures - painting of Mileševa’s constitutes a uniform, organic entity and a remarkable in situ gallery. Indeed, it is often asserted that - along with the works of the Monastery of Sopoćani - the wall paintings of Mileševa represent the pinnacle of old Serbian fresco art.
Monastery Mileseva is located near the town of Prijepolje, south-west of Serbia.
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