The monastery of Mileseva 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 erection of Mileseva started immediately after Vladislav's accession to the throne in 1234. However, some specific details of the church frescoes lead to the conclusion that it 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 Uros in 1243. Residing after that in the coastal region of Zeta, he died in the 1280s and was buried in his royal foundation - Monastery of Mileseva.
Like many earlier royal monastic endowments, the church of Mileseva adheres to the “Raska [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 one nef building with two lower chantries, a wide central apse, and two small apses. It had initially one dome, and later on, probably in the 19th century, it got one more 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 the pilgrimage to the Holy Land. Because of the tomb of St. Sava, Mileseva acquired enormous prestige in the eyes of the Serbian nation and became a center of pilgrimage. In order to suppress the spiritual ascendancy of St. Sava, the Ottomans forcibly removed his relics from Mileseva Monastery and burnt them at stake on Belgrade’s Vracar hill in 1595.
It was in Mileseva in 1377 that Stefan Tvrtko was crowned King of Bosnia and Serbia since Monastery Mileseva was within the territory of his state. In the year 1446 Stefan Vukcic Kosaca, 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 Mileseva, got the name "Herzegovina." As a result, in Serbian epic poetry, the monastery is often referred to as "Mileseva of Herzegovina." In the 16th century, one of the early Serbian printing-shops operated in Mileseva.
Towards the end of the 17th century, during national uprisings against Ottoman rule and the later migrations to the north, Mileseva was burnt by the Turks several times. As a result of that and various later tribulations, the monks often had to leave it. The well-known 1857 travelogue of the Russian author A. Hilferding found Mileseva in ruins. The Monastery church, along with the refectory, was rebuilt in 1863 by the efforts of citizens of Prijepolje. This action saved the church and the frescoes from further decay.
Monastery Mileseva is mainly known for its frescoes, regarded by many experts among the most beautiful achievements of the European fresco painting in the Middle Ages. The highest artistic values are ascribed to the portraits of the first kings of the Nemanjic dynasty. Among them one can find the picture of Stefan Nemanja (canonized as St. Symeon), then the portraits of St. Sava, King Stefan the First-Crowned, King Radoslav, and King Vladislav. The picture of St. Sava has an extraordinary significance as it was painted during his lifetime.
However, the renown of Mileseva monastery has been punctuated above all by 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 compositions and individual figures - Mileseva’s output constitutes a uniform, organic entity and a remarkable in situ gallery. Indeed, it is often asserted that - along with the works of Monastery Sopocani - the wall paintings of Mileseva 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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