On Friday, May 26, 2023, our BLAGO Fund team set out on a journey from Belgrade to Gračanica to photograph the Serbian medieval cultural heritage of Gračanica and Budisavci monasteries, as well as the churches in Lipljan and Crkolez. Three-member team left Belgrade in a rented van and arrived in Jagodina, where other team members joined them. Photography equipment - cameras, lenses, tripods, drones, and other technical equipment - is carefully placed in the van to keep it safe during the trip. Due to the current situation in Kosovo and Metohija, this equipment has been reduced to the smallest possible extent.
Cultural Center "Gračanica"
From Jagodina, the journey continued to Gračanica, where we arrived in the afternoon. Our team was warmly welcomed at the Cultural Center "Gračanica," where we stayed during the course of our trip. Previously, driving along roads that passed through diverse landscapes, the team discussed plans and expectations for this year's field expedition. Aware of the importance of digitizing and documenting Serbian cultural heritage, we arrive again in Kosovo and Metohija, which we have visited every year, where with the blessing of His Holiness Serbian Patriarch Porphyry and His Grace Bishop Theodosius of Raška-Prizren, we continue our work.
In the following days, the BLAGO Fund team devoted themselves to photographing the Gračanica monastery church. This medieval jewel, part of the UNESCO world heritage, was built by the Serbian king Stefan Milutin, one of the most successful rulers of the Nemanjić dynasty.
The team of the BLAGO Fund photographed the Gračanica frescoes for the first time in 2003. In 2021, we started the project of photographing Gračanica's fresco painting again because the necessary cleaning and conservation work was carried out in previous years. Now, the frescoes shone from the walls of what is considered to be one of the masterpieces of medieval art and architecture. The work started in 2021, continued in 2022, and was completed this year with the most complex recording in all four smaller domes, which are extremely difficult to access.
We had two crews photographing previously planned and selected compositions and details. While the work of the crew on the lower levels of the church was more straightforward, the crew working on the domes and upper levels faced greater difficulties and challenges. In our previous expedition, the narrow width of the chapels flanking the sanctuary did not allow us to raise the scaffolding we rented for high-altitude recording. Especially for this occasion, we bought a suitable scaffolding, which arrived in Kosovo and Metohija with with the help of the Diocese of Raška-Prizren and covered the first six meters of the chapel's height. The rest of the height is covered by a remote-controlled camera mounted on a special six-meter tripod. For each chapel and altar area, the scaffolding had to be assembled and disassembled all the way to the bottom. Photographing the columns in the nave was easier because the scaffolding was assembled only once. Since it was basically on wheels, it was moved from column to column and placed in the most convenient places. Taking photos in the narrow spaces around the pillars was also quite challenging.
With the love and care of His Grace Bishop Theodosius and the sisters of the monastery, our team was strengthened with food and refreshments every day during the stay. Our gratitude for their kindness is enormous because we always realize in the most beautiful way how much joy they have when we visit them. We had a particularly lovely meeting at the Sušica monastery at dinner with Mother Irina, the abbess of the monastery, abbot Mihailo of the Holy Archangels monastery, and friends from Gračanica.
Photos of the church of the Gračanica monastery from our collection were used during December 2022 and January 2023 at an exceptionally well-attended exhibition in the Gallery of the Serbian Academy of Sciences and Arts in Belgrade. The collection we had then is now fully rounded, and the photographing has been completed.
After recording in Gračanica, the BLAGO Fund team visited Lipljan, where we photographed frescoes and architecture of the medieval church in this city. This church was also photographed in 2008, but due to the subsequent cleaning of the frescoes, it was necessary to immortalize its splendor again.
The next destination was Budisavci monastery, where we were welcomed by Mother Matrona, who herself in bad physical health tends to two sick nuns. We did the photography according to the previously set plan, which included detailed exterior and interior photography, panoramas for a virtual walk, and drone photography, both of the exterior and the elevated parts of the church.
On the way from the monastery, we had a slight problem with the vehicle. With quick help from the local Albanian villagers, we overcame the issues and continued our journey toward the village of Crkolez.
The church in the village of Crkolez is also a medieval pearl we photographed this time. In socializing with the priest and the locals, we learned about all the challenges they have gone through and are still facing now. Nonetheless, we also felt their healthy spiritual energy of life, which helps them overcome everyday challenges.
We left Kosovo and Metohija by driving past Lake Gazivode and ended the expedition by returning to Jagodina and Belgrade.
Participants in this BLAGO expedition: Prof. Dr. Dragan Vojvodić, Dr. Ivana Lemcool, Branko Jovanović, Zoran Jovanović, Vladimir Aćimović, and Nenad Vukićević.
The BLAGO Fund is grateful for the selfless help from:
- Živojin Rakočević, for accommodation and hospitality
- Abbot Mihajlo, for placing and guarding the photographic scaffolding
- Abbess Irina, for the hospitality shown
- Siniša and Dragiša Živić, for logistics and setting up the scaffolding in Gračanica
- Gračanica Monastery for their hospitality
- Budisavci Monastery for their hospitality
- Townspeople of Crkolez and priest Nebojša Sekulić on hospitality and understanding
- Priest Dragiša Jerinić from Lipljan for hospitality