The Theotokos of Ljevis, Prizren
For over two decades, BLAGO Fund has worked on recording, archiving, presenting and preserving the Serbian artistic, cultural and spiritual heritage in a systematic and professional manner, by using advanced photography and information technologies. In June of 2019, BLAGO went again to Kosovo and Metohija. This time our destination was the city of Prizren with its churches: “The Theotokos of Ljevis” (endowment of King Milutin), churches of Holy Salvation (endowment of Mladen Vladojevic) and St. Nicholas (endowment of Dragoslav Tutic), and the church of St. George (endowment of family Runovic).
As we were unable to rent a van (no rental agencies allowed their vehicles to cross into Kosovo), our personnel and equipment were somewhat limited to two passenger cars. One of them was provided by our sponsor in Serbia, Informatika from Belgrade.
BLAGO Team in Prizren
This year we have some special guests on the team: Prof. Dragan Vojvodic, Ph.D. (Art History, Faculty of Philosophy, Belgrade) and Assistant Prof. Vladimir Peric (Photography, Faculty of Philosophy, Belgrade). Together with its standard members - Nenad Vukicevic, Gordana Kelic, Ljubomir Medenica, Zoran Jovanovic, Ivana Ignjatovic, and Vladimir Acimovic - the BLAGO team left Belgrade early in the morning on June 17th and quickly arrived in Jagodina for additional equipment loading and adjustment.
Our next stop was in the Monastery Koncul on the outskirts of Raska, where we met His Grace, Bishop Teodosije of Rasko-Prizrenska Diocese of the Serbian Orthodox Church. We are greatly thankful for his blessing and support of our projects in the past.
Bishop Teodosije with Blago Team, Monastery Koncul
Later in the afternoon, we arrived at our final destination of the day, Monastery of the Holy Archangels near Prizren, where we were welcomed by a dear friend and abbot, father Mihailo. We spent five nights in the monastery while working in Prizren during the day.
Monastery Saint Archangels
The next morning, the third day of the Pentecost, one part of our team attended liturgy at Monastery High Decani, and the other one visited Monastery Susica near Gracanica (endowment of King Milutin). In all these places, members of the BLAGO team met with old friends - sister Irina, abbot of Monastery Susica, many monks from Decani, and Boban Todorovic, curator of Gracanica. Our visit to Monastery Susica was exceptionally enlightening, as we participated in the Holy Liturgy, a procession around the church, the cutting of the Slava bread, as well as very authentic Slava lunch and folk music celebration.
Village Susica slava, Monastery St George
Moving around Kosovo was smooth and pleasant at all times. Much of it was along the highway Pristina-Tirana, which is well marked with traffic signage.
Our first working day was Wednesday, June 19th. Father Djordje from Prizren opened the church of The Theotokos of Ljevis for us and we offloaded all our equipment. Our team immediately got to work, starting with the creation of the church VR and making detailed plans for taking pictures of fresco paintings. Large areas of painted walls, especially the upper parts of the nave and the dome, are accessible only with the scaffolding which was provided by the Diocese and brought from Monastery Gracanica. Mounting the scaffolding and taking pictures of the dome frescoes took the rest of the day.
The Church Theotokos of Ljevis
The construction of the church was commissioned in 1306–09 by Serbian King Stefan Milutin. It was built on the site of the ruins of an earlier Byzantine church, whose original name Metera Eleousa was preserved in Slavic as Bogorodica Ljeviška.
Since 2004, all the churches in Prizren are guarded by the Kosovo police. We were in contact with them every day, at first a bit reserved, but later more open and friendly. As a token of goodwill, we provided coffee and refreshments and often talked about everyday issues and news (not politics). Some of them talked about their memories from central Serbia, one of them claiming Cuprija is his second home town as he served the army there and trained athletics. We found a similar friendliness from the local bakers, shop keepers, and parking guards.
We continued our work on Thursday, and as time was short, we had to work in parallel. Prof Peric focused on the already cleaned up frescos in the lower zones, while Nenad was working the higher ones. At the same time, Zoran was taking photographs of the St George church. A plan was devised for the church of the Holy Savior which is on the hill overlooking the city and required scaffolding.
Saint George Church
The St. George – Runovic Church is located in the Centre of Prizren, within the premises of the Cathedral of St. George. The building was constructed by the late 15th century and early 16th century, by Runovic Brothers in a tribute to St. George.
Saint Nicholas Church
The Church of St. Nicholas, also known as Tutić Church is an Orthodox church located in Prizren. It was founded in 1331-1332 by Dragoslav Tutić, whose monastic name was Nikola (Nicholas), and his wife Bela.
The work on Friday was in part dedicated to the rich medieval written heritage. The first steps in digitizing our written heritage were done in 2004 in Monastery Manasija, with a strong encouragement after finding a letter from the abbot Sofronija from 1918 (see the movie that was created based on its content). Nenad and Vladimir visited Monastery Dubok Potok, that holds the valuable manuscripts from the XVI century.
The material has been scanned and the produced digital content will be professionally processed and researched conserved by Prof. Zoran Rankovic from the School of Theology of Belgrade University. The other part of the team finished all the work in Ljeviska, St Nicholas, and St George. Half of the scaffolding was moved to the church of the Holy Savior, and the other half was used to finish the four small domes in Ljeviska. Fresco painting in the small domes is not easily accessible, and a special remotely controlled camera attached to the 6-meter poll was used, based on the BLAGO team’s experience from previous expeditions.
Theotokos of Ljevis Frescos
Saturday is the last day of our expedition, and it was fulfilled with the work on the Holy Savior church. As we were unable to bring our own drone for aerial photography, a local photographer was hired, and we were able to create aerial video and photographs of all four churches. Father Djordje was kind enough to provide all the necessary permits with local authorities.
Holy Savior Church
The Church of the Holy Savior is located on the hill overlooking Prizren, a beautiful place on the trail for the old fortress of Kaljaja at the top of the hill. The fortress itself is visited by many tourists from all over the world, however, the church is locked and not accessible, unless there is a service (or when we were there). During our work, we opened the gate and many tourists came through, the church for the XIV century is visible and very attractive. We estimate that more than 200 people went through for the few hours before we left.
Our stay in Prizren, a town of rich history and cultural heritage, was finished with a fresh Prizren “boza” beverage and a stroll through the city center.
In the end, we need to mention that we used the latest photography equipment, in terms of image resolution, sensitivity, and flexibility for work in the field. Every day started at 6 am and finished after 9 pm, and we are thankful to Father Mihailo, monks, and working crew in the monastery for providing hospitality and flexibility for our working hours. Our trip organization and experience allowed us to complete all of the established goals.
Everyone on our team will cherish this experience and the feeling of taking part in the lofty task of preserving and protecting the continuity of the Christian identity and heritage of the area. Our deep and heartfelt thanks go to all that helped us in different ways in this undertaking, and above all to the hospitable and loving brotherhood of Holy Archangels Monastery led by their abbot Father Mihailo, without whose blessing and support this project would not have been possible.
OTHER LINKS - PRIZREN 2019
BLAGO Fund continues in its quest of preservation and promotion of the Serbian heritage. Our field expedition to Prizren is just the beginning of a long and tedious process of cataloging and publishing of the recorded material. Almost 10,000 pictures and VR movies will be placed on our web site in the near future. At the same time, we plan some other expeditions in October and March of the next year.