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 Serbia’s Monuments in Kosovo and Rascia (Raška)
Alex Dragnich and Slavko Todorovich
Visiting the territories of former Rascia (Raška) and Kosovo, one encounters many visible landmarks that are witnesses to Serbia’s medieval grandeur. an ex-
tensive discussion of these art monuments is beyond the scope of this study. Rather, in this brief chapter some of the surviving monuments will be examined as documents of Serbia’s cultural legacy in Kosovo and adjoining areas.
Serbia’s (Raška’s) opportunity to firmly establish its cul- tural presence in the Byzantine-dominated Balkans came with Serbia’s methodical consolidation of her rise as a po- litical power under a single and powerful leader. This evo- lution in Serbia’s medieval history was particularly active in the latter half of the 12th century, when the Latin West, led by the Venetians, struck against Byzantium during the Fourth Crusade and finally sacked Constantinople in 1204. Serbia was thus presented with circumstances favorable to the advance of its own political and religious cause, due in no small part to the divisions within the Byzantine empire, divisions that lasted until the restoration of the empire in 1261 under the Palaeologan dynasty.
Nemanja, the founder of Serbian medieval statehood, deserves the credit for not missing the chance to advance the Serbian cause politically, and his son Sava was equally responsible for expanding Serbia in the realm of culture and art. Nemanja was certainly aware of the need for a strong Serbian political unit that required cultural mani- festations that could easily be identified with the Serbian people. The choice of Sava to implement these political and cultural plans was not accidental. as a politically as- tute leader, Nemanja knew that the great centers of Con- stantinople and Thessalonika in the east, and his own Zeta littoral in the west, were culturally rich but stylistically di- verse regions. Byzantium abounded in artists of every kind, while the coast of Zeta provided stone masons of unparal- leled skills. But it was only under the generous patronage of the members of the Nemanjić dynasty, and above all un- der the sage and brilliant guidance of Sava, that these two different artistic outlooks could be united to produce from old tradition-bound forms new and creative combinations that could easily be identified as the art style of Raška.
Sava, a Mount athos monk, scholar, and theologian trained in Hilandar Monastery, was eminently prepared to
build the foundations upon which a national culture would grow within the religious environment of eastern Ortho- doxy. as a man of his time, a diplomat above all, serving his newly-born state, he had the opportunity to know most of the leading figures of the era—from emperors sitting on the various thrones of segmented Byzantium to the heads of Churches and spiritual leaders of monastic communities from Nicaea and jerusalem to the shores of the adriatic and beyond. in his travels he became acquainted with architec- ture and religious art in the churches and monasteries throughout Byzantium and all the way to the Holy Land.
Sava learned from the treasured stores of knowledge safeguarded in monastic libraries. He must have known personally many of his contemporary learned authors and theologians, either as friends or adversaries. He was able to commission from Constantinople works by some of the most outstanding painters of that period. Never again in its history would Serbia have a son of his stature and im- pact. He was the youngest member of the family, whose father was to follow in his footsteps as a monk, and whose ruling brothers would listen to and heed his advice.
abroad, the Byzantines were distrustful of him (the Greek archbishop of neighboring Ohrid anathematized him when he succeeded in gaining autocephaly for the Ser- bian Church), but still needed him. The Bulgarians revered him, while the papal alliance avoided dealing with him.
When the Byzantines and the Latins were dividing the Balkans, Sava made sure that the dividing line did not go through Rascia. He was determined to withstand Roman Catholic religious pressures, and to establish Orthodoxy as a national faith, and through translated liturgical services to give it a Serbian character.
These unique geo-political circumstances had a lasting impact upon the evolving Serbian cultural manifestations, the surviving remains of which can readily be seen not only in the former lands of Raška and Kosovo, but even and be- yond Nemanja, who did not want to be remembered by castles or fortresses but by churches, and Sava proved to be a magnificent combination: a pragmatic father to construct a viable frame and a sophisticated and artistically sensitive son to fill it with relevant content. above all, Nemanja and Sava set a precedent to be followed by the other members

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