Page 558 - Kosovo Metohija Heritage
P. 558

On Gračanica Monastery and the Fresco of the Dormition
Rebecca West
 It happens that there stands on the plain of Kosovo, some miles
south of the actual battle-
field, a building which dem-
onstrates what sort of civi-
lization fell with the Serbs.
it proves it as no nationalist
rhetoric could hope to do,
it leaves no room for differ-
ences of opinion, for it is a
chunk of the Nemanyan
[Nemanjić] empire, irrefut-
able testimony to its quality.
We drove along the straight
road, through low-spirited
villages, past herds and
flocks, all of them ornery, plain ornery, and slouching peasants, so few that the Land was almost empty as the sky; and we turned into a lane leading towards the hills, through fields whose crops were smothered by those aro- matic flowers which are half-way to being scrub. i would fear to say that it was not rich ground, but it is being re- claimed after centuries of avid and ignorant farming, and the effect is destitution. There was no sufficiency anywhere save in the scented handsome sprawl of honeysuckle in the hedges. Then, across a field grey-green with the young maize, we saw a settlement of smallish farms lying among low trees, and in the midst of them a rose-red dome upheld by four lesser domes of the same warm and transparent color. These made, as the dominant shape of a religious building should do, a reference to the reality which lies above the world of appearances, to the order which tran- scends the disorder of events. even from this distance it could be seen that Gračanica was as religious a building as Chartres Cathedral; though it made a simpler and smaller statement, the thought and feeling behind it were as com- plex, and the sublime subject matter was the same. But it was as if Chartres Cathedral should stand alone on a Land that has been shorn of all that was France when it was built and has been France since then; with no Paris, no Sorbonne, no academie Francaise, in fact not a single modern repre- sentation of the culture that built the cathedral, and not a single trace within miles of the well-being that affords a
physical basis for this cul- ture, not a plump chicken, nor a pound of butter, nor a bottle of good wine, nor a comfortable mattress. Such spectacles are commonplace in africa or asia or ameri- ca, which have their Pyra- mids and angkor Wat and inca memorials, but in eu- rope we are not accustomed to them. Our forms of his- toric tragedy have blotted a paragraph here and there, but they have rarely torn out the leaves of a whole volume, letting only a colored fron-
tispiece remain to tease us. Of Gračanica, however, catas- trophe has left us nothing but Gračanica...
...This was King Milutin. in the twelfth century the Ne- manyas [Nemanjić], a family of chieftains who lived in a petty fortress on the Montenegrin border near the adri- atic coastline, produced a genius in the person of St. Sava and a man of great talent in his brother, King Stephen the First-crowned, who together founded a stable Christian Serbian state, which their descendants expanded north to- wards the Danube, east towards the Vardar river, and south into Byzantine territory. When the dynasty had been un- der way about a hundred and fifty years Milutin came to the throne, and in himself and his royal functions his like- ness to Henry Viii was very strong.
He worked marvels for his country, but was untender to many of his subjects. He hungered hotly for women, but was cold as ice when he discarded them or used them as political instruments. He was ardently devout, but used his religion as a counter in his international relationships with- out showing a sign of scruple. There is a robustness in him that charms from the yonder side of the grave, but without doubt his vitals were eaten by the worm of melancholy. His picture is among the frescos here. He stands, deeply beard- ed, in the costume worn by Serbian royalty, which is clear- ly imitated from the Byzantine mode: a stiff tunic of rich material studded with jewels, which disregards the frailty of the enclosed flesh and constrains it to magnificence.

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