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A Journey through the Eparchy of Dalmatia

July 1, 2017
Dijana Matijević
San Issue 9 - Summer 2017

From Vrlika to Ervenik, in the region of Northern Dalmatia and the Dalmatian Hinterlands, six monastaries of the Serbian Orthodox Church span a distance of 100 kilometres.


The Monasteries of the Eparchy of Dalmatia


            The Krupa, Krka, and Dragović monasteries were founded in the 14th century, they have always been centers of faith, spirituality, culture, and history for the Serbian people of Dalmatia. They have also been described in the works of our great figures, who often spent time in them: Dositej Obradović, Nikola Tesla, Simo Matavulj, Miloš Crnjanski, Laza Kostić, and in more recent times, Momo Kapor. In this Dalmatian Kosovo the Holy Lazarica Monastery was founded in the 19th century. At the start of this century, the Saint Basil of Ostrog in Crnogorci and the Saint Kyriaki in Očestvo were founded, the latter of which is the first female monastery in this region.

The Krupa Monastary is found at the base of the Velebit mountain range, near the river which shares the monastery’s name. It was built in 1317 during the reign of King Milutin. It was ravaged and rebuilt in 1345 during the time of King Dušan, which is attested to by an inscription on an arch inside the monastery’s church. The monastery suffered greatly during Turkish rule and Pavelić’s NDH. Every time it has been renewed, as it has been today, after the recent war. Unfortunately, there is no current monastic brotherhood at the monastery. The frescoes within the monastery’s church, painted in 1622, are invaluable, as are the icons of the Cretan School by Jovan Apok, part of the remains of Saint Hierothios, and the 22 Turkish laws (fermans), published by Sultan Mustafa II in Istanbul, one of which addresses the protection of the Krka Monastary

            The Krka Monastery is located in the canyon of the emerald-freen Krka River, not far from Kistanje. It was founded in 1350 and its patron was the Serbian princess Jelena, the sister of King Dušan, wife of Mladen Šubić, a lord of Bribar (a place in Dalmatia). It is believed that the monastery was founded by monks that arrived from the Holy Land, from the Monastery of the Holy Archangel Michael which was founded there by King Milutin. Acting on the advice of the monk, Ruvim, spiritual advisor to the princess Jelena, a monastery dedicated to the Holy Archangel Michael was established, known to the people as the Krka Monastery. The main church of the monastery was built over catacombs which, according to legend, were visited by Paul the Apostle in his mission to proselytize Christianity and baptize the inhabitants of the region. In 1615, the first educational institution for the clergy was opened, the Seminary of the Three Holy Hierarchs. Except for periods of persecution and war, the seminary continues its four-century-long work to the present day. The Krka Monastery houses the epitrachelion of Saint Sava, the Octoechos of Božidar Vuković, a book inscribed by Vuk Karađić and Dositej Obradović, as well as the fragments of the remains of many Saints: Saint Nicholas, Saint Tryphon, Saint Charalambos, Saint Basil, among others.

            The Dragović Monastery was founded in 1395 after the Battle of Kosovo and along the Cetina River, not far from Vrlika. It is as if the Dragović Monastery fulfilled the record left by the anonymous chronicler who wrote: “Of all the monasteries, Dragović has been the least fortunate.” The monastery has been relocated twice. The first was due to an unstable foundation and excessive humidity to a place called Vinogradi. Less than a hundred years later, in the 1950s, it was moved again due to the construction of a hydroelectric power plant on the Cetina River, and the Orthodox brotherhood was scattered to various other locations. The monastery was ravaged multiple times by the Turks until, in 1480, the monks themselves deserted it, although it was re-inhabited about twenty years later. The monastery faced misfortune in the recent war as well, deserted and half-demolished. The Octoecho from the 14th century at this monastery, the Menaion for the month of May from 1531, written in Studenica, a book published in Ostrog in 1594, and a Zakonopravilo (Krmčija) published in Moscow in 1653 were all able to be seen in the monastery up until the recent war.


The Beauty of Nature


            Apart from the monasteries, this region contains much natural beauty and many historical monuments. In the Dalmatian Hinterlands, near Sinj at the foot of the Dinara and Troglav mountains which is not far from Vrlika, the Gospodska Cave, famous for its prehistoric archeological finds, is found above the mouth of the Cetina River. This region also abounds in beautiful fields and fortresses, such as the Prozor Fortress, situated on a nearly-inaccessible rock above Vrlika. The natural beauty of Bukovica, near Benkovac, is under the protection of the government and the Krka National Park. Along its course, the Krka River goes over a large number of cascades and waterfalls, the first of which is Bilušića Buk. The longest is Skradinarski Buk, which is made up of calcium carbonate waterfalls, islands, and lakes. Manojlovački Slap is the tallest and is considered by many to be the most beautiful waterfall along the Krka River. Roški Slap, locally known as “Ogrlica” (Necklace), consists of innumerable smaller waterfalls and offshoots. Some large tourist attractions are an 8.5 km. hiking trail which goes between Stinica and Roški Slap, and Oziđana Cave in which the remnants of Neolithic culture were found. The Karinian Sea, with one of the rare, natural beaches on the Adriatic, is famous for its mud baths full of healing properties and is a gathering place for displaced Serbs, whose ancestral roots are in this region.


Historical Monuments

            The oldest historical monuments are from the Neolithic period in Smilčić. The Roman military camp, Burnum, was built in the 1st century and the arches which once belonged to the military command building are still seen today, as well as an excellently-preserved amphitheatre, an aqueduct, and the remnants of the road from Constantinople to Rome. The city of Knin is famous for its fortress from the 10th century, and Venkovac is known for the 15th century settlement (kaštel) which dominates the town. In the village of Islam Grčki, in the Ravni Kotari region, the preserved 17th century tower of Sirdar Janković still stands. This region is best described in the works of Sima Matavulj, the lyrical prose of Vladan Desnica, and also became renowned thanks to the heroic deeds of Stojan Janković and Vuk Mandušić.

The remnants of Serbian influence in Dalmatia are deeply present, and Dalmatian monasteries, especially the Seminary of the Krka Monastery which has existed for 400 years, are testaments to the perseverance and the struggle of the Serbian people to remain and survive in these regions, despite their many historical trials and tribulations.

 Less Familiar Words and Phrases:

Octoecho – hymnal composition in eight parts (osmoglasnik), a book of hymns containing morning prayers, evening prayers, and the liturgy for each of the seven days of the week, arranged for eight voices.

Menaion – in the Orthodox Church: a monthly liturgical book used during services which contains troparions and everything that is sung during holidays, divided by month.

Epitrachelion – the part of an Orthodox priest’s clothing worn around the neck.

Zakonopravilo (Krmčija) – a legal code containing, apart from ecclesiastical laws, social laws as well.

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