Diary of a Serbophile, Serbian Community, Visit Serbia


May 1, 2018
Sale Dugokosi
San Issue 12 - Spring/Пролеће 2018

I had been to Ravanica Monastery several times in my journeys across Serbia. It’s close to the highway we often travel, and it was always of interest to me for its singular place in the history of the Morava style.

Over multiple visits, I noticed something new each time that I hadn’t before. I was accustomed to this phenomenon when visiting such sites, but nowhere was it more evident than at this venerated spot. On my most recent visit, it gave up a secret that has haunted me since.

Ravanica, while unique, is typical of its period. The usual hallmarks of the Serbian medieval monastery are there: the choice location next to a small river surrounded by green hills, the farm plot and apiary for the monastics, and the devotional pearl in the centre hiding a harmony of structure, decoratively sculpted on the outside and adorned with frescoes and the scent of tamjan within. Add to this the fortress walls built against and ruined by the encroaching

Ottomans, and you have an enchanting scene out of a dream. It is always in these special places that I find a tranquility I desperately need, and I invariably realise how deep this need is the minute I perceive it all around me.

Of course, monasteries like Ravanica were built and garnished with belief and divine worship in mind and heart, and so perhaps I should mention my atheism. I used to believe once, long ago, but my capacity for religious faith faded as my life moved on and I learned the logic of science. Blasphemy, I came to think, is a victimless crime.

And yet every summer I find myself in front of some ancient Serbian shrine, inspired and enthralled with wonder at the motivations of its creators, and transfixed by the traces of older patterns reverberating through their work. I become conscious that something intangible is taking place. I won’t den y that my perceptions are tainted by my interest in the history and evolution of our shared human project. With the eye of my curious mind I search for the signs of Europe›s pagan past, the currents of belief

that moved like the rivers through these valleys and shaped devotional art through the centuries.

Those spiritual and artistic influences joined the main line of cultural transmission received from the Egyptian and then the Greco-Roman civilisations. These were the things Byzantium inherited and that Serbian Orthodoxy preserved and restored in the face of the Ottoman occupation. Ravanica was the place where I began to perceive what predates Christianity, peeking through the remains of the pounding and pillaging that almost all Serbian monuments have endured.

And so it was, on my fourth visit to this fabled monastery, that my scrutiny revealed a detail previously unnoticed in the upper left-hand corner of the heavily damaged window frame outside the eastern apse.

Etched into stone and staring back at me long before I realised I was being stared at, was what appeared to be a ghostly face hidden in a faux pillar. It wore an expression of patient wisdom, but not without an air of

tragic discontent for all the suffering it had witnessed. I found myself simultaneously intrigued and disquieted.

It was as if I was looking into some sort of historical window at the accumulated faces of the cultures and peoples who’ve inhabited these lands.

Suddenly, nothing was as it seemed.

Everything my eyes fell upon reflected back what was previously hidden in plain sight, mysteriously vibrant with the echoes of past forms. I shivered with awe before this revelation and I felt connected, in what I can only describe as a spiritual way, to both myself and the course of our human journey, past, present and future. Discovering these treasures put me in direct contact with the ineffable river of time I had been searching for.

And it was thus that this land’s medieval heritage opened an avenue of self-awareness and fulfillment that underscores my fascination with her.

Hvala Srbijo.

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