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The Patriarchate of Pec:
The Church of st. Nicholas

The small Church of St. Nicholas leans against the south wall of the Church of the Virgin, but it is separated from the three united churches. This church, too, was built by Archbishop Danilo II, approximately at the same time when he built the Church of the Virgin and the narthex with the tower, between 1330 and 1337.

The architectural design of the small Church of St. Nicholas is very simple. It is a building constructed of bricks and stone. It has a tunnel vault, which is reinforced by a supporting arch resting on two pilasters. The small apse is three-sided on the outside.

The Church of St. Nicholas, Death of the Virgin, detail, 4673/74

A porch, originally open, stood before the west facade of the Church of St. Nicholas and a part of the south wall of the Church of the Virgin. Later it was replaced by another, which was not suitable, so that it was removed during the restoration of the Patriarchate of Pec in 1932. Now the sarcophagus of Patriarch Maksim (1656-1673) stands in front of the Church of St. Nicholas, in the area of the former porch. A carved inscription on the lid states that the Patriarch died in 1680.

It is not quite certain that the Church of St. Nicholas was decorated with frescoes in the 14th century, because the biography of Danilo II mentions merely that the church was adorned. Nevertheless, traces of old frescoes on the base of the south wall of the sanctuary seem to indicate this.

An inscription above the entrance door on the inside says that the church was painted at the expense of Patriarch Maksim at the end of 1673 or before the autumn of 1674.

The Church of St. Nicholas, St. Nicholas comes to school, 1673/74

Although this inscription does not mention that the artist was Radul, the best-known artist of the seventh and eighth decades of the 17th century, the experts agree that it was him who painted the little Church of St. Nicholas.

Radul's wall paintings are not distinguished by high quality, but they deserve attention because of their interesting subject matter. The first zone on the south wall contains the founder's composition: Patriarch Maksim, led by St. Nicholas, approaches Christ. The portrait of Patriarch Maksim was the most important of all these figures, but it is unfortunately rather decayed, like some other figures in the first zone. The patriarch's face is particularly heavily damaged, but the rich mitre on his head and part of his dark red upper robe have been preserved. The opposite, north wall contains, also in the first zone, Radul's paintings of the most eminent Serbian saints, predominantly founders of the Patriarchate of Pec: Stefan Nemanja as a monk, St. Sava of Serbia and Archbishops Arsenije I and Danilo II.

The choice of the other individual fiures is quite usual: the famous archbishops are shown in the Adoration of the Lamb in the sanctuary, the entrance is guarded by Archangels Michael and Gabriel, hermits stylites are represented on the pilasters, Annunciation is represented in the sanctuary, and the Assumption of the Virgin is on the west wall. The very full cycle of St. Nicholas reveals, however, a number of unusual iconographic details. As many as twenty-five compositions dealing with the life and posthumous miracles of this saint are arranged along the entire length of the vault, which is too much for a small church. Among the miracles, some of which are rarely illustrated, two are associated with Stefan Decanski. As Grigorije Tzamblak narrates, St. Nicholas promised at Ovce Polje to the Serbian prince, whose eyes had been put out, that he would restore his sight, and he fulfilled his promise in Constantinople, where the blind Stefan was kept in captivity. This association of the Serbian ruler with St. Nicholas is another example of the wish of the Serbian Church to emphasise the saintliness of its rulers.

The Church of St. Nicholas, Archangel Michael, 1673/74

A small group of paintings within the cycle of St. Nicholas shows traces of Russian influence. The group illustrates the miraculous story of St. Nicholas and the Polovec, represented in five scenes on the north side of the vault of the nave. Its implication is clear enough: the saint sees to it that the vows made before his icon are observed, and he punishes severely the Polovec, who refused to pay the Russian the promised ransom. The paintings in the Church of St. Nicholas, are deficient in several points of craftsmanship: the proportions are unnatural, the colours are neither varied nor clear, the simplified compositional patterns are tediously repetitive. Nevertheless, a certain level of artistic quality is still maintained; the real breakdown was to occur some fifteen years later, at the time of the Great Migration of the Serbs.


The present wooden iconostasis in the Church of St. Nicholas was made in 1677, soon after the painting of the church. Its icons, the Virgin and Christ with St. Nicholas, are now kept in the treasury, which is housed in the Church of St. Demetrius. The only remaining part of this iconostasis is the skilfully carved and gilded wooden frame, which holds more recent icons now.

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