The Patriarchate of Pec, a group of churches in the immediate neighbourhood of Pec and at the entrance to the Rugovo gorge, is one of the most important monuments of the Serbian past. It was the centre of the Serbian church for centuries. From its origin in the 13th century the Patriarchate attracted learned divines, reputed writers and gifted artists, and all of them have left traces of their work in it. It is therefore not only the centre of the Serbian Church, but also an important repository of its cultural heritage.
The precise date of the foundation of the mother church in the Patriarchate of Pec is not known. It would seem that the site on which the Patriarchate of Pec stands now became the property of the Zica monastery, the previous seat of the Serbian archbishopric, already at the time of St. Sava of Serbia.
Archbishop Arsenije I erected on this estate a church dedicated to the Apostles because he wanted the centre of the Serbian Church to be removed to a less exposed place and nearer the centre of the state. Soon afterwards, about 1250, he had it painted. Some time later the church began to be also called St. Saviour, a name given to it in commemoration of the consecration of Zica.
The Church of St. Demetrius, north of this earliest church, was built by Archbishop Nikodim around 1320.
A decade later, Nikodim's successor, the well-known writer Archbishop Danilo II, built a church dedicated to the Virgin Hodegitria south of the Church of the Apostles, and also added, south of the Church of the Virgin, the small Church of St. Nicholas. Danilo II then raised a monumental narthex in front of the three main churches, and a tower in front of the narthex. In the time of Archbishop Joanikije, c. 1345, the Church of St. Demetrius, which had not been painted by then, got fresco decoration. Minor reconstruction works were also carried out in the Church of the Apostles during the 14th century, so that some parts of the building were subsequently painted. The archbishops and patriarchs of Pec were buried in the churches of the Patriarchate from the 13th to the 15th centuries, and sometimes even later, until the 17th century.
After the Turkish conquest of the Serbian state the activity in the Patriarchate of Pec died away for some time, partly because the Ohrid Archbishopric took over the administration of what had been the Serbian Church territory earlier. The restoration of the church organisation of the Serbs in 1557 gave a new lease of life to the monastery, and the Patriarchate became the centre of the Serbian Church again. Danilo's narthex was repaired and for the most part painted already in 1565. At the same time the iconostases in the Pec churches were reconstructed and the treasury was replenished. The second important reconstruction was initiated by Patriarch Pajsije: the churches were covered with lead, the Church of St. Demetrius was rebuilt, and almost half of its frescoes were restored by Georgije Mitrofanovic, an eminent painter, in 1620/21. He also painted the old monastic refectory in the same year. A little later Patriarch Pajsije undertook a partial reconstruction of the Church of the Apostles; as a result, the west part of the building, in which the old frescoes had been greatly damaged, was adorned with new wall paintings in 1633/34. The roof of the refectory was also reconstructed in the same year. Mid-17th century is also the period when the Patriarchate of Pec established links with the Russian Empire. The Pec abbots travelled to Russia and brought back gifts in the form of money, printed books and liturgical requisites.
Another major restoration of the Patriarchate of Pec took place in the time of Patriarch Maksim. Within a short period, monastic buildings were enclosed (1672-1683), the little Church of St. Nicholas was painted (1673/74) and an iconostasis was made for it (1677).
The Austrian-Turkish war at the end of the 17th century brought hard times to the Patriarchate of Pec.
The Pec treasury was concealed in a dome of monastery Gracanica, but the Turks, acting upon an informer's report, found it in 1688 and plundered it. The treasure of Pec is said to have been so great that it took nine horses to carry it away. When Patriarch Arsenije III fled to Austria in 1689, the Pasha of Pec Mahmud Begovic plundered all he could find in the Patriarchate. Later, Patriarch Mojsije bought back with great difficulty the lands that had been seized, and he enclosed the monastic buildings in 1720. At that time, in 1722, the Church of the Apostles got a new iconostasis.
The Austrian-Turkish war waged in 1737-1739 also brought great hardships to the Patriarchate of Pec. In the second migration of 1739 Patriarch Arsenije IV Sakabenta took the valuables acquired in the meantime to Sremski Karlovci.
In the course of the second half of the 18th and in the 19th century, economic conditions got increasingly worse, and there was no important artistic activity in the Patriarchate of Pec, but persistent efforts were made to keep the monastery going. A new iconostasis was painted by Simeon Lazovic, a priest from Bijelo Polje, for the Church of St. Demetrius in 1803, and his son Aleksije painted some icons for the Patriarchate three years later. In 1831 the Patriarchate of Pec was plundered once again, this time by Arslan-Pasha of Bosnia.
In mid-19th century enterprising abbots erected new buildings in the monastery: a water-mill in the south-east part of the yard was restored in 1847, and a guest-house was build next to it in 1850. A richly carved Virgin's Throne was made for the Church of the Virgin around 1863, and the frescoes in the churches of the Patriarchate, particularly those in the Church of the Apostles, were restored by Avram, the son of Dico Zograph from the Debar district, in 1875. The Pec guilds raised, jointly with the administrative body of the monastery, the wall on the eastern part of the yard. At the end of the 19th century, in 1895, a representative guest-house was built in the north-western part of the yard, and a new wall was constructed on the south side of the yard in 1912.
After the end of the First World War the Serbian Church was united, and the first patriarch of the restored Patriarchate Dimitrije was invested in the Patriarchate of Pec. From that time onward all the Serbian patriarchs have been invested in the Patriarchate of Pec. Extensive conservation works, directed by architect Durde Boskovic, were carried out there in the course of 1931 and 1932 and partly restored the original appearance of the Patriarchate of Pec. After the Second World War, too, important conservation works and archaeological explorations have been carried out in the Patriarchate. The new guest-house, lying west of the narthex, was built in 1981.