I have visited dozens of Orthodox monasteries all over Montenegro. Each one has something special: its architecture and position, beautiful frescoes and icons, a peaceful garden, stories about miracles, a turbulent past… It is difficult to select 5 outstanding monasteries that are typical for Montenegro, its culture and religion, but I’ll give it a try:
- Holy Trinity Monastery (Sveta Trojica) in Pljevlja
What is so amazing about this monastery? First of all, the impressive architecture of this well-preserved complex, built in the 16th century (photo 1). I was really surprised to see that it totally differs from that of other monasteries in the region; it reminded me of some stunning monasteries I visited in Bulgaria. Situated among the hills surrounding Pljevlja, above the source of the Breznica river, the monastery is immersed in the lush greenery of a vast and quiet park. But the courtyard and internal buildings are very interesting as well (photo 2): the Holy Trinity Church and its narthex show beautiful frescoes, painted by Priest Strahinja from Budimlje around 1600. The monastery is also famous for its scriptorial school and treasury with a wonderful collection of icons, while the library holds several copies of valuable illuminated manuscripts and rare copies of printed books.
- Ostrog Monastery
If you believe in miracles, you should visit the famous monastery of Ostrog, one of the most frequently visited pilgrimage sites of the Balkans (photo 3). Carved in steep cliffs (900 m above sea level) between Danilovgrad and Nikšić, it is dedicated to Saint Basil (Sveti Vasilije), who lived in the 17th century and whose body is enshrined in a reliquary kept in one of the two small cave-chapels. According to the legend, Saint Basil’s body was found seven years after his death, and had not decomposed at all. Ostrog is visited by pilgrims of all confessions: Orthodox, Catholics and Muslims. A lot of people have told stories about the spiritual changes that happened in their lives after visiting the monastery. Yet many more claim that they were healed of physical diseases. They like to tell the story that, once upon a time, there was a mother who left a wooden cradle on top of a wall near the monastery. The baby moved in the cradle so that it fell off the wall from about 70 meters high. The baby remained unharmed – a real miracle! Near the Monastery is a large “konak” that offers overnight possibilities for visitors. Around the complex, souvenir shops are selling religious souvenirs. Although these activities spoil the mystic atmosphere of this beautiful place, I suppose that there are no alternatives for satisfying the needs of both pilgrims and tourists… (see also: http://montenegro-for.me/2013/08/round-trip-with-visit-to-the-ostrog-monastery/)
- Piva Monastery
It’s true, the Piva monastery is not particularly attractive, but it has a very interesting history: it was originally built between 1573 and 1586 at the source of the Piva River, but when a dam and storage lake had to be built for the needs of the Piva Hydroelectric Plant, it was relocated to another site, 9 km from Plužine. The church building was carefully taken apart and then rebuilt, stone by stone, along with its 1,260 square meters of frescoes that were removed from the church walls and transferred to the new location. The works lasted for over a decade, from 1970 to 1982.
When I visited the monastery, I could not stop admiring the beautiful frescoes, painted by priest Strahinja from Budimlje (photo 4) and the gilded, richly carved iconostasis with icons painted by the famous painted Kozma in 1626. I was deeply impressed by the mystic atmosphere in this “rebuilt” church (photo 5).
- Cetinje Monastery
The monastery of Cetinje was first erected by the Crnojevići family in 1482, but this building was destroyed by the Ottomans. The present monastery was built in 1701 by Prince Danilo, founder of the Petrović- Njegoš dynasty (photo 6). In the centre of the complex there is a church dedicated to Virgin Mary’s Nativity, with a reliquary of St. Peter of Cetinje. Apart from the original architecture of this monastery, I find this monastery particularly interesting for its treasury-museum, which contains an outstanding collection of manuscripts and old printed books from the 13th to 18th century and two important relics, the hand of Saint John the Baptist and a fragment of the Holy Cross. Since the Cetinje monastery was the residence of Montenegrin rulers, numerous valuable items related to their spiritual rites were also preserved: panhagios, robes, miters, scepters, etc. This is certainly one of the most beautiful treasuries in Montenegro!
- Morača Monastery
The Morača Monastery, built in 1252 by Stefan Nemanja in typical Byzantine style, is situated at a distance of 46 km from Podgorica. The architecture of the monastery complex is quite simple (photo 7). It consists of the church of the Assumption of the Holy Virgin, the small church of St. Nicholas and the sleeping quarters. When I entered the beautiful garden courtyard for the first time, I got the feeling as if I stepped back into the 13th century. That was also the time when the frescoes were painted; the most famous one is “The Raven feeds the Prophet Elijah”. What impressed me most was the iconostasis. No wonder that the icons in this Monastery belong to the most famous medieval icons of the world; they are mentioned in many foreign books about medieval art. But also the small St. Nicholas church contains frescoes of an astonishing quality and beauty (photo 6). (see also: http://montenegro-for.me/2015/01/monasteries-moraca-canyon/)
Nowadays, it is difficult for me to show you the beauties of frescoes and icons displayed in the interiors of churches and monasteries. Unfortunately, it is not allowed to take photos without the written permission of the Serbian-Orthodox Metropolitan Amfilohije. This is a practice we already knew from our visits to Macedonia and Serbia, but for instance in Russia, Ukraine and Bulgaria you can buy a photo permit, often at a price that is much higher than the entrance ticket. Wouldn’t that be a good possibility for the Orthodox Church in Montenegro to obtain some additional money for restoration purposes?