Résultats Église - Cathédrale - Basilique - Chapelle Deçan (Dečani)



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A Romanesque church with rare Gothic ornamentation topped by a Byzantine dome: this white vessel with its pure lines set below a green slope is of disturbing beauty. It is the highest Serbian Orthodox church of the Middle Ages: the building is 24 m wide and 36 m long, while the dome rises to 29 m high. If the architect is clearly identified through an inscription, the nearly one thousand Serbo-Byzantine frescoes on the walls are the work of unknown artists, probably from the great "King Milutin's Court School" (1282-1321). Completed in 1350 under the reign of Stefan Dušan, this masterpiece remains forever associated with its founder, Stefan Uroš III Dečanski ("Étienne Ouroš III de Dečanski"). It was he who decided to start the work in 1327. He dedicated it to Christ "Almighty" (pantocrator in Greek). It was also he who imagined it as an ideal, an unparalleled encounter between the arts of East and West. For nearly seven centuries, almost nothing has changed.


building corresponds to the classical architecture of Byzantine churches with its inscribed cross plan, i. e. without transept: a naos ("temple") surmounted by a dome that ends in the east with an apse and is preceded in the west by a narthex ("vestibule"). And yet: this so orthodox plan is the work of a Catholic monk.

Vitus of Kotor. This Franciscan from Montenegro was chosen as the architect of the church by King Stefan Uroš III in 1327. This abbot is considered one of the greatest builders of the Balkans in the 14th century. However, we do not know of any other realization than the church of Dečani. But it is likely that this masterpiece was not his first attempt. However, almost nothing is known about him, except that he ran an abbey and monastery in Kotor, Montenegro. While it may seem surprising that a Catholic should draw the plans for an Orthodox church, it should be remembered that Kotor belonged for two centuries (1187-1389) to the Serbian kings. They then considered the Adriatic port as their jewel and granted it a large degree of religious, political and commercial autonomy. By importing the know-how of the Venetian and Tuscan masters, the Catholic monks made Kotor the second capital of Balkan architecture after Constantinople in the 14th century.

It is

with a team of thirty masters and masons from Kotor that Father Vitus settled at Dečani for eight years in 1327


The church is composed of three parts. 1) The narthex: this very high (20 m) "vestibule" includes three vessels 11 m long by 14.5 m wide. 2) The naos: even more voluminous, it extends over 13 m in length and 24 m in width with five vessels, two of which are side chapels, each with an apse. It ends with the dome mounted on a drum which culminates at 29 m high. 3) The sanctuary: made up of three parallel spaces, each ending in an apse, it reaches the same dimensions as the narthex at the level of the apse of the altar.

Proportions. Vitus de Kotor calculated the whole with the Greek foot as the main unit of measurement, which was then locally equivalent to 29 cm. The height of the dome was used as a reference since it reaches the round figure of 100 feet, or 29 m. From there, the dimensions considered to be the most harmonious were determined, with a maximum of 124 feet (35.95 m) for length and 83 feet (24.07 m) for width.

Styles. In general, the building is similar to the Romanesque Croatian Catholic churches of Dalmatia built in the 13th century, such as the St. Dominic's Church in Trogir or St. Anastasia Cathedral in Zadar. It also includes Gothic elements, notably, inside, vaults crossed by warheads. However, its drum-mounted dome and the side chapels of the nave clearly belong to the Byzantine style. Through this mixture of genres, the Church of Christ the Pantocrator can be considered as the culmination of the Serbian architectural school of Raška (11th-13th centuries). It thus appears as a more massive and purified replica of the church of the monastery of Gradac (Serbia), built around 1275 by Hélène d'Anjou, Stefan's mother Dečanski.


Massive in appearance, the church looks like a huge block of white marble cut with a chalk line. But the closer we get, the more we perceive the nuances, the more we perceive the detail of a sober setting where, here and there, bas-reliefs explode with creatures straight out of the bestiary of the medieval West.

Walls. They are made up of alternating rows of "marble" rubble of two different colours. The splendid result evokes the facade of the Basilica of St. Clare of Assisi (Italy), completed in 1265. In fact, they are not really "marbles" but stones, although they are quite expensive. The lightest rows are composed of blocks of alabaster, a pale yellow limestone called "marble-onyx" that comes from Banjica, 35 km to the northeast, near Peja/Peć. The darker rows are obtained by using breccia, a pink oxidized conglomerate rock known as "breccia marble". The latter was extracted in Bistrica, 140 km northeast, in the northern tip of Kosovo, and was also used in the 17th century for the interior decoration of Saint Peter's Basilica in the Vatican. In addition, pale yellow "marble-onyx" was also used for the decoration (doors, windows and sculptures). But this stone has proved to be fragile and bears many traces of wear and tear and cracks.

Portals. The church has three late Romanesque doors, all pierced in the narthex and decorated with carved motifs. The entrance is through the south portal, the simplest, decorated with a cross on the tympanum and framed by two griffins. The façade portal is the most imposing and most decorated. On his semicircular eardrum is Christ Pantocrator sitting on a throne, surrounded by two lions and two angels. The door is framed on each side by four pillars and columns, two of which bear the statue of a damaged lion. Above the tympanum, the outer archivolt is adorned with vine leaves that carry centaurs, knights, dragons and a wolf eating a lamb, framing, at the top, a lion carrying bunches of grapes in its open mouth. Finally, the north portal is framed by two lions and its tympanum bears a bas-relief representing the baptism of Christ. Below, the lintel bears the inscription dedicated to the architect and the two commissioned kings: "Fra Vito, a miner brother, protected by Kotor, the city of kings, built the church of the Pantocrator for King Stefan Uroš III and his son the bright and transcendent King Stefan. In the eighth year, the church was completed in the summer of 1335. "

Windows and sculptures. The church has about twenty windows. Almost all of them are in Romanesque style (semicircular arch), but some have a slight warhead shape that heralds the Gothic style, especially at the level of the dome. Their arcature also varies greatly. Two Romanesque triple arched windows supported by four columns are the most ornate. They are located at both ends of the church: one above the west portal, the other in the apse of the altar. The first has a tympanum with a bas-relief of Saint George knocking down the dragon and the capitals of its two central columns each have a lion statue. It was framed by four statues fixed to the wall with two squatting human figures and two griffins, but one of the griffins has disappeared. The triple arched window of the apse is also framed by four statues, only one of which is a lion well preserved. The central columns are topped by two small griffins. The rest of the decoration is composed of complex motifs in which plant elements (flowers, vine and acanthus leaves), dragons, a snake, various monsters, human figures or, on the tympanum, a basil, an animal from Greco-Roman mythology represented here with a cock body and a snake tail, are mixed together. Most double arched windows are also decorated (birds, dragons, basil, snakes, lamb, eagle, human faces, etc.). The most interesting is to be found on the right of the façade of the narthex: its tympanum is decorated with a bas-relief depicting an enigmatic entwined couple. Finally, still on the facade, under the frieze of the gable, note the gargoyle in the shape of a small flute player.

Narthex It

is through this "vestibule" that one enters, via the north portal, into the most decorated church of the Middle Ages (4,000 m2 of frescoes). Slightly lower than the naos it precedes, the narthex is nevertheless high, spacious and bright. Naturally illuminated by eight Romanesque windows, the space is composed of three vessels (in length) and three bays (in width) which are delimited by six columns of white marble over 6 m high. The capitals of the columns are carved with human figures and griffins. They support a series of vaults that culminate at a height of 20 m at the level of the three domes of the central vessel. All the walls and ceilings are decorated with frescos created between 1346 and 1347. These are generally well preserved, except on some parts of the walls of the lateral vessels. These paintings are made up of four major programmes (Orthodox calendar, cycle of Saint George, cycle of ecumenical councils, dynasty of Nemanjić) that converge on the imposing portal overlooking the naos.

Chapel of St. George. On the left as you enter, at the level of the sarcophagus, this chapel is not materialized, but the whole northeast corner is dedicated to Saint George of Lydda, megalomartyr and military saint who died in 303. This is an ex-voto of King Stefan Dečanski which was made after his death. It was to St. George that the ruler prayed before Velbajd's great victory against the Bulgarians in 1330, and on the east wall, a vast cycle describes St. George's acts (vault), martyrdom and miracles. We see him dropping pagan idols or with the dragon, here tamed and held on a leash by the princess who has just been saved. After a series of torments, the saint was presented to the Emperor Diocletian and then beheaded. The lower part is occupied by the Mother of God Paraklesis ( "mediator" in Greek) and by the Dormition of Christ surrounded by a magnificent cherubim and the Fathers of the Church of St. John Chrysostom and St. Basil. On the north wall is the portrait of the Serbian nobleman Đorđe (Georges) Ostouša Pećpal who financed the frescoes in this chapel: it is presented by Saint George (standing and partly erased) to Christ in majesty sitting on a golden throne. The sarcophagus contained the bones of twenty-four higumens (abbots) of the monastery. The ground of the entire northern part of the narthex is composed of slabs under which other monks and higumens rest.

Calendar of Orthodox holidays. On the upper parts of the walls, a huge program presents the menologion: the 365 days of the year illustrated with saints. According to Byzantine tradition, the calendar begins on September 1. That day is materialized under the vault of the eastern wall, on the left, above the portal and Christ Pantocrator with the portrait of Saint Simeon the Stylite (4th century) perched on a column (its epithet comes from pens which means "column" in Greek).

Ecumenical Councils. The three domes of the central vessel of the narthex are decorated with twelve frescoes depicting the first six ecumenical councils: Nicaea I (325) and Constantinople I (381) on the eastern dome (near the portal); Ephesus (431) and Chalcedony (451) on the central dome; Constantinople II (553) and Constantinople III (680-681) on the western dome. Half of the scenes depict the Byzantine emperors presiding over the assemblies. The others represent the debates between the "good" bishops (who wear a halo) and the "bad" bishops of Nestor, monophysites, etc.

Nemanjić tree. Painted to the right of the portal, in front of the baptismal font (16th century stone basin), it is one of the major frescos of Dečani. This representation of the genealogy of the most illustrious Serbian dynasty (1166-1371) is complete, since the lineage died out twenty-four years after the performance of the work. Below, in the centre, the founder, Stefan Nemanja, appears with open arms as Simeon the Myroblite (the name under which he was canonized). He is surrounded by his sons Saint Sava (dressed as a prelate, founder of the Serbian Church) and Stefan I, his successor. This part of the fresco was insulted by profaners (the eyes disappeared) and worshippers (graffiti by monks, one of which was dated 1782). The tree thus continues with the most important rulers represented in great numbers. Medallions are reserved for cousins, daughters, wives and "bad" kings. The last row shows Stefan Dušan (1331-1355) surrounded by his father Stefan Dečanski (right), who sponsored the church, and his then 10-year-old son, the future and last of the Nemanjić, Stefan Uroš V.

Other portraits of the Nemanjić. Emperor Stefan Dušan, who commissioned the frescoes, was represented in a large family portrait on the west wall. He is surrounded by his wife, Jelena of Bulgaria, and their son, the future king Stefan Uroš V. The three characters are abusively depicted with a halo: none of them will be canonized by the Serbian Church. Dušan also appears with his father, Stefan Dečanski, the church's patron, above the inscription on the lintel of the main door.

Portal. The door that gives access to the naos is decorated with a sumptuous decor. It is framed by two stone columns, one bearing a griffin and the other a lion. They each rest on a weeping lion holding a Christian martyr between its legs. The tympanum is decorated with a huge portrait of Christ Pantocrator on a blue background. Not just any blue: a lapis lazuli stone powder from Afghanistan, the most precious pigment of the Middle Ages, whose price exceeded that of gold. Jesus joins the middle finger and index finger to signify his dual nature (human and divine). Below, the two founders of the monastery, Stefan Dečanski (right) and his son Stefan Dušan (left) reach out their hands to receive two manuscripts bearing Christ's blessing from a cherub (centre).


central part of the church impresses with its size and abundance of frescoes. Designed to serve as the mausoleum of King Stefan Dečanski, it consists of five vessels (length) and two bays (width). The south and north ships each have an apse. They form two parecclesions, side chapels typical of Byzantine architecture of the 10th-12th centuries, here dedicated to Saint Nicholas (south) and Saint Demetrios (north). The whole is dominated by the large dome that rises above the central vessel. The frescoes, which are generally well preserved, were made between 1338 and 1347. Apart from the paintings of the two chapels and the dome, detailed below, the rest of the naos includes a whole series of portraits of saints and, above all, six cycles of frescoes. The naos also houses Stefan's two sarcophagi Dečanski and his sister's.

Scenes from the Apocalypse. The pillar on the left as you enter, towards the first two sarcophagi, has been painted with edifying scenes. They belong to the Parousia cycle (see below). Three of them are rare, if not unique in Christian art, and illustrate the creative talent of painters who have used a wide variety of sources to document themselves. First there is this representation of Christ holding a sword. This unusual portrait refers to the "I have not come to bring peace, but the sword" (Gospel according to Matthew), a parable in which Christ announces that he will return to purify humanity from its sins. Then, to the right of the "Weighing of Souls", there is "the Accusator and the Prostitute", two characters around whom a snake is wrapped. This scene combines three themes from the Apocalypse of Saint John: the serpent (symbol of evil), the Devil (word from the Greek diavallo which means "accuser") and the Great Harlot (incarnation of the Roman Empire which repressed the first Christians). Below, the surprising image of nine men attacked by white earthworms is based on the apocryphal text of Peter's Apocalypse, which, in its description of Hell, quotes sinners with "entrails gnawed at by worms that do not rest".

Dormition of the Mother of God. This vast fresco is located above the front door and the lintel inscribed by the church's founders. It is the final and most grandiose scene of a cycle dedicated to the life of the Mother of God that runs over an entire part of the western part of the nave. The concept of the Dormition of the Mother of God corresponds to that of the Assumption among Catholics, but in a broader sense: the Orthodox refer as much to Mary's physical death as to her ascent to heaven. Thus, the fresco presents the carnal envelope of the Mother of God immersed in a peaceful and eternal sleep (dormitio in Latin), while her soul appears in the form of a newborn child held by Christ, himself surrounded by the archangels Michael and Gabriel. Saint John looks at his remains as if to hear his last words. Around them are massed the other apostles, Martha and her sister Mary accompanied by virgins who will come to pray on the tomb in the following days and, finally, two characters in episcopal garb, James the Just (first bishop of Jerusalem) and Dionysius the Areopagite (first bishop of Athens and main witness of Mary's death).

Cycle of the Parousia. Dedicated to Christ's second coming on Earth and the Last Judgment, this cycle of "Waiting" (parousia in Greek) shares the same area, west of the naos, as that of the life of the Mother of God. It ends above the sleep of the Mother of God. This final consists of five scenes. 1) Christ Pantocrator: in the dome, the "Almighty" sits on the heavenly throne. This image of an implacable judge is attenuated by the fact that Christ (adult) has no beard, a rarity. 2) Htimasia: This "empty throne" symbolizes the expectation of Christ's return. 3) Adam and Eve driven out of Eden: placed at the level of the arch of the vault, they represent men waiting for God to bring them back to Paradise. 4) Exaltation of the True Cross: this representation, here very graphic with large white halos and myriads of angels, normally belongs to the cycle of great festivals. 5) Last Judgment: Christ Pantocartor with a severe look sits on a golden throne. The Bible he holds is open to the page of the proclamation of the parousia in the Gospel according to Matthew: "Come, you who are blessed by my Father; take possession of the kingdom. "

Jesse's Tree. The most complete example of the Byzantine world, this representation of Christ's traditional genealogy extends over the entire height of the wall, immediately to the right of the entrance. The tree establishes a relationship between Jesse, the father of David, the king of Israel (Old Testament), and Joseph, the father of Christ (New Testament). From below, ancestry develops along acanthus leaves bearing prophets, saints and biblical scenes. On either side, we recognize, on the left, the prophet Elijah riding on his flying chariot pulled by white horses, the fountain of youth irrigating Eden, the collapse of the city of Sodom, or, on the right, the false prophet Balaam on his ass stopped by an armed angel. The most surprising part is located at the very bottom left. Here appear the philosophers Socrates, Aristotle, Plato and Plutarch, the doctor Claude Galien and a haloed sibyl. The presence of these pagan figures in a Christian work can be surprising. This is a typically Byzantine tradition. In their quest for Wisdom and the Logos (the "reason"), the thinkers of Antiquity are considered as the proclaimers of Christ, almost in the same way as the prophets. As for the sibyl, a prophetess endowed with divinatory powers, she evokes the image of the Mother of God.

Sarcophagi. In front of the Jesse tree and next to the chapel of St. Nicholas are two marble sarcophagi. The largest is that of King Stefan Dečanski (1276-1331), the founder of the monastery. The other, smaller but of the same model, is that of her sister Ana-Neda (c. 1297-1346). Both are empty. At the time of the canonization of the two deceased (1343 and 1346), the relics of them were placed in a sarcophagus and a reliquary near the main iconostasis where they remain today. During his lifetime, Stefan Dečanski had wanted to make the church his mausoleum. Ana-Neda was briefly tsarina of Bulgaria (1323-1324) and had three children before entering the orders as Jelena (Helena). All of them were the object of a vast popular fervour immediately after their death and the miracles attributed to their relics helped to make Dečani a great place of pilgrimage.

Old Testament cycle. Located between the tree of Jesse and the chapel of St. Nicholas, this complex illustrates the visions and adventures of the prophet Daniel. The best preserved and most striking part is above the arcades: the Babylonian king Nebuchadnezzar had the three young Hebrews (Ananias, Azarias and Misael) locked up in an overheated oven whose flames killed the king's soldiers. On the right, Daniel is plunged into the lions' den by the Achaemenid king Darius. Daniel and the three boys are saved thanks to the intervention of the angels.

Cycle from the Acathist to the Mother of God. Placed between the sarcophagi and the chapel of St. Nicholas, this cycle is an image setting of the hymn sung in honour of Mary that is listened to "not seated" (akathistos in Greek) during the liturgy. According to a very strict code, each scene corresponds to one of the twenty-four stanzas (stanzas) of the anthem. Thus, on the dome, the white beam that descends on Mary seated illustrates the fourth stanza ("The Power of the Most High") which refers to the virginal conception of Christ and the Mother of God. Below are three scenes dedicated to the Magi (eighth, ninth and tenth stanzas). The cycle continues in the chapel of St. Nicholas.

Cycle of the Acts of the Apostles. This fresco program, unusual in Byzantine art, occupies the upper parts of the first northern vessel, along the Saint-Démétrios chapel. It reproduces thirty episodes from the Acts of the Apostles (New Testament). In the area of the first dome, we witness the failures of the apostles Peter and John following the death of Christ. After performing two miracles, they are accused of endangering the Jewish people by the high priest Caiaphas. They are beaten, imprisoned and then tried. The trial gave rise to a great battle scene that ended badly: St. Stephen, the defender of the two apostles, was stoned to death and became the first Christian martyr. In the lower parts is a majestic portrait of Saint Constantine and Saint Helena, the first Byzantine emperor and his mother who discovered the relic of the True Cross. The area of the second dome illustrates the last episodes of the life of Christ. Notice "the healing of the hydropic man" (the belly swollen with edema): by saving him on a Sabbath day, Christ voluntarily violates Jewish law, thus affirming the beginning of a new era. Also note the "healing of the ten lepers" whose bodies are covered with unrealistic red dots (by convention, this is how leprosy is represented in Byzantine art) and, right next to it, the funny little black devils running around the "demonic Genesareths".

St. Nicholas Long Chapel

and narrow, this paraclesion is located in the second southern naos vessel. Bounded by a series of pillars, columns and parapets, it has four domes and an apse. The latter is closed by a small iconostasis in carved and gilded wood dating from 1808. The walls and ceilings are covered with frescos created in 1343 under the direction of Emperor Dušan. In addition to the large portraits of the Nemanjić, the frescoes are made up of three different cycles: the life and parables of Christ (first and second domes, west wall), the life and miracles of Saint Nicholas (from the west wall to the apse) and the Acathist to the Mother of God (north and south pillars, and apse). Other saints and great Serbian characters also appear such as Danilo, the second higoumen of the monastery of Dečani (on a northern pillar).

Portraits of the Nemanjić. The series of five portraits of members of the dynasty is the most significant element here. The first portrait, on the right (west wall) as you enter the chapel, depicts Queen Jelena of Bulgaria (wife of Stefan Dušan) surrounded by her son, the future emperor Stefan Uroš V (left) and his nephew Simeon Siniša (son of Stefan Dečanski). Fifteen years later, these three would enter into conflict and bring about the end of the dynasty. The second portrait (damaged) is on the south wall at the corner of the first portrait. These are the founders of the monastery: Stefan Dečanski (left) and his son (and murderer) Stefan Dušan carry together the miniature of the church and are surmounted by Christ who seems to have reconciled them. Just next to it, on the pillar, the third portrait is that of the great King Miltutin, who had his son Stefan Dečanski enucleated and exiled to the Pantocrator Monastery in Constantinople. Subsequently, the fourth portrait shows Stefan Nemanja/Syméon le Myroblite (left), founder of the dynasty (1166), accompanied by his son Saint Sava, founder of the Serbian Church (1219), here dressed as a prelate of the 14th century. This is followed by portraits of Saint Paul of Thebes, Saint Sava of Jerusalem, Saint Anthony the Great and Saint Nicholas. The fifth and final portrait of the Nemanjić is placed in the apse. This is the highlight of the entire chapel program. It is ingeniously integrated into the last scene of the cycle from the Acathist to the Mother of God. She appears Mary as the protector of the Church during an Easter celebration at the Pantocrator Monastery in Constantinople. But instead of the Byzantine emperor presiding over the festivities, Stefan Dušan asked to be represented with his family. He is surrounded by his wife Jelena from Bulgaria and his son, the future emperor Stefan Uroš V (then 7 years old), the last of the Nemanjić

Triumph of Orthodoxy. In the centre of the north wall, above the series of portraits, a magnificent little fresco stands out: it depicts characters with strange headdresses framing the icon of the Mother of God Hodegetria ("who shows the way"). It belongs to the cycle of the Acathist to the Mother of God begun in the first part of the naos and illustrates the twelve stanza associated with the presentation of Christ in the Temple. But it is above all linked to the great Byzantine celebration known as the "triumph of Orthodoxy", every first Sunday of the Great Lent. It celebrates the restoration of icon worship on Sunday, March 11, 843, after more than a century of iconoclastic crisis. The fresco illustrates the procession that entered the Basilica of Saint Sophia of Constantinople that day with the great portable icon of Hodegetria led by the new Patriarch Method I (right) and an iconodulist brotherhood (in favor of the cult of images) whose members approached white turbans and sharp hats.

Chapel of St. DemetriosLocated

in the second northern vessel, this paraclesion is dedicated to St. Demetrios of Thessaloniki, the most venerated Greek saint of the Orthodox. The chapel responds in its form to the one dedicated to Saint Nicholas. It is decorated with two cycles of frescoes from 1343-1344 dedicated to Genesis and Saint Demetrios, as well as a large series of portraits of saints.

Genesis Cycle. Exceptionally well preserved, the representation of the creation of the world extends over fifty-five panels through all the upper parts of the chapel. Full of detail, this cycle gives rise to many graphic innovations on the part of the artists. Thus, in the first scene of the first dome, the "Creation of Light and Earth" is symbolized by a huge "white comma" held by God, itself haloed by a strange star composed of a circle and two intertwined squares. Under the second dome, the "Division of the Waters of Heaven and Earth" is dominated by a large circular white star with three points. In the four scenes of the third dome dedicated to the sixth day of Creation, God appears in a white halo with sometimes angular, sometimes soft contours as he creates the land animals, Adam, the Garden of Eden and then Eve. Note in passing the very realistic rendering of animals, especially camels. The rest of the scenes are graphically more classical (Adam and Eve chased from the Garden of Eden, Abel's murder by Cain, Noah's construction of the Ark, etc.), or even rather mediocre during the episode of Noah 's drunkenness (northern wall). But the cycle ends with a very beautiful composition on the north wall with a crowd of curious hats witnessing the construction of the Tower of Babel.

Cycle of Saint Demetrios. The north wall contains four scenes of the life and miracles of the holy warrior. 1) Martyrdom of Saint Demetrios: this very damaged fresco represents the saint's death, around 306, ordered by the usurper emperor Maximian Hercules. 2) Saint Demetrios defending Thessaloniki against the Coumans: this is one of the saint's miraculous interventions to protect his city, this time in 1161. Mounted on the ramparts and holding two swords, he repelled a raid by Coumans, a Turkish-speaking people then established in Bulgaria. 3) Healing of the eparch of Illyria: in 412, Leonce was the eparch (prefect) of the Praetorian province of Illyria. Sick, he was taken by seven men to the place of the martyrdom of the saint. Miraculously healed, he had the first church of St. Demetrius of Thessaloniki built on this site the following year. 4) Saint Demetrios killing the Bulgarian Kaloyan tsar: this episode takes place during the siege of Thessaloniki in 1207, when the head of the Bulgarian-Valaque kingdom died murdered by one of his Kumman mercenaries. But in Byzantine tradition, Kaloyan's death is attributed to Saint Demetrius, represented here on his horse, throws by hand. The southern pillars are decorated with two episodes from the life of Saint Nestor of Thessaloniki, the disciple of Demetrios. 1) Saint Nestor killing Lyaeos: condemned to die in the Thessaloniki circus, Nestor hits Lyaeos, gladiator responsible for the massacre of Christian inhabitants, who falls backwards over a weapons rack. 2) Massacre of Saint Nestor: the death of Lyaeos provoked the wrath of Maximian Hercules who gave his sword to a soldier to behead Nestor, just beside the circus, outside the ramparts. Finally, Demetrios also appears among a series of portraits of saints, under the window to the left of the iconostasis. As is often the case in Byzantine iconography, he appears alongside Saint George, the other great holy warrior.

Iconostasis. Closing off the access to the apse, to the east of the chapel, this partition dates from 1810. Much larger and more luxurious than that of the Chapel of St. Nicholas, it was built by the same group of artists. The carved and gilded wooden structure is the work of Doče Skopljanac. The icons, however, are by Simeon Aleksije and his son Lazović, two great Serbo-Montenegrin artists.


highest dome of Serbian churches in the Middle Ages (29 m high), it is supported by four massive pillars and is decorated with a programme of frescoes that is arranged in four registers. Following a very classical Byzantine model, the theme here corresponds to the dedication of the church, Christ Pantocrator. But the painters' work gives rise to some surprises, notably the presence of "spaceships".

Candelabra. Supported by eight chains, this huge candlestick was given by Emperor Dušan in 1343. Standing 3 m above the ground, this octagonal bronze structure is decorated with griffins, vine leaves and medallions bearing the names and coats of arms of the church's founders. The candlestick was modified in 1397 to include, it is said, the cast bronze of the arms of the Serb knights killed in the Battle of Kosovo Polje (1389). On the ground, a vast square of marble, alabaster and breccia houses a magnificent rosette made of lead once covered with gold.

Cap: Christ Pantocrator. The portrait of the "Almighty" has partly disappeared (decoration, toga and halo). Only Christ's face, neck and left shoulder remain. It is surrounded by the frieze of the Divine Liturgy (the Eucharist for Catholics) which represents twenty-two Fathers of the Church in the guise of angels ensuring communion from an altar protected by a ciborium (canopy).

First register: prophets. Under the dome, between the windows, are the large portraits of six Old Testament prophets: the four "great prophets" Isaiah, Jeremiah, Ezekiel and Daniel, and two of the twelve "little prophets", Joel and Zephaniah.

Second register: four evangelists. On the pendants four scenes depict Saint Matthew, Saint Luke (damaged), Saint Mark and Saint John (accompanied by his disciple Saint Prochorus) writing the texts of the New Testament. In the upper part of the vault arches, four motifs are interspersed: the faces of the archangels Gabriel and Michel, the Mandylion (a piece of cloth on which the image of the face of Christ was miraculously printed during his lifetime) and the Keramion (a sacred tile on which the image of the Mandylion was fixed).

Third register: the life of Christ (first part). Four frescoes on the arches and vaults under the dome. 1) Annunciation: the archangel Gabriel comes to announce to Mary that she is pregnant. 2) Nativity: Christ the child appears once at the side of Mary, the donkey and the ox, then twice when he receives his first bath given by two women. 3) Presentation of Christ in the Temple: Mary and the Child are received by the old man Simeon and Anne the prophetess. 4) Baptism: John the Baptist immerses Jesus in the Jordan River while the Holy Spirit appears and, at the bottom, two small characters riding a fish, an animal symbolizing the baptism of the first Christians.

Fourth register: the life of Christ (part two). Four frescoes between the arcades. 1) Transfiguration (under the Annunciation): Christ, here surrounded by the prophets Moses and Elijah, reveals his divine nature to the apostles Peter, James and John. 2) Christ in Bethany: the scene relates two episodes, Christ speaking to Martha and Mary, and the resurrection of Lazarus. 3) Christ's entry into Jerusalem: mounted on a white donkey (which is more like a horse), Christ arrives in the city while the inhabitants cover the path with their coats and branches torn from the neighbouring palm trees. 4) Crucifixion: Christ on the cross is surrounded by several groups of characters. We recognize in particular the Myrrhophores who will embalm the body of Christ, the Roman soldiers playing with the dice Christ's clothes or the weeping Sun and Moon (at the upper extremities). These two personified stars made this fresco very famous among ufologists (see box on "spacecraft").

Under the domeOn the

four arches and the bases of the four pillars continues the cycle of Christ's life begun in the third register of the dome. The frescoes dedicated to the Passion and miracles of Christ are completed, on each side, by portraits of saints. Thus, it is under the southern arch that the magnificent portrait of the Serbian king and saint Stefan is located Dečanski.

East Ark. In the direction of the sanctuary, the vault is occupied by the scene of the Ascension of Christ. Other scenes include Peter cutting off Malchus' ear (during Christ's arrest) and the Myrrhophores discovering the risen Christ. Here is a portrait of Stefan Uroš III Dečanski. Sumptuously dressed in gold, he carries in his hands the church that he presents to Christ placed at the top right. The sovereign is also associated with the portrait of his protector, Saint Nicholas, dressed as a 14th century Orthodox primate.

West Ark. In the direction of the narthex, the arches of the vault and the pillars are decorated with frescoes of the Passion: the Last Supper, the betrayal and hanging of Judas, Pontius Pilate washing his hands, the Crucifixion, the placing in the tomb, etc. Notice the scene where Jesus refuses to drink the posca (vinegar cut with water) offered to him by the soldier. The details are magnificent, especially the armor, but the painter made a mistake: this episode is supposed to take place while Christ is already on the cross. Two miracles of Christ are also represented, including the wedding at Cana, as well as the portraits of Saints Demetrios, Procope and George.

North arch. Placed on your left when you face the sanctuary, this arch has a large representation of the Descent to the Underworld. At Christ's feet is a bound character symbolizing Death and the debris of the lock of the gates of death. The other panels are decorated with episodes of the Passion (beautiful composition of Judas' kiss), miracles of Christ as well as portraits of Saints Theodore Tiron and Mercury of Caesarea.

South arch. The main fresco here is that of Pentecost, that is, the descent of the Holy Spirit, fifty days after Easter. According to the Acts of the Apostles, one hundred and twenty disciples of Christ are witnesses to this supernatural manifestation. But by convention, the painter represented only the twelve apostles, including Matthias who took the place of Judas. Below is the prophet Joel, who had announced the descent of the Holy Spirit. It carries twelve scrolls symbolizing the apostles' preaching. Joel appears again on the right arch of the vault, facing Ezekiel who had also had the vision of the Holy Spirit. Below, on the pillars is the Denial of Peter. The apostle is represented twice: in the foreground denying that he is a disciple of Christ, and in the background with a cock above him. There, Peter cries as he remembers the words of Christ: "Before the cock crows twice, you will deny me three times. "On the pillars are the portraits of the Mother of God Eleousa ("of tenderness") and of Saint Stephen, the first Christian martyr whose first name (Stefan in Serbo-Croatian) is carried by all the sovereigns of the Nemanjić dynasty.


is the most sacred part of the church. Symbolically closed by iconostasis, the sanctuary is reserved for members of the clergy in charge of the celebration of the liturgy (mass). It is therefore not possible to enter either the altar, the prothesis (in the north) or the diakonikon (in the south). The latter, long used to store the monastery's treasure, was never decorated anyway. However, we can admire the iconostasis and the upper part of the frescoes in the apse.

Iconostasis and sarcophagus. The main iconostasis of the church is, of course, of modest size, but it is one of the best preserved of the Byzantine period. Rarely, it preserves both its marble wall dating from 1335 and its four great icons from the 14th and 16th centuries. At first, it had only two large icons. But when Stefan Dečanski was canonized by the patriarchate of Peć in 1343, the space was reorganized: two new large icons were added, including that of Saint Nicholas (the king's patron saint), which remains on the left, the king's relics (buried in the naos in 1331) were installed here, in the sarcophagus where they remain, on the right opposite the iconostasis (under the candlestick), and a portrait of the king was painted on the pillar beside the sarcophagus. A new intervention took place two centuries later when the great painter and monk Longin stayed for twenty years at Dečani. In 1577, in response to the craze for the king's relics, he created the other three great icons of today: that of the Mother of God Eleousa holding Christ as a child, that of Christ Pantocrator and that of Stefan D ečanski (right). He also paints the fresco of St. Nicholas on the pillar directly above the sarcophagus. Finally, the iconostasis underwent a last change in 1594. That year, Master Andreja painted the royal doors and, above the lintel, the large cross and the small icons of the Challenge (Christ, Mary and Saint John the Baptist) and the twelve apostles.

Abside. It is dominated by the fresco of the Prayer: it is the traditional representation of the "praying" Mother of God (orans in Latin), standing with her hands raised and stretched, her palms open to the outside. Symbolizing the arrival of Christ, it is surrounded by the archangels Michael (left) and Gabriel who carry a standard bearing the Greek word ΑΓΙΟC/Agios ("saint") three times, a reference to the trisagion, a prayer that consists of repeating in a loop "holy God, strong saint, immortal saint". Each archangel also holds a sphere that represents the creation of light (Michael) and earth (Gabriel) according to Genesis.

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