Lazar of Serbia - Cult - After The Great Serb Migration

After The Great Serb Migration

During the Great Turkish War in the last decades of the 17th century, the Habsburg Monarchy took some Serbian lands from the Ottomans. In 1690, a considerable proportion of the Serbian population living in these lands emigrated to the Habsburg Monarchy, as its army retreated from Serbia before the advancing Ottomans. This exodus, known as the Great Serb Migration, was led by Arsenije III Čarnojević, the patriarch of the Serbian Church. The Ravanica monks joined the northward exodus, taking Lazar's relics and the monastery's valuables with them. They settled at the town of Szentendre, near which they built a wooden church and placed the relics in it. They built houses for themselves around the church, and named their new settlement Ravanica. Szentendre also became a temporary see of Patriarch Arsenije III.

The Ravanica monks established contacts with Serbian monasteries in the Habsburg Monarchy, and with the Russian Orthodox Church, from which they received help. They considerably enlarged their library and treasury during their stay at Szentendre. In this period they started to use printing to spread the veneration of the Holy Prince: they made a woodcut representing Lazar as a cephalophore, holding his severed head in his hand. In 1697, the Ravanica monks left their wooden settlement at Szentendre and moved to the dilapidated Vrdnik Monastery on Mount Fruška Gora in the region of Syrmia. They renovated it and placed Lazar's relics in its church, after which this monastery became the centre of Lazar's cult. It soon came to be more frequently referred to as Ravanica than Vrdnik. By the mid 18th century, a general belief arose that the monastery was founded by Prince Lazar himself. Its church became too small to accommodate all the devotees who assembled there on holidays.

Copperplates of Prince Lazar by Hristofor Žefarović (1741) and Zaharije Orfelin (1773)

The Treaty of Passarowitz, by which Serbia north of the West Morava was ceded from the Ottoman Empire to the Habsburg Monarchy, was signed on 21 July 1718. At that time, only one of the original Ravanica monks who had left their monastery 28 years ago, was still alive. His name was Stefan. Shortly before the treaty was signed, Stefan returned to Ravanica and renovated the monastery, which had been half-ruined and overgrown with vegetation when he came. In 1733, there were only five monks in Ravanica. Serbia was returned to the Ottoman Empire in 1739, but the monastery was not completely abandoned this time.

After the Great Serb Migration, the highest clergy of the Serbian Church actively popularized the cults of canonized Serbian rulers. Arsenije IV Šakabenta, Metropolitan of Karlovci, employed in 1741 the engravers Hristofor Žefarović and Toma Mesmer to create a poster titled "Saint Sava with Serbian Saints of the House of Nemanja", where Lazar was also depicted. Its purpose was not only religious, as it should also remind people of the independent Serbian state before the Ottoman conquest, and of Prince Lazar's fight against the Ottomans. The poster was presented at the Habsburg court. The same engravers produced a book titled Stemmatographia, published in Vienna in 1741. Part of it included copperplates of 29 rulers and saints, among whom were two cephalophores, Jovan Vladimir and Lazar. Stemmatographia was very popular among the Serbs, stirring patriotic feelings in them. The Holy Prince would often be represented as a cephalophore in subsequent works, created in various artistic techniques. An isolated case among the images of Lazar is a 1773 copperplate by Zaharije Orfelin, in which the prince has a parading appearance, without saintly attributes except a halo.

Lazar's relics remained in the Vrdnik Monastery until 1941. Shortly before Nazi Germany attacked and overran Yugoslavia, the relics were taken to the Bešenovo Monastery, also on Mount Fruška Gora. Syrmia became part of the Nazi puppet state of Croatia, controlled by the fascist Ustaše movement, which conducted large-scale genocide campaigns against the Serbs. The Archimandrite of Vrdnik, Longin, who escaped to Belgrade in 1941, reported that Serbian sacred objects on Fruška Gora were in danger of total destruction. He proposed that they be taken to Belgrade, which was accepted by the Synod of the Serbian Orthodox Church. On 14 April 1942, after the German occupation authorities gave their permission, the reliquary with Lazar's relics was transported from Bešenovo to the Belgrade Cathedral Church and ceremonially laid in front of the iconostasis in the church. In 1954, the Synod decided that the relics should be returned the Ravanica Monastery, which was accomplished in 1989—on the 600th anniversary of the Battle of Kosovo.

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