Chilandar (Hilandar) is the Serbian monastery on the northern slope of the Holy Mountain (Mount Athos), a monastic republic consisting of 20 grand monasteries on the third finger of the Chalkidiki peninsula in Northern Greece. The monastery is a few kilometers away from the sea. On the outside, it resembles a grand medieval fortress. It is surrounded by thick walls 30 metrers high, while the whole compound is some 140 meters long and 75 meters wide. The southern and eastern sides of the monastery are dominated by two towers (“pyrgoi” in Greek).
At the end of the 12th century, the Byzantine Emperor Alexios III Angelus allowed the Grand Zhupan Stefan Nemanja (later known as monk Simeon) and his son Sava (the future Saint Sava) to build a Serbian monastery at the ruins of the former Byzantine monastery Helandarion. The Byzantine Emperor isued an chrysobull, imperial decree (“chrysovoulo” in Greek) in 1198, which stated that Simeon and Sava were given the Chilandar and the holy place in Milea “to be a gift to the Serbs in perpetuity”. With the financial support of Zhupan Stefan, the future king Stefan the First Crowned, Simeon and Sava built the church in the honour of the Holy Mother of God, together with the whole compound – outer walls, konaks (cells, resting places) and the two pyrgoi (towers) of Saint George and Saint Sava.
In 1200, Saint Sava wrote the Chilandar tipik (“typikon” in Greek), which contains the rules governing the monks’ life in the monastery.
In 1262, the Serbian king Uros the First, built the grand tower of Metamorphosis over the monastery in order to protect it on the continental side. This is where, in 1264, a monk named Domentijan wrote “The Life of Saint Simeon”, his second work after “The Life of Saint Sava”, written in Karyes two decades before (1243).
In 1303, King Milutin built the new church, still standing, on the foundation of the old one and also fortified the outer walls and erected new konaks within the monastery compound. During his reign, new towers were erecetd as well, one on the road from Chilandar to the sea (Pyrg of King Milutin) and another one closer to the sea (Hrusija) with Saint Basil’s Church, whose patron was King Stefan Decanski (1321-1331). The main temple, dining room and cemetary church were painted in fresco in 1321.
During the reign of Stefan Dusan (1331-1355), the Mount Athos was put under his rule, therefore Chilandar and other Athonite monasteries were given substantial support in the form of gifts. Serbian Emperor Stefan Dusan came to find asylam in the Chilandar monastery from 1347-1348, while the plague was ravaging the Balkans. Owing much to the financial support of the Serbian rulers, Chilandar became the owner of land in the area of Pomoravlje (around river Morava in central Serbia), in Hvosno and around Pec (present-day Kosovo), in Struma valley, around Thessaloniki and on the Chalkidiki peninsula. At the Mount Athos, Chilandar only covered one fifth of its overall territory. Serbian aristocracy followed the example of its rulers and gave land or richly decorated religious books and precious gifts to the monastery.
Prince Lazar Hrebeljanovic was the patron of the nartex added to the west side of the Church of the Holy Mother of God in 1380. That room gave the main temple from the reign of Milutin its final shape.
Besides the Nemanjic family, other medieval rulers, wealthy feudal lords, members of the church hierarchy and many donors also helped with the building within the monastery compound. Despot Jovan Ugljesa gave new land property as a gift to the monastery just before he died fighting the Ottomans in the battle of Marica in 1371. Toma Preljubovic, Serbian governor of Albania and Epirus paid for the fresco painting of the Church of the Archangel. Many Christians and members of the church hierarchy, fleeing the Turkish advance, decided to hide in the monastery.
After the temporary loss of independence (1387-1403), Chilandar, together with all of Holy Mountain monasteries, came under the Ottoman rule (1430-1912). During the long period of Ottoman domination, Chilandar was given aid by the Russian emperors and the rulers of Moldavia in the 16th century. Also, in the 17th century, support was given by the Patriarchs of the Serbian Orthodox Church seated in Pec (Antonije, Jovan, Maksim) and the bishops of Hercegovina and Belgrade both named Simeon. In the 18th century, the monks in Chilandar established lively communication with the metropolitan of Sremski Karlovci and Serbian bishoprics in southern Hungary and in Bosnia. Bulgarians also contributed to this lively monastic life by giving donations, especially after fires destroyed some of the compound buildings in 1722 and 1776. The Bulgarian monk Pajsije wrote his famous 'Slavic-Bulgarian History' (1762) in Chilandar. During the winter of 1765-66, Dositej Obradovic, a leading figure of Serbian Enlightement stayed in the monastery and wrote on the Serbian-Bulgarian dispute over the administration rights. In the 18th century, the abbot ceased to be the sole adminstrator of the monastery and the leadership was dedicated to the miraculous icon of the Mother of God The Three-Handed. The monastery's iguman was to be elected again in 1991.
After the restoration of the Serbian state (1830), the Chilandar monastery had been occasionally aided by Prince Milos Obrenovic, despite the fact that the majority of the monks there were of Bulgarian nationality. The dispute over adminstration rights was resolved after King Aleksandar Obrenovic visited Chilandar monastery in 1896. The Kingdom of Serbia paid the monastery debts and Serbian monks from Serbia and elsewhere were allowed to settle in the compound. By the begining of the 20th century, once again there were mainly Serbs living in Chilandar and Serbian King Petar I Karadjordjevic, acompanied by Prime Minister Nikola Pasic, also visited the compound.
On the Chilandar grounds, there are original buildings saved since the establishment of the monastery. There are also buildings restored after the many fires which destroyed them and finally, those relatively newly erected, mainly during the 19th century. The monastery is under the jurisdiction of the Ecumenical Patriarchate of Constantinople. Owing to the care of the monastery brotherhood, the assistance of the Greek state and Serbia and Montenegro, the monastery is well taken care of, restored and protected.
Today’s main church, the Church of the Holy Mother of God, was built at the begining of the 14th century by King Milutin, on the foundation of the old church built by Simeon and Saint Sava. Around 1380, during the reign of Prince Lazar, nartex was added.
The compound is surrounded by defensive walls, reinforced by towers (pyrgi) named after Saints Sava and George. Next to them, multi-storied cell buldings (konaks), chapels (pareklisi), hospitals and other assissting buildings were erected. All buildings belong to the Byzantine style and tradition; they are made of carved stone and brick, while floors and balconies are made of wood. Beside the main church, there are 12 more smaller churches and chapels, fresco painted inside and containing icons made by artists of different schools, as well as other objects of a considerable value.
In the main Church of the Holy Mother of God, the original works of art have been saved, while the floor within the church is decorated by beatifully arranged mosaic.
Preserved painted walls within the monastery compound speak for the highly talented artists from the different periods. The oldest “ fresco-painted typikon” dates back to the 13th century and it is located in the chapel inside the St. George tower (finishing works were completed in 1981.). The paintings in the main church and in the old dining room date from the 14th century, as well as those in the Church of the Archangel. In the 17th century, the dining room was painted (by Georgije Mitrofanovic) and also the Church of St.Trifun, St. Nichola’s Chapel, and other chapels as well. Other works were done in 18th and 19th centuries. Paintings from the 13th (at the tower at “Spasova Voda”), the 14th (the cemetery church) and the 17th centuries were preserved as well. The fresco paintings in the church Molivoklisia near Karyes were finished in the 16th century. Close to the monastery, in the Church of St. Trifun, there are frescoes from the 17th century.
Approximately 500 icons are kept at the Chilandar treasury, many of these formerly missing in the period between the 12th and the 19th century. Some of them are of inestimable worth, such as the mosaic icon of the Holy Mother of God (12th century), the icon of Christ and the Mother of God (second half of the 13th c.), the icon of the Mother of God Three-Handed (14th c.) and nine other icons from the 14th century. There are also many icons in all of the churches and chapels inside and outside the monastery compound, created during the 17th , 18th and 19th centuries.
The Chilandar Treasury, the Library and the Archives, contain priceless, artistically and historically valuable objects such as writings, charters, icons, books, objects made of gold, precious stones, ivory, embroidery, etc. There are around one thousand books of writings dating back to the 12th – 19th centuries. The most important ones are the Gospel of Patriarch Sava (14th c.), the Gospel of Roman (1337), the Gospel of duke Nikola Stanjevic, the Teachings of Jovan (Smederevo, middle of the 15th century), the teachings of iguman Viktor (1660), etc. Among the few printed works, one should mention the books from Cetinje in Montenegro (1494) and Venice (by the printing house owned by Bozidar Vukovic and his son Vicenco). There are around 30 such books of different editions in the monastery’s treasury.
Other works of art are also valuable, such as the engravings of Jefimija, dedicated to her early deceased son Ugljesa Despotovic, and the embroidery of Jelena from 1400 (actually the same person; she took the name Jefimija when she became a nun). Finally, there is the flag of the Russian Emperor Ivan The Terrible with embroidered faces of Christ the Savior, Russian saints, as well as those of St. Sava and St. Simeon.
In the Library, there are numerous writings in Old Serbian and Greek, on parchment and paper, a total of 367 charters - among them 172 from the times of Byzantine emperors, 154 from Serbian rulers and a few from Russian czars and Moldavian rulers. There are 150 copies of the first Serbian printed book, some Turkish documents and travel papers, many archive documents and wooden and copper engravings carved in block and used for printing, dating back to the 18th and 19th centuries.
Also, preserved decorated writings, books and other objects of art constitute a valuable material for the study of national history, art history and cultural history of the Serbian people.