King Milutin’s official title was STEFAN UROS, BY GOD’S MERCY KING AND SOVEREIGN OF ALL SERBIAN LANDS AND WATERS. That is what he wrote in the documents he issued and also in his most significant charter – “Svetostefanska Chrysobul” (i.e. charter with a golden seal), issued for the Banjska monastery and dedicated to Sveti Stefan Prvomucenik (i.e. St. Stephen the First Martyr), therefore called Svetostefanska.
Milutin built the monastery (1312-1316) as his mausoleum, his burial church, so that the diversity and richness of the ornaments distinguish this structure from all of the other of Milutin’s foundations.
The temple was built where previously a monastery stood. A court, royal palaces and other structures where also erected. The monastery church belongs to the group of Raskan monuments. Banjska was built with three-color carved stone blocks probably by masons from the coast. The church had rich sculptural decorations. The most important ornament from Banjska monastery that survived Turkish demolition is the sculpture of the Mother of God with Jesus Christ, which is now kept in the nearby monastery of Sokolica.
According to that which remained of the frescos, church and the monastery entrance and refectory, the frescos belong to the so-called “Milutin’s school” that used a completely different and rich style. The fresco background was plated with gold, thus people always say that Banjska bathes in light and gold.
King Milutin’s biography written by Archbishop Danilo II in 1324 bears the title:
ON THE TWENTY NINETH DAY OF THE MONTH OF OCTOBER, THE LIFE AND WORK OF THE MOST HONORABLE, CHRIST-LOVING, HOLY BY DESCENT, POWERFUL AND SOVEREIGN BY GOD, MASTER AND KING STEFAN UROS, GREAT GRANDSON OF SAINT SIMEON NEMANJA, NEW SERBIAN RESTORER OF PEACE, GRANDSON OF KING STEFAN PRVOVENCANI (i.e. First-Crowned), AND SON OF THE GREAT KING STEFAN UROS.
This title represents Milutin’s genealogy. All his predecessors and all the successors to the Serbian throne bore the name STEFAN meaning “crowned” together with their own name. So that the establisher of the family was NEMANJA, and Milutin’s father was UROS. Stefan the First-Crowned didn’t have any other name, but after receiving the crown he gained the title “first-crowned” – always used as part of his first name. UROS, Milutin’s father, was the name of the former old Raska region, which the Grand Zupans bore, thus his successors inherited that name as well. That was how Milutin received these two names: STEFAN UROS. Milutin is his first name.
His son Stefan Decanski - named after Decani monastery and church, which he built and where he now rests in peace – also bore the name Stefan Uros as a title and a name, but as his own name was the same as a part of the title, and the number III is used to make distinction. Numbers were also added to his father’s name – Stefan Uros II, and his grandfather’s name – Stefan Uros I. Emperor Dusan was emperor’s first name, but in official documents he wrote only Stefan. His son’s name was Uros, but when he became emperor, he also became Stefan Uros, no numbers added. The number V appeared only in later works of historiography and literature. The first and at the same time, the best Serbian tragedy of the 19th century was Death of Uros the Fifth written by Stefan Stefanovic (1805-1826) in 1825. Matija Ban (1818-1826) also wrote a play named The Death of Uros the Fifth. Only lately have modern historians started using name the Uros the Fourth when referring to Emperor Dusan.
King Milutin’s female lineage is also well known. His mother was Helen of Anjou of French royal ancestry and his grandmother was Italian, Ana Dandolo, granddaughter of the Venetian doge; his grandfather’s wife Ana-Anastasia was probably a Serbian-Bosnian.
King Milutin is indisputably one of the most important Serbian rulers, not only in the Middle Ages, but also in general. King Uros’ second son came to the throne after his older brother king Dragutin abdicated in 1282. But, in the first years of Milutin’s rule brothers had many disagreements, though later they managed to establish better relations.
Milutin waged numerous wars outside the country, thus extending his power far towards Byzantine territory, in Macedonian regions. Unable to resist, Byzantine Emperor Andronic “bestowed” these areas as his daughter Simonida’s dowry. He had to give her away to Milutin, although she was still only a child. Milutin’s power was also evident in the organization of the state, huge army and excellent economy and finances. He stayed in power for 40 years (biblical number denoting completion) and succeeded in bringing the renown of the Serbian state and people to a very high level.
But, apart from the state and war-waging plans, Milutin contributed much to the Serbian culture as well. He lived in a time of so-called Paleologos Renaissance when, after the fall of the Roman Empire, Byzantine regained Constantinople and the Balkan regions and started rebuilding the state and culture with renewed vigor. Milutin completely turned to Constantinople and was thus actively involved in great cultural improvement efforts of his time. His biographers wrote about his grand building projects.
He built towns, summer-houses, especially in Kosovo, erected and funded churches and monasteries all over the Christian lands, from Mount Sinai, Jerusalem, Constantinople, Thessalonica, to Mount Athos and all regions of Serbian territory. That impressive building activity was followed by development in arts, painting, literature and applied arts that were connected with church and books. Milutin also built hospitals, improved large monastery properties as economic resources, issued coins, opened coalmines etc.
King Milutin’s time brought great achievements in painting, thus the painters of that time are known by name, such as Astrapa, Eutahije. Some called the newly formed style “narrative painting” which replaced the monumental painting of the previous epoch. In literature, Milutin’s period gave a series of most important works and exquisite authors. Books were mainly written in Chilandar where Milutin made great improvements – he built a new church, rebuilt the old parapet and erecting new ones. Hieromonk Theodosius – great poet and writer of Saint Simeon and of the Saint Sava cult – also lived and worked in Chilandar, as well as Archbishop Danilo II who is the author of lives of younger members of Nemanjic family, Milutin’s family, such as Life of Queen Helen, Life of King Dragutin and magnificent biography of Milutin himself. Nikodim implemented the reform of the Church, while Danilo’s student worked on Danilo’s Code etc.
Translating from Greek was in full swing, books used for the church services were being rewritten, and language reform was underway. During that period, translation of romance novels about Troy and Alexander the Great was very popular in Serbia and Milutin’s contemporaries often compared their king to the great king of Macedon. And it was not only in Chilandar, but also in many monasteries, old and new ones all over Serbian territory, that this revising activity was being developed, scriptoria established, monks and priests trained, i.e. future pillars of the church and culture were being prepared.
Since it was erected in 1314-1316, Milutin’s foundation Banjska has intensively and indisputably been cherishing the memory of its founder and it was the place where the works for the cult of Saint Milutin were written. First such texts haven’t been preserved. In 1324, soon after his death in 1321, Milutin was sainted, and indispensable cult works were written for the purpose – service and eulogy. Unfortunately, they were also lost. The Eulogy and Service written decades after in the 1370s are the ones saved to this day. Their author was Banjska monk Danilo, later Patriarch Danilo III, who completed the process by uniting the memory of King Milutin and his mother Helen and brother Dragutin into one whole - the way their day is now celebrated on October 30 (November 12 according to the Gregorian calendar). The Turks destroyed Banjska Monastery, and Milutin’s body was moved to Sofia where it rests today.
Photo by His Grace Bishop Artemije and Oliver Bunic (photo: Tanjug)