The Establishment of the Cult
The canonization, or the solemn proclamation of the saints, was introduced in Europe in the 11th century.[i] In the Roman Catholic Church, a decision regarding the canonization from the 17th century onward had to be given only by the Pope (Holy Father). However, the Greek Orthodox Church was allowing the canonization of the local cults by the Bishops and the Archbishops or the Metropolitans alongside by the Patriarch. In the Russian Orthodox Church, the right for the canonization had both the Patriarch and the Emperor.[ii] However, the process of the canonization in the medieval Serbian state is not researched in historiography and we do not know exactly how this process was going on.
In medieval Serbia, the church cult was reserved only for the ruling Nemanjić’s dynasty and for the church archpriests. The others did not have right for the canonization. The genealogies of the Nemanjić’s dynasty are presented in three important Serbian medieval monasteries: Gračanica, Dečani and in the headquarters of the Serbian Patriarchate − Peć (in Turkish Ipek). All three of them are located in Kosovo-Metochia − a territory that is a cradle of the Serbian state, culture, and national identity. It is known from the sources that the last member of the Nemanjić’s dynasty was stressing that they as a family were originated from “the holy roots”. It is also known that except highest church dignitaries who were proclaimed as the saints only the members of the ruling dynasty had hagiographies. However, after two centuries of the Nemanjić’s rule in Serbia, Prince Lazar Hrebeljanović became the first secular person out of the ruling dynasty to be declared as the saint by the Serbian Orthodox Church.[iii]
The interesting question is: Why the Serbian Orthodox Church never proclaimed as the saints two other Serbian medieval rulers who also were killed in another battle against the same Ottoman Turks − the brothers King Vukašin (1365−1371)[iv] and Despot Uglješa Mrnjavčević (1365−1371)? The battle in which they died, regarding the destiny of the Byzantine Empire and other Balkan medieval states, was even more important in comparison to the 1389 Battle of Kosovo. That was the battle in 1371 (6879 from the creation of the world) near the River Maritza in present-day Bulgaria on September 26th.[v] The possible answers to this question are:
- The 1371 Battle of Maritza was far from the ancient Serbian lands in comparison to the 1389 Battle of Kosovo which was in the core of the Serbian medieval state.
- Prince Lazar was a ruler of the lands which were the core of the Nemanjić’s state of Serbia and, therefore, he was predestined to be a successor of the Nemanjić’s dynasty in Serbia.
- However, probably the crucial reason why the Mrnjavčević’s were not proclaimed as the saints is the fact that according to the false tradition, they allegedly killed the last Nemanjić − Emperor Uroš (1355−1371),[vi] who, in fact, naturally died in December 1371. Therefore, according to the tradition, their destiny and murder in the 1371 Battle of Maritza were, in fact, divine punishment and consequently their dead bodies have been never found.[vii]
It is important to say that for the establishment of someone’s cult the martyrdom death was indispensable, but it was not necessary to be an heroic one. It was the main reason for the fact that in all written documents the martyrdom death of Prince Lazar was always emphasized. The awareness regarding Kosovo’s Great Martyr and his martyrdom is still very alive among present-days Serbs when the whole region of Kosovo-Metochia is crucified by the Muslim Albanians who since June 1999 destroyed all monuments erected to and memories about Prince Lazar.
A Serbian well-known theologian and historian of the church, Lazar Mirković is in the opinion that Prince Lazar with his martyrdom death was automatically involved into the order of the saints because “the martyrs should not be declared for the saints or their holiness to be investigated as they are eo ipso what they suffered for Christ”.[viii] In other words, their martyrdom death was undoubtedly the crucial reason for their declaration for the saints. Đorđe Trifunović is in the opinion that Prince Lazar became the saint without any official proclamation by the Serbian Orthodox Church.[ix]
However, in the Serbian historiography about the issue of Prince Lazar’s cult, the most contestable question is: Was Lazar’s cult established as an organized one by the church or it started spontaneously? In other words: Was the canonization of Prince Lazar done under the church law or not? It is really beyond any doubt that according to the authors of the cult’s written documents, Prince Lazar became saint due to two focal reasons:
1) His martyrdom death.
2) His relics were complete (not disintegrated) and spreading the holy smell (myrrh).
The most significant fact with regard to the question of the establishment of Prince Lazar’s cult is that the historical sources are strictly telling us about the organized way of transfer of Lazar’s relics. The transfer itself was the crucial theme in both Letter concerning Prince Lazar by Patriarch Danilo III and Letter concerning Prince Lazar by an unknown author. According to several authors, the transfer of Lazar’s relics was the decisive moment in the process of an establishment of his cult. Patriarch Danilo III remarked that a decision in regard to the transfer was made in the home of the Lazarević’s. The solemn procession started in Priština (nowadays an administrative center of the province Kosovo-Metochia) where Lazar’s relics were buried firstly. From the text of the document, it is obvious that Patriarch Danilo III was present himself in this process of transfer and probably the whole process of transfer of the body was organized and conducted by him.[x] The solemn procession was accompanied by both Prince Lazar’s son-in-law Vuk Branković − a feudal land-lord of Kosovo-Metochia, and by his wife Mara − Prince Lazar’s daughter. On the road from Priština to Lazar’s monastery of Ravanica in Central Serbia, the procession spent a night in the town of Brvenik where, in the monastery of Nova Pavlica, “the holy relics” were put beside the graves of Lazar’s sister Dragana and their sons Stefan and Lazar. The procession was finished in the monastery of Ravanica where Lazar’s relics were buried again, but now as the saint’s relics. At such a way, a wish of Prince Lazar to be buried in his endowment (memorial) monastery of Ravanica was fulfilled.
It is known that for the process of the transfer only one of the cult’s texts was necessary. It is beyond any suspicion that the transfer of Lazar’s relics was organized and directed by the state and the church of Serbia. Prince Lazar’s successors initiated this process and Patriarch Danilo III organized and conducted it according to the patterns of the former transfer of the bodies of the Serbian rulers or the church’s archpriests and, of course, according to the church’s law. For the new martyr and saint Patriarch Danilo III composed the cult’s text.[xi] The transfer of the relics of St. Sava (died in 1235)[xii] − a founder of the Serbian independent church in 1219, from Trnovo in Bulgaria to Mileševa monastery in Serbia, the transfer of Simeon Nemanja’s relics from monastery of Chilandar in Greece to monastery of Studenica in central Serbia and their attachment to the order of the saints have been very well known to Patriarch Danilo III. He surely read The Hagiography of Saint Sava written by Theodosie in the 13th century and the texts in regard with the canonization of Simeon Nemanja written by Domentian in the same century.[xiii]
However, according to the opposite opinion, the church’s council was not met and, therefore, there was no official proclamation of Prince Lazar as the saint. Nevertheless, the unknown author of The Letter concerning Prince Lazar strictly mentioned the church’s council held during the process of transfer. We can think that probably this council held a session without all members for the reason that the church’s councils in Serbia after the death of Emperor Stefan Dušan (1331−1355) were held mainly as rump councils. It can be concluded that probably in the case of Prince Lazar − “Kosovo’s great martyr”, both the process of transfer and the process of canonization have been done at the same time.[xiv]
Usually and officially, a proclamation for the saint has to be done only after an exhumation. According to the opinion given by Belgrade University’s Professor Rade Mihaljčić, Prince Lazar was proclaimed for the saint at an end of the transfer, just after the solemn procession arrived at Ravanica monastery and just before Prince Lazar’s relics were again buried in his memorial monastery.[xv] After finishing both of processes − transfer and canonization, it was established an annual celebration of the new saint in the church’s calendar. According to those historians who are thinking that the canonization was done during the transfer of Prince Lazar’s relics, this procession of transfer, proclamation for the saint as well as canonization of him were done very early after the 1389 Battle of Kosovo, probably only one or two years after that (in 1390 or 1391).
To be continued
Reposts are welcomed with the reference to ORIENTAL REVIEW.
[i] Č. Mitrović, “O pravu proglašavanja svetaca u staro doba”, Istočnik, Vol. XXI−17−18, Beograd, 1907, 385−390.
[ii] L. Mirković, “Uvrštenje despota Stefana Lazarevića u red svetitelja”, Bogoslovlje, II−3, 1932, 165.
[iii] It is very important to notice that Prince Lazar was born in Kosovo-Metochia in Prilepac near Novo Brdo in 1329 [М. Стевановић, Душаново царство, Београд: Књига-комерц, 2001, 193].
[iv] Vukašin Mrnjavčević (King since 1365) was faithful to the Emperor Uroš until he understood that the Emperor was not capable to rule the empire. He became the King with the blessing of the Emperor Uroš [С. Станојевић, Сви српски владари: Биографије српских (са црногорским и босанским) и преглед хрватских владара, Београд: Отворена књига, 2015, 61].
[v] М. Стевановић, Душаново царство, Београд: Књига-комерц, 2001, 188−193.
[vi] С. Станојевић, Сви српски владари: Биографије српских (са црногорским и босанским) и преглед хрватских владара, Београд: Отворена књига, 2015, 61.
[vii] Lj. Stojanović, Rodoslovi i letopisi, Sremski Karlovci: SKA, XVI, 1927, 208−209.
[viii] L. Mirković, “Uvrštenje despota Stefana Lazarevića u red svetitelja”, Bogoslovlje, II−3, 1932, 166.
[ix] Đ. Trifunović, Srpski srednjovekovni spisi o Knezu Lazaru i Kosovskom boju, Kruševac, 1968, p. 204.
[x] A. Vukomanović, “O knezu Lazaru”, Glasnik Društva srpske slovesnosti”, Vol. 11, Beograd, 1859, 177.
[xi] R. Mihaljčić, Lazar Hrebeljanović, Istorija, kult, predanje, Beograd: BIGZ, 1989, 152.
[xii] About biography of St. Sava, see in [М. Црњански, Свети Сава, друго издање, Шабац: Глас Цркве, 1988].
[xiii] V. Ćorović, “Siluan i Danilo II, srpski pisci XIV−XV veka”, Glas Srpske Kraljevske akademije, CXXXVI-72, 1929, 95, 97.
[xiv] R. Mihaljčić, Lazar Hrebeljanović, Istorija, kult, predanje, Beograd: BIGZ, 1989, 155.