The Church of St Achilles

The Church of St. AchillesThe church in Arilje is dedicated to the bishop Achilles from Larissa ( Greece ) who was a passionate fighter against the Aryan heresy and the participant of the First Ecumenical Synod in Nikeja in 325. The Lord made a miracle by making the water flow from the stone after Achilles’ confession of truth .
The temple of St Achilles is closely connected to the Nemanjić dynasty, the first Serbian archbishop St Sava and the misfortunate king Dragutin.
With its surreal whiteness and slimness it continues to dominate the core of west – Serbian town of Arilje as a lighthouse of the Christ’ s faith.

In terms of its architecture it belongs to the Raška School which marked the thirteenth century with the coherent mixture of Romanic outside dressing and Byzantine space concept.

Facade painting in the Byzantine ceil type style, the technique which included alternating rows of stone and brick, on the walls dressed in Romanic style makes the Church of St Achilles a unique thirteenth century structure in the whole Byzantine world considering the fact that there is no preserved example of any orthodox mace of worship dating from that period with the facade entirely decorated in this way.
Besides its architectural value and historical significance the church also stands out as the gallery of valuable frescoes among which the most interesting are the portraits of the rulers belonging to the Nemanjić dynasty, their relatives and all the archbishops since the foundation of the independent Serbian Church.

The most attractive are the portraits on the south part of internal narthex, the standing figures of king Dragutin the founder holding the model of the church in his hands and the fresco above the holy grave of Dragutin’ s younger son, Urošic. Being the clear document of the king’ s sponsorship and an illustration of the mutual respect ( brothers lived peacefully in the time of fresco – painting the church ) , one of the most beautiful idealized portraits is the portrait of the ruling brothers Milutin and Dragutin Nemanjić accompanied by Dragutin’ s wife, Hungarian princess Katelina.

For the first time in the history of Serbian fresco painting one new iconographic solution appears. By that time it was usual that the Mother of God or the saint protector approaches to the Christ on the throne with the founder holding the model of the temple in his hands and with his head bowed. But here in the medallion there is a reduced painting of the Son of the Lord standing in the middle of the two kings who are frontally turned and blessing them with his raised hands. The representations of these characters occupy a special place in the development of Serbian medieval portraiture.

The fresco of St Archangel Gavrilo called the Blue Angel ( The Angel of Arilje ) , which represents the elegant holy character in brilliant simple vestment is the incarnation of the idea of the Lord’ s representative of surreal beauty and magnificent kindness. The figure of archangel with his clearly expressed character, strong musculature and rich robe of a warrior is of extraordinary artistic value. It is one of the master pieces of the old Serbian painting.

The portraits of Dragutin’ s sons Vladislav and Urošic bear high historical significance and the depictions of Serpian archbishops, members of the Nemanjić dynasty and the portraits of Moravica bishops and metropolitans make one of the most important compositions of wall paintings in which important persons of Serbian history can be recognised.
The names of the authors of the frescoes in Arilje are unknown, but we do know that they come from Thessalohica. In terms of their style and ichnography, the frescoes from Arilje announce the turning point in the development of wall painting and a new style which will mark the art of painting , during the first decades of the fourteenth – century Serbia on the King Milutin’ s court.
In the temple of Arilje king Dragutin’ s younger son, prince Urošic is buried.
This fact points to the importance of the temple for the king himself and a possibility that one of the courts was located near Arilje. The thing that undoubtedly distinguishes this temple from all the other Nemanjić dynasty memorials dating from this period besides its height and lack of bell tower above the external narthex which is the feature of all bishopric centers, is the entrance on south side instead of the usual west.

Unlike other churches built by the Nemanjić in the XII and XIII century which were not cathedral temples for large number of believers, the church in Arilje had exactly that purpose and it was built on a hill top so that it could be easily visible.
During the reign of emperor Dušan and after the Serbian Patriarchate in 1346 was proclaimed, the Moravica bishopric was promoted into a Metropolitan’ s residence. Arilje Metropolitan’ s residence and monastery fraternity shared the same fate with their people and state in the horrible attack of the Turks led by Mehmed II the Conqueror of Constantinople.

The Moravica Metropolitan’ s residence revived again during the forties of the seventeenth century.
Not until 1833 will the church bells be heard again. But this time not from the Metropolitan’ s residence but from the parish church only.
The temple’ s position and its appearance even today cause in the spectator the feeling of awe, thrilling and unique.
The church of  St Achilles is pronounced cultural monument of great significance.

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