Rebaptizing the Mythical Mountain
In reckless ecstasy and unreason, King Aleksandar Karađorđević in 1934 demolished the medieval fortified city of Žrnov and the adjacent baptismal chapel of the Serbian Unknown Soldier. This is how the terrain was ”cleared” for Meštrović’s Mausoleum that belongs to someone else’s esoteric tradition and is a replica of the tomb of the Persian Emperor Cyrus. Just a few months later, King was assassinated, and a few years later, the same happened to his country. Eighty-three years later, with the effort of noble and self-aware people, with the blessing of the Serbian Patriarch, the Orthodox cross and the temple were returned to Avala. This mythical mountain that remembers longer than us was re-consecrated

By: Igor Davidović
Photo: Dragan Bosnić and Archive of NR

It was a great wrongdoing. A tragic one. Avala, more than eighty years ago. In the name of some esoteric teachings and alleged symbolism of the new state, King Aleksandar ordered to ”clear the terrain” at the top of the mountain, to build the Mausoleum of the Unknown Soldier in this place. In order to enable the influential sculptor Ivan Meštrović to turn his ideas into action, it was necessary to carry out several major operations – first of all, the destruction of the old fortified town of Žrnovo, and the baptismal chapel to the Serbian Unknown Soldier, which was located at the foot of the walls. With symptomatic persistence, the king fulfilled the task he had set for himself (or he followed someone’s instructions).
To date, this lack of reason has not been fully explained, and the sovereign, who personally attended the mining of Žrnovo, responded with arrogance so typical for himself to numerous criticisms. Only once, caught in a dilemma, he said that he did not know that Žrnov was an old Serbian city. He thought, apparently, that those were the remains of a Turkish fortress, and therefore ordered its demolition. Another one in a series of his expensive and tragic nonsense.
He himself did not live to see the completion of the works. That same year, only a few months later, he was killed in Marseilles. The mausoleum was completed in September 1937, and the entire complex was officially opened the following year, on St. Vitus Day. On the day when the Serbs, in a sacrificial and heroic manner, died in Kosovo defending the cross, it was officially announced that the cross on Avala no longer exists. The cross from the destroyed chapel to the Serbian Unknown Soldier, whose arms are spread in all four corners of the world, was removed by the local residents and stored in the yard of the Church of Mary Magdalene in Beli Potok, at the foot of Avala, and the wall around the churchyard was built from the stone of the destroyed Žrnovo.


Since then, there have been efforts to re-consecrate and re-baptize Avala. And it finally happened this January 2017, exactly eighty-three years later.
Meštrović’s Mausoleum, the embodiment of great Serbian spiritual symbolic and political frivolity, is actually a copy of the tomb of the Persian Emperor Cyrus, is still standing in the same place. But now, at the top of Avala, in immediate vicinity, shines a small temple dedicated to the Holy of Despot Stefan Lazarević, the one who restored Žrnov in the Middle Ages and gave Belgrade the glory of the capital. This new consecration and baptism of this mountain, symbolically very important, have fulfilled the desire of a large number of people that lasted for decades.
– In the immediate vicinity of this place, in 1934, a sort of spiritual suicide took place, arising from unbridled pride, in which one tyrant got intoxicated with the impression that everything starts with him – we are reminded before the new church on Avala by father Vladimir Vićentijević, the priest of Beli Potok. – Rage and dynamite destroyed the traces of history, religion and dignity. Together with the medieval fortification of Žrnovo, the chapel and the cross also disappeared from Avala. Since then, there has been the desire, especially among the capital’s elite, to return the cross to the ”roof of Belgrade”. By the grace of God, sincere desire of benefactors and merits of Voždovac municipality, we managed to build this temple in a year, which is a true jewel of Avala, and is dedicated to the Holy Despot Stefan. Before his life and work, and before this big small temple, we wonder which way to go – whether to take the difficult, but sacred paths of Despot Stefan and his father, Prince Lazar, or the paths of apostasy and defying god, which so many, unfortunately, impose on us.
Avala is a mythical gift, with long history. It is the Celtic Avalon, a place where the souls of the righteous go. On Avala, the Romans build their extended defense of Singidunum and the nearby mines. In medieval Serbia, Žrnov was one of the six most important fortifications. The Turks conquered it and extended. Avala and Žrnov are witnesses to continuous suffering, assault and resistance, uprising and demolition.


Heavy battles were waged there in World War I, when a little boy in Serbian uniform Austrian was hit in the chest by a grenade. His blown heart are scattered over the slopes of Avala, and the body was buried by German soldiers, guided by a military honor. On a wooden cross they wrote: ”Ein unbekannter serbischer soldat”. ”An unknown Serbian warrior”. In the temple that has just shone once again on Avala, the heart of the brave started beating again.
– The demolition of the town of Žrnovo is an attempted murder of the living God – says father Vladimir Vićentijević. – But, here, the Serbian people have become aware, and now we can again hear the bells from the roof of Belgrade. Crosses were also mounted to continuously remind us that they have both the horizontal and the vertical. Vertical is the junction of heaven and earth, and horizontal is the unity and harmony of the people, which are much needed. Whenever we were united, we went three steps ahead. When there was no harmony, then we, unfortunately destroyed that cross ourselves, thus destroying ourselves and our identity. The temple of Avala should bring together and remind, especially young people, that this is the same country in which Saint Sava walked, and that we should always keep his teachings in our heads and hearts.
The temple of Holy Despot Stefan on Avala is waiting for interior decoration, which, of course, requires new resources.
– The entire temple was built from selfless gifts of good people who do not want to be exposed in public. The Church will, of course, find a way to draw attention to them, not because of honors, which they do not need, but to leave a trace for the offspring, which should learn by the examples of their fathers. We believe that they will be joined by new benefactors, in accordance with their capabilities. Because, by building the temple, we build ourselves and we rise in Christ. I am sure, therefore, that we will soon complete the temple and that we will be able to worship in it. Since this is not a parish church, our idea is that, in the period from May until late fall, this place would become a meeting place for various cultural, artistic and sporting events. We want to start children’s art colonies and gather the talented, so that the children, through various activities, would establish a true relationship with faith and God. It is enough for them to spend some time in the church, to learn the basic prayers, and then, through games, socializing in nature and interesting activities, to announce Christ in them and instruct them on how to be good and honest people.


Serbian Unknown Soldier
– The heart of the little boy who died here during World War II, the heart of the ”Serbian Unknown Soldier”, should give us a call to listen to our heart and our mind, and restore the balance between them. To have our heart be illuminated by the love of Christ, and our mind enlightened with teachings of the gospels and of St. Sava. If we establish this link, and the church fulfills its mission and reaches out to all the souls searching for God, I am sure that they will reciprocate in the same way – says father Vićentijević.


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