The Lady of Tekyeh
The last point of Petrovaradin towards Sremski Karlovci is marked with an interesting ”cornerstone”: a neo-gothic Catholic Church of Mary of the Snow (Our Lady of the Snow). Although it sounds paradoxical, it is enough to say The Lady of Tekyeh, and everyone will know. We will stop in front of this church, by which lines of vehicles constantly pass. We’ll thus evoke spaces and times, meet a multitude of exciting people, see temples, imbue knowledge, observe important events. While we’re standing, all that will pass in front of us

By: Đorđe M. Srbulović
Photo: Josip Šarić, Dragan Bosnić and Archive of NR


A long time ago, Hamvas said that mysticism is the highest level of knowledge one can conceive, and that science is much below it. The confirmation of his words is reflected in the fact that no one can say when the first temple in this place was raised or who it was dedicated to, ”what faith it was” – although everyone knows that ”there was always some church there”. No one knows what the name of this area was before Islam took over Srem, and where the present name Tekyeh comes from. So we’ll rely on mysticism – since it’s more trustworthy. Referring to legends, aware that there’s never been any detailed archeological or historical research, we note that, ”before the Turks”, a church dedicated to Blessed Virgin Mary used to be here. According to Eliade, such a name would put the temple into the XIII century. He calls it the century of church renaissance, since the Virgin was essentially equaled with the Holy Trinity. The Virgin is a Lady, the Church is a Lady, a Lady is a real, yet inaccessible woman, therefore an ideal whom knights vow to faithfulness and go to wars. And all those ladies merged into one. Let’s not enter the knight cycle, for which this expert claims it originates from the ”monastic central information agency” – of some northern France monasteries.
It was noted, however, that more than a century before these monks, strange Peter the Hermit (”Eremite”) from Amiens raised his fortification on a rock above Petrovaradin. It wasn’t the Crusades that made him famous – ”he made the Crusades famous”. Short and skinny, dressed in unappealing clothes, he rode a donkey, and wherever he’d pass – people would fall into religious trance. He blessed the believers, and tormented and put under sword those he considered unworthy. A completely common phenomenon and completely common behavior for the time he lived in. ”I believe I’d understand” – said Anselm, an educated theologian, Benedictine monk and Archbishop of Canterbury in the late XI century.
Cistercians, made known by Bernard of Clairvaux, appeared in Petrovaradin at the time of Hungarian king Bela IV, at the end of the fourth decade of the XIII century. Before erecting a fort on the rock, and in it a monastery with a church – known to local history experts as Belafons or Belakut, they were located somewhere near the Lady of Tekyeh, perhaps in the exact place where the present church is today, or a bit lower, by the nearby Rocco’s Stream. The earliest mentioning of a church in this place – Blessed Virgin Mary – is attributed to them. Dressed in monastic robes made of uncolored wool, after which they were called white monks, the Cistercians brought humbleness, hard work and up-to-date knowledge for those times, dried marches and promoted agriculture, produced excellent wine, influenced the development of commerce, and contributed to a significant improvement of ordinary people financial status. However, these reformed Benedictines, like the ”monastic central information agency”, also brought the inquisitors with them, so a multitude today unknown preachers and teachers, as well as a number of their followers – were submitted to fire. This Crusade, led against Christians whose beliefs were not corresponding to the governing, both eastern and western, traditional Christianity, protected and propagated by secular rulers, led to the disappearance of Bogomils and Cathars, Armenian Paulians, Manichaeans, Waldensians, Amalricians, Dualists, Joachimists and many other. Or perhaps they just went into hiding? However, one shouldn’t be too harsh to the first inquisitors: they were deeply pious, convinced that they were saving souls by giving bodies to fire. ”If you don’t believe, you cannot understand” – Anselm used to say.


After the breakdown of medieval Hungary in Mohacs in 1526, the Ottomans took over Srem. The Islamic empire ruled the area until 1687. It is not known for certain when the Church of Blessed Virgin Mary stopped existing, or when a tekyeh appeared in its place, however, when the Holy Roman Empire reestablished the reign of the cross, the name of the toponym Tekyeh remained as a memory of the Muslims.
This tekyeh was also described by the famous travel-writer Evliya Celebi in his Travelogue. In the ”Description of the Lower City of Varadin”, Celebi tells us: ”The population of this city deeply respects scholars, since there are none here. There are four elementary schools for little, sweet children. And... a tekyeh of enthralled dervishes.
Evliya Celebi is an interesting character himself. His name was Mehmed Zilli, and he sometimes signed his works as ”Dervish’s Son”. Celebi means gentleman in Turkish, but in his case it’s a toponym – an area in Cappadocia where the writer’s family lived until the Turkish conquering of Constantinople, when the sultan personally invited them to move. Evliya is not an ordinary name, it’s a religious term – signifying a man with God’s blessing: evliya can be in several places at once, he can walk on water, levitate and bow during levitating, etc. Warriors (shahids) are recognized as evliyas if they don’t stay in the place they were killed, but go to the place they want to be buried. ”Dervish’s Son” left us many gifts and paths to them...
If we’d search for the most similar parallel to tekyehs in Orthodoxy, they would certainly be ”vodice”. Of course, such comparisons are relative and very conditional.
Writing about tekyehs, the Sheikh of Sarajevo Uryan Baba – great expert in Tradition, speaks about respecting the principle of holy history and holy geography – as an important precondition for building tekyehs and their existence. A tekyeh has seven mandatory elements – number seven is a holy number and each of the elements is important in a space leading a man to God. Those elements are: water (river), house (building and yard), rock, spring (source), grave (tomb), cave and stairway. The road leading towards the tekyeh goes upwards, downwards and straight – it has to correspond to the movements of the body of Muslims during prayer. The entrance of the tekyeh is opposite from the stream of the river nearby, one enters ”upstream”: a man therefore has to have a firm step – so the ”water” (impure) wouldn’t take him away, whereas the ”upstream” movement signifies the intensified purifying of the soul, spirit and body from everything of this earth. The house is next to the road and the yard is hidden with a high wall. Unlike a mosque, the tekyeh lives its full life during the night. Islam is not burdened with architectural and style features: Islam respects all traditional knowledge which is not opposite to it, thus they used many Christian temples for their religious needs – only slightly adapting them.
The toponym, as well as the oldest mentioning of the spring which still exists, remained from the Turkish reign. This is how the Church of Blessed Virgin Mary, Lady of Tekyeh, lived from the third decade of the XVI to the last decade of the XVII century.
Then the cross repressed the crescent moon and ruled Tekyeh again.


During the Great Turkish War (1683-1699), the Holy Roman Empire, the Christian coalition, repressed the Ottoman Empire from wide areas Islam had held up to then. Part of the newly conquered area, as Leopold I, emperor of the Holy Roman Empire, called it, also became Petrovaradin with tekyeh. It is believed that Petrovaradin was taken from the Turks in 1687, although battles in its immediate vicinity – due to the significance of the Fortress, whose construction began in 1690 – continued during the following years, until 1694. Already in 1693, a small group of Jesuits, members of the most erudite monastic order, came to Petrovaradin from Osek. This monastic order was notorious, regardless of the fact that it indebted the world with a multitude of scientific achievements, mostly in natural sciences. Active under the motto Ad Maiorem Dei Gloriam – Everything for the Greater Glory of God – they began their usual works, building people, churches, fortifications, monasteries, hospitals, schools, roads. Immediately upon their arrival, they asked and received the deserted and desolated Turkish tekyeh, which they adapted to a church and dedicated it to Immaculata – She who is immaculate, without a stain, that is, to the Dogma of Immaculate Conception.
Jesuits built two churches in Petrovaradin, two forms of spirituality, two paths towards Christ: first the monastery church of St. Yuri – military church, dedicated to George, patron of soldiers and victor. Its pendant in the Petrovaradin trench, present Novi Sad, will be the Cathedral Church of Holy Martyr George, also raised as a military church in the Serbian Orthodox part of the Danube Military Border command. The second church, dedicated to the Virgin, Lady, Immaculata – belongs to the Undercity (Suburbium) and Mayur – Lower Petrovaradin. The Trench also has churches-pendants in its civil part: Name of Mary and Ascension of the Holy Theotokos. It was the time of baroque – philosophical and religious doctrines of the Jesuits, accepted among Orthodox Christians only after being passed through the ”Kiev filters”. Baroque is the pearl of irregular form.
The Dogma of Immaculate Conception is one of the two important holidays established by the Jesuits. The second is the Heart of Christ – Christian allegory of the grail. The Dogma states that the Virgin conceived naturally, but that she was pervaded with God’s blessing at the time of conception and thereby – immediately – purified from the stain of eastern sin. Only such she could give birth to the Son of God and thereby an unbridgeable gap was created between her and the forces of darkness. Such iconography is also present in Orthodox Christianity: part of the Book of Revelation (12:1) is used for presenting Immaculata: ”... A woman clothed with the sun, with the moon beneath her feet and a crown of twelve stars on her head...” The crown of twelve stars, instead of the common solar aureole, will be accepted much later by the European Union, which put it in its flag, blue as the day and blue as the night. Alchemy.


The Jesuits bordered the area of Petrovaradin with the Tekyeh church: it is the gate for those coming from Sremski Karlovci, Belgrade, Constantinople... or going there. On the other end of the place, as National Review wrote, a console on the façade of the first floor of the first house at the entrance of Petrovaradin is decorated with a statue of Immaculata, standing on the moon, with little Christ in her hands stabbing a snake’s head with a spear. Every day, during twenty-odd years, Jesuits, with the present Franciscans of course, preserved the spirit, soul and body of inhabitants and soldiers of Petrovaradin and builders of the fortress.
Then another war broke out between Muslims and Christians. At the end of July 1716, Grand Vizier Damad Ali-Pasha, leading a great army, crossed the Sava and started climbing the heights above Petrovaradin. Eugene of Savoy, a famous character of European history, waited for him with a smaller army, but greater force. The battle took place on August 5. After a five-hour long fierce struggle, the Holy Roman Empire (Eugene of Savoy) won a great victory over the empire of the crescent moon (Damad Ali-Pasha). It was the day of the Lady of Snow. The place of the battle is still called Visieratz. During retreat, the Turks burned down all Christian churches on their way – and the only ones on the way were Orthodox. The only exception in the devastation was the Cathedral Church of St. Nicholas in Sremski Karlovci, where, according to some, Damad Ali-Pasha died from the battle wounds, and according to others, he was killed in order to be celebrated as a hero, since otherwise he would be strangled because of the unexpected defeat. Anyway: in the Cathedral Church in Karlovci, Damad Ali-Pasha changed sides.
The soldier and statesmen, not a spiritual man, established a new and, for the time being, final dedication to the cult and ritual place – Lady of Tekyeh. Eugene of Savoy – Prince Eugene, commander of the Holy Roman Empire army, perhaps the greatest army commander in the Habsburg Monarchy, as a great statesman and strategist, is the author of the Penetrating to the East doctrine. He convinced the emperor and the royal camarilla to give up on Spanish estates – because such efforts will bring the state to disappearance, and to permanently turn towards the Balkans and expand towards the east. Italian aristocrat by origin, French by education, his life motto was ”Austria above everything”, although he never spoke a single German word. Italian, French and Latin were his choice.
After his magnificent victory on August 5, 1716, on the day the Catholic Church celebrates the Lady of Snow, immediately after the battle, he gave the Tekyeh church – below the place of the battle – the warfare icon he kept in his tent, the icon of the Lady of Snow. This icon is the foundation and essence of the Tekyeh church as the official shrine of Roman Catholics in Srem today. Thus Christ’s warriors: Jesuits and Prince Eugene used alchemy: bleaching and snow, to purify Tekyeh and its surroundings.


The Lady of Tekyeh, soon after its establishing in the new cult, began expanding to be able to accept the growing number of believers who came to pray, ask Her for help for various things, most often forgiveness of sins, health and peace in the soul. Another cult appeared besides it, related to the death of Siegfried Breuner, Austrian field marshal-lieutenant. Historical data state that Breuner was imprisoned by the Turks several days before the battle and decapitated on the day of the battle in front of the grand vizier’s tent – after the Turks had realized that the battle is lost. He was later buried in the Franciscan monastery, present Military Hospital in Petrovaradin. Folk faith – and here we speak about one of the two forms of ”folk religiousness” in this place, which the Catholic Church somehow absorbed into its dogmas and thereby made it Christian – related the place of death of this military aristocrat with Tekyeh. As an elm tree was growing next to the church, believers created a legend that Breuner was hung on the tree, while poets wrote odes in German, singing about his life and his martyr’s death on the elm tree. So they began lighting candles and reading prayers next to the elm tree, and a picture of the Lady of Seven Sorrows was nailed to the tree. Soon a small altar was made, creating another, ”open air” church besides the existing one. Priests were also involved, holding masses. Thus faith grew together with the tree. Small pieces of the tree bark were given to ill people, cooked in water like tea – and healed. Those who don’t believe – cannot understand, Anselm used to say. The elm tree stood between the church and the road until the 1950s: dried and partially burned from the candles lit for centuries, but still tall. It was cut down because of traffic regulations. The iconostasis and the picture of Lady of Seven Sorrows were taken inside the church and are now left from the entrance. About ten years ago, a young tree began growing in the place the elm tree stood. Workers who take care about traffic safety soon cut it down.
Since the expelling of Turks until its present appearance, the church was expanded several times. It got its present appearance in 1881, attributed to the forgotten priest and writer Ilija Okrugić Sremac, whose works were performed in the Serbian National Theater and National Theater in Belgrade at the time. Hermann Bolle, Cologne-Zagreb architect, also takes merits for it.
In its altar part and the walls, the Tekyeh church preserved parts of the Muslim tekyeh (and Muslims remodeled the medieval church of Blessed Virgin Mary). It is not a temple built from the foundations. Thus the circle closed. With his works, Bolle tells us that he is more than an architect: he understands – because he believes. Two slim towers rise above the church entrance, like two pillars one must pass in order to step on a path towards a different world. That is why this church is not only the last point at the exit from Petrovaradin, or the first at its entrance. It’s also a gate. There is a cross on the temple dome, which ”breaks through” the crescent moon in its foothill. Although at first glance it speaks about the victory of the cross over the crescent moon, it is also the materialized presence of She, ”who is clothed with the sun, with the moon beneath her feet”. The central altar – among the three in the church – before it was replaced with a new one about ten years ago – was dominated by the Star of David or the Seal of Solomon, saying: as above, so below: Thy will be done on earth, as it is in Heaven.
Thus ended the journey of time and space in front of and through us, while we were standing in front of the church. Everyone is here and everything is here. As it has always been.


Way of the Cross
The big churchyard was marked with the Way of the Cross or Stations of the Cross in 1882, with fourteen stations, another form of folk religiousness (”vodice” can serve as a parallel again) – which the Church somehow fit into the dogma and liturgy, so the movements correspond with movements we make in prayer. Christ’s sufferings were made in woodcut on the stations by an Austrian family company ”Stuflesser”, which has been continuously engaged in sacral art for almost a hundred and forty years.


Codes of Neo-Gothic Art
Hermann Bolle (1845-1926), architect, spent his first twenty-seven years in Cologne, at the time of constructing the largest neo-gothic cathedral in then Europe. He began as a stonecutter and stonemason in his father’s workshop and continued in the studio of Cologne neo-gothic artists, associates of Friedrich von Schmidt. All this permanently related him with neo-gothic art – return to Christian medieval art – the most beautiful period in the entire development of Europe.


Cross on the Vizierats
Hermann Bolle repeated symbols from the tekyeh church in the nearby Vizierats, where he designed a monument dedicated to the victory over the Turks in 1716. The monument is known as the Cross of Prince Eugene, erected in 1902, upon the initiative of the 70th Infantry K und K Regiment.


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