Heritage in the Lens
It is frightening and accusatory how little the wider public in post-communist Serbia knows about the Serbian national and sacral heritage in Romania. About the millennium-long presence of Serbs in that area and their great contribution to the local cultural and civilizational achievements. About Bazjaš and Zlatica monasteries from the XIII, Kusić and St. George from the XV, Bezdin from the XVI century. About 27 churches in the Timisoara County, 16 in the Arad, 13 in Socol. About the Eparchial Court and treasury in Timisoara. About why only 18.000 Serbs officially live there now… We now have all this before us, in hard cover. Someone reminded us of the fears of our oblivion. What the state and church, institutions of science and culture, paid protectors hadn’t done, one man, a devotee, did. All alone

By: Aleksa Komet
Photo: Stanko Kostić

The fact that we easily forget where Serbs live and the traces and heritage they left behind backfired on us many times. The fact that we are forgetting that we are living in a time when nothing is implied, that forgeries and abuse should be continuously and repeatedly prevented and canceled. We have bitter, warning experiences from Serbian Krajina, the Coastal Areas, Croatia, Hungary, parts of Bosnia, Southern Serbia (Macedonia), and now more and more from Montenegro.
There are many examples of Serbian systematic negligence, and now, initiated by a book and personal endeavor, we are pointing out one: Romania. Serbs have certainly lived more than a thousand years in that large area, united under the name of Romania since 1859. Their contribution to the local cultural, historical and civilizational achievements is great, often crucial. In a long time span, especially in the communist era, they were subject of suppression, displacement, assimilation and forced Romanization. Still, they still exist there today, their precious heritage even more, and represent the oldest Serbian diaspora. It is frightening and accusatory how little the wider public of present Serbia knows and speaks about it.


In the early Middle Ages, Serbs populated this area in waves, especially since mid-XVIII century. At that time, many Serbs inhabited not only Romanian, but also areas of surrounding countries, from Hungary to Russia. There are document stating that about fifty thousand people from Serbia populated only Timisoara in the late XV century, fleeing from the Turkish invasion. Some historians claim that such migrations were frequently repeated in the following centuries.
Serbs left clear traces of their existence in Romania. Wherever they settled, they immediately built churches and monasteries, although their traces are also found in the language, toponyms, way of life, architecture, spiritual and material culture. Many of those traces are still visible today, therefore it is astonishing that a large part of our public is surprised to learn about the particularly rich Serbian heritage in Romania. For that part, they should think of Serbian epic poetry, stories and legends about hayduks, or historical data about Serbs crossing the Danube, Temes and Mures to join their people, escaping Turkish oppression. There are many examples of Serbs from those lands who came to Serbia to participate in uprisings against Turks and liberation fights.
A part of the Serbian historical heritage in Romania was destroyed in the long, turbulent times, but what remained represents a realistic road sign for anyone who wishes to learn a few more pages of their people’s history. Works of some of ours prominent historians, chronicle writers and art historians, lately joined by Stanko Kostić, photographer, with his monograph Serbian Sanctuaries in Romania, can be a good companion on the way. This work picturesquely presents the richness of the Serbian heritage in Romania, mainly spiritual and sacral, since the author visited all Serbian churches and monasteries in the Romanian territory and made valuable photo documentation about them.
Following the pages of his book as a reliable trace, we begin visiting old Serbian sanctities in the territory of Romania – churches and monasteries, the persistent cornerstones on the border between memory and oblivion.
Thus we reach Bazjaš monastery, mentioned in legends already in 1200, stating that its founding was related to St. Sava and his stay north of the Danube in the early XIII century. The monastery was seriously damaged throughout history and gained its present appearance in the renewal in 1860, supported by the Obrenović family. The erection of Zlatica monastery in 1225 is also related to St. Sava. This place is considered the oldest in the Danube gorge. Legends are difficult to prove, so the information that it was established in the late XV century seems more reliable. Preparations for renewing monastic life in it are in progress. Legends state that the St. George Monastery is also very old, although its history in preserved documents can be traced to the late XV century. This pearl of Serbian spirituality is remarkable for its icon painting and iconostasis. It was desolated in the communist period, but services are now again held in it, while the renewal of the church and quarters is in progress. The construction of Bezdin monastery started in 1539. With the strong cult of the Virgin of Bezdin, it grew into an important sanctuary and spiritual treasury of the Serbian people. The erection of the Kusić Monastery is related to the Branković family in the late XV century. This spiritual center has also suffered through history. It was renewed only in 1930, but shared the fate of many religious objects in Ceausescu’s time, and is now waiting for restoration.


Timisoara is a city owing its rise to the Serbian people. Serbian marks are more than obvious in it, whereas especially remarkable are the Cathedral Church and Episcopal Court, restored in the late XVIII century. Serbs wanted the church to be a mirror of their national perseverance, so there were substantial investments in it. Ornamenting and artistic shaping were entrusted to then famous painters Stefan Tenecki and Konstantin Danil. At the same time, a number of churches, endowments, educational and cultural goods were raised in the city and its surroundings. The Diocese of Timisoara, during its long existence, had many remarkable people at its head, who greatly contributed to preserving the Serbian national being. Some of them are Isaija Đaković, Joanikije Vladisavljević, Georgije Popović. We must also keep in mind that important Serbian cultural authors were also raised and educated in this city: Sterija Popović, Đura Jakšić, Dositej Obradović, Teodor Radičević, Miloš Crnjanski. Timisoara gave the founders of Matica Srpska, the First Serbian Gymnasium in Novi Sad, First Serbian Medical Association and many other significant Serbian institutions.
Serbian donors and benefactors left a particular imprint on the city, with a crucial influence on founding many educational and cultural institutions. The Theoretical Gymnasium ”Dositej Obradović”, considered a nursery of Serbian culture and education in Romania, continues the Serbian school tradition. When speaking of it, it should be emphasized that, unfortunately, there are only six Serbian elementary schools left in the Temes, Arad and Karash Severin counties. Together with the Gymnasium, it means only 230 students studying in Serbian language. After World War II, there were about sixty Serbian schools, with around nine thousand students.
Timisoara is also the center of the county with 26 churches and one chapel. One cannot leave it without visiting the Eparchial Court and its treasury, including icons, iconostases, liturgical objects, as well as the books from the residence, monastery and churches of the Diocese of Timisoara. The place this object was built used to be the center of the city in which, until 1920, there were almost no Romanians. Now the situation is completely different.


Arad is another city ornamented by Serbs in their specific manner. Especially remarkable are Janić, Aleksić and Tabaković families. The first were excellent sculptor woodcutters, the second were famous icon painters, and the third exquisite architects and builders. The activities of those families undoubtedly enriched Serbian culture and art, both in Arad and in a wider area. When we add the fact that Sava Tekelija, great Serbian cultural worker and benefactor, also originates from this city, we get a clearer picture of the extraordinary potential of Serbs in these lands. We should certainly remind that Arad is the center of a county including 15 Serbian churches and one chapel.
Socol County includes 13 churches, but, for objective reasons, does not have many preserved artworks mainly because of the division of sanctuaries between the Serbian and Romanian churches, actual financial circumstances and construction of the ”Đerdap” hydroelectric power plant, as well as the population policy after World War II. This all resulted in a smaller number of representative pieces of sacral art, however some worth mentioning are works of Stevan Aleksić and Franjo Vajnhepl.
We have indicated only a few visible Serbian traces, especially in the Romanian part of Banat, although they exist in the entire Romania. According to the last census, there are only a few more than 18.000 Serbs in this neighboring country. It is without doubt that the number is higher, but the process of assimilation has continued and advanced after the communist era as well. Those who still preserve strong reflexes of their origin invest huge efforts to preserve the Serbian spirit by organizing numerous events, festivals, fairs, publishing magazines. All that, however, has a limited range. Without serious and systematic support of their mother country, Serbs in Romania cannot endure much longer. The financial support is less important than support in education and culture. Without such undertakings in other areas, we will soon be able to speak about Serbiandom only in narrow circles of Serbians, and wise people of our time are already loudly warning of it. The neglect of one’s own nation, heritage and tradition is a serious and expensive sin. Nations that allowed something similar always paid a very high price at the end and the same will happen with Serbs if they don’t remember their oblivion!


Dedicated Effort
Stanko Kostić (Požarevac, 1964). He completed elementary and secondary school in Petrovac na Mlavi, graduated information technology in Belgrade. He has been involved in photography since his school days. He exhibited at more than 100 collective and 50 solo exhibitions in the country and abroad (Ethnographic Museum, Princess Ljubica’s Residence, Russian Home, Serbian Academy of Sciences and Arts Gallery of Science and Technology in Belgrade, Palace of Europe in Strasbourg, Institute of Anthropology and Ethnology in Warsaw, Museum of National Art in Otrebusy near Warsaw, Voivodeship Home in Kielce, Poland, national museums in Vranje, Požarevac, Kragujevac, regional and heritage museums in Pirot, Petrovac, Negotin, Sirogojno…). Winner of three annual awards of ULUPUDS, ”4th of June” award of the Petrovac Municipality, First Prize for the collection of slides and collection of photographs at the ŽISEL International Salon, Charter of the Eparchy of Braničevo…
He published his photos in many Serbian and foreign magazines, monographs and books. Author of more than 30 thematic calendars presenting Serbian heritage (”Old Crafts”, ”Old Serbian Medals”, ”Sculptures and Plastics on Facades of Belgrade Edifices”, ”Folk Architecture of Eastern Serbia”, ”Nature of the Mlava Valley”, ”Six Hundred Years of the Manasija Monastery”, ”Duration. Folk Costumes and Customs”, ”Nature of Serbia – Between Light and Shadow”…). He is engaged in Serbian culture and tradition, including areas outside of present Serbia (Szentendre, Romania, Croatia, Chilandar…).
He lives and works in Belgrade. Married to Snežana, daughters Jelena and Aleksandra.


The monograph ”Serbian Shrines in Romania” presents the monasteries of Bezdin (XVI century), Bazjaš (XIII century), Kusić (XV century), Zlatica (XIII century), St. George or Szengorge (XV century), as well as twenty-seven churches of the Timisoara county, sixteen from the Arad county, thirteen from Socol. A separate chapter is dedicated to the Eparchial Palace and treasury in Timisoara.
Stanko Kostić’s photos are accompanied with text written by Dejan Radovanović. The introduction was written by His Eminence Bishop of Budim and administrator of the Diocese of Timisoara Lukijan, and the preface by Professor Miodrag Jovanović, PhD. The monograph was published in 2013 by the Provincial Institute for the Protection of Cultural Monuments in Novi Sad.


”While researching the culture of Serbs after the Great Migration, I came to Szentendre in November 2003. I met His Eminence Bishop Lukijan, who told me about the spiritual treasure of Serbs in the Romanian territory. According to God’s will, upon the invitation and with the blessing of Bishop Lukijan, I traveled to the Diocese of Timisoara in March 2004, where doors for researching Serbian spiritual treasure in this area opened up before me. During 2004 and 2005, I visited all Serbian churches and monasteries on Romanian soil and collected a rich photo-documentation, which I later processed and archived with the help of Professor Miodrag Jovanović. The material stayed in my personal archive eight years, until people from the Provincial Institute for the Protection of Cultural Monuments in Petrovaradin showed their interest in it…” (Stanko Kostić)


”We see that our distant history is covered with darkness, and we all blame our ancestors for not writing and leaving us anything. If we don’t write and leave something for our descendants, they will also blame us for the same reason.” (Vuk Karadžić)


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