Small Giant
It was raised in the difficult times of slavery, as a guardian of bearings, sanctuary of hope. An invisible hand preserved the little church and its people, the two wonders. It has been standing there for almost two and a half centuries without a single nail. It was burning, it was plundered, and erected again, since it ”flew down here from somewhere”. The royal doors were painted in 1780 by priest Simeon, member of the famous Lazović painting family from Bijelo Polje. You cannot reach it by impatience or stumble upon just by accident. In order to see it, you have to make an effort, you have to want, you have to know how to outlive empires

By: Miloš Matić
Photo: Miloš Matić, Archive of NR

We come down from Zlatibor, cross the Uvac and turn left near Kokin Brod. Over the dam, and bridge, on the Zlatar Lake, we enter the hills again. We travel towards Murtenica and Ivanjica along the south-east rib of Zlatibor, down a winding road. Thus we enter deep into the area that used to be called Old Vlah, known already in Nemanja’s state of Raška. Jovan Cvijić wrote wonderful pages about this land and its people in several places, including Psychological Features of Southern Slavs. He traveled through here and got to know the world of these highlanders, cattle-breeders (Vlahs) very well. We remember those Cvijić’s sentences while driving the asphalt road, a bit uneven, but without hazard bumps.
We pass the turn for Burađa and continue towards Jasenovo. We stop after a few kilometers, turn left on the crossroad and enter a forest road. ”Read the map but ask the peasant.” We can’t go much further by car. We park on a wide spot on the road in the wonderful beech forest and continue on foot. We don’t meet any people, we surrender to intuition and logic. And we’re not mistaken.
We emerge to spacious glades, cleared old forests. Down below, huddled in the valley, we see the village of Kućani. Solitary houses of the Peta (Heel) hamlet arise before us. We continue ahead, a few hundred meters more. In the next small ridge we know: we’re there. A group of tall pine trees, lonely and arranged as arrows in a quiver. You have to come close, to a distance of only about two hundred meters, in order to see what they are really encircling. Among them, reaching one third of their height, not more, a beautiful small edifice, a wooden chalice, a small church.
One of the most beautiful and most unusual log churches preserved in Serbia.


In the difficult times of slavery under Turks, old books state that many churches in Serbian lands ”didn’t sing”. In the border area of Old Vlah, known for hayduk and heroic feats, the village of Kućani also didn’t have a church for a long time. Their churches were burned, destroyed. Family heads gathered to agree on how to make a house of God. They decided to build a small log church in secrecy.
”In the valley where the Morića river flows, they secretly carved the wooden material, made walls, roof, windows, door… and in a saddle, in the middle of the Kućani forest, they made a structure from the prepared material. They brought hidden holy icons, books, chalices, and later proclaimed that the church flew down to their forest from somewhere.”
That is what Novi istočnik (New Source), official magazine of the then Diocese of Dabar and Bosnia, edited by priest Petar Markičević, PhD, wrote about it much later, in November 1934.
And there, hidden on a glade not far from the new cemetery, in the vicinity of Grbić and Brković family houses, a new temple is rising. It was erected in unity and fast, in secrecy. In that little church, very charming and beautiful, in that ”small giant”, in that lighthouse in the darkness of slavery, known only to them, they made their praying nest and stored their tokens. Far from roads where Turks, bandits and robbers were raging.
New Source: ”The church has the shape of a boat, entirely made of wood coated with resin. The walls were masterly built, without a single pound nail. The roof is flat, today grown into moss. There is a smoke-hole on top of the roof. The altar is in the semicircle and imitation of a narthex in the bottom.”
Then came the strange night, preserved in stories and legends. Barking of dogs and voices speaking Turkish are heard in the distance. Several hayduks, breathing heavily from running through the thick forest, over hills, through coves, are evading a great chase. It is already dusk, the trees are making strange shadows and shapes which could easily mislead and lead astray. The voices are getting closer and there is no time for resting. In order to distract their pursuers, the hayduks separated to several sides. The Turks, a bit confused, continued their chase and then suddenly stopped. In front of them, as if by magic, ”in the bundle of pine trees”, a mysterious little wooden house appeared. They withdraw, afraid it might be a trick of the hayduks or an omen of misfortune. Their leader, notorious sipahi Turkmanović, was calming down his people. One of them pointed his finger towards the top of the small house, with a silhouette of a cross on the background of the evening sky. The sipahi smiled and gave a sign with his hand to break the door. Several of them tried, but without success. As if an invisible protective hand was holding the small wooden door from the inside. Turkmanović, already furious, cleared his way through his people and squeezed to the front, cursing them. He ran to the door and hit them with his heel, intending to break them, but fell without a sound. His people, apparently scared to death, put him on a stretcher and started off towards Nova Varoš, hurriedly, as if now they were the persecuted ones. After this unusual event, the people named the entire forest and the hamlet Peta (Heel), so this log church was also known as the ”church in Peta”.


According to the oldest legends, the church has existed here or in the vicinity ever since the XI century, dedicated to the Ascension of Christ. Milan Đ. Milićević, historian, notes that the little church was renovated in 1772 and states a Turkish document approving the renovation. Some authors relate the building of the church with the year 1780, when the royal doors were painted by famous Simeon Lazović. Be as it may, the church in Peta is the oldest preserved and smallest in size from the period of Serbian slavery under Turks. It is known that the church was restored in the XIX century. It is 6,4 meters long, 3,2 wide and 2,7 high. It is abundant with unusual and beautiful artistic ornaments and woodcut.
”Although small in dimension, the log church has a series of elements of sacral Orthodox Christian structures, rarely seen together even in much bigger wooden churches in Serbia… Although pretty narrow, the interior is separated into the altar area, nave and narthex; the iconostasis – as requested by liturgy – has two aisles (central and northern) leading to the holiest part of the church…” writes Sanja Kesić Ristić (”Royal Doors of the Log Church in Kućani”, Саопштења (Statements) XXX–1998, XXXI–1999, Belgrade 2000).
As we said, this log church has been standing there since the XVIII century without a single hammered nail. The hand of the master, ”visible and invisible”, made it such. Icon painter Simeon, member of the famous Lazović painting family from Bijelo Polje, was a master too.
”The doors from Kućani are almost the same as the doors priest Simeon painted only a year earlier for the wooden church in Sevojno… Images and positions of the presented sanctities, wrinkles on draperies reflecting the painter’s lack of knowledge of anatomy, details of the interior where the encounter of the Mother of God and Archangel Gabriel is taking place, the dominant combination of red and blue shades with abundant usage of gold – they are all elements of Lazović’s handwriting”, states Sanja Kesić Ristić. ”The Kućani doors have provoked the attention of researches several times. (…) Both chronologically and in terms of style features of the painted woodcuts, they belong not only to the earliest opus of priest Simeon from Bijelo Polje, but also to very successful and – according to some data – unique achievements of the founder of the Lazović painting family. (…) They have a rectangular shape and end with a semicircle on top. Busts of prophets David and Solomon were painted in the upper two regular circular fields, while the frames of the extended ovals – carrying the standing figures of Mother of God and Archangel Gabriel – are intertwined with winding carved leaves on top and on the bottom. All images have gilded aureoles and they all have in common the basic harmony of colors on their clothes – blue lower garment and red cape…”
According to some data, the church was apparently destroyed only a few years after its erection, but the royal doors were preserved. Based on the list of churches and monasteries in the Princedom of Serbia, the church was renovated in 1832.


The legend about the building and name of the Church in Peta has been preserved and transferred for centuries in the priestly Popović family from Kućani. From generation to generation. The Popović family was the most deserved for renovating this little church in the 1830s, since it was burned in the meantime.
– The family originates from Herzegovina. We had nine priests in a row from this house, so they carried the name of Popović – tells Slavka Popović, an old lady, and shows pictures on the walls. – Here, in our old priestly house, we keep the memory of them all. The people remember them too, because they were always in the center of events in this area of ours, both in peaceful and turbulent times.
On the edge of a large clear slope, where the little church in Peta is located, stand houses of the Grbić family, separated above the village. Guardians and custodians of the log church in Peta have been coming from those houses for generation. It is where the key is kept. They hospitably welcome travelers, known and unknown. They tell everything, they show everything. When we arrived, Milanko Grbić left everything he was doing and immediately came with us.
– We are preserving the tradition of our glorious ancestors, starting with Luka Grba, the oldest among us – tells Milanko. – According to our family legend, Luka Grba built this church, as well as the first house of the Grbić family in this place. He came from eastern Bosnia, from the area of Višegrad. We have been keeping the tradition and key to the church since then. And we celebrate the Nativity of the Mother of God (September 21), which our log church is dedicated to.
Thus speaks Milenko, while opening the door of the little church we’ve arrived to.
Surreally small, surreally beautiful, among slim pine trees ascending into pure heavens around it. In order to enter the church, one has to bow, to bring their head close to the ground. And in it, everything is the same as New Source described in 1934:
”The small royal doors, painted by Simeon Lazović are in the church-chapel in Peta. Besides, there is a larger marble chalice with a lid for the Epiphany water. There is a coveringmade of linen cloth with interesting folk ornaments and an antimins of Bishop of Raška Grigorije from 1730.”
It’s not an ordinary church. It is a wooden shell in heavens, a sanctuary, a womb smelling of folk and uprising Serbia, of the resin incense turns into.
– We always open the church for Lazarus Saturday. People gather here in the porch on that day ever since 1999. Unfortunately, there are less and less people in our villages and around this church today. We hope that the bad currents will turn, that we’ll assemble and collect as a nation, gather around what kept us alive in the most difficult times, around the only thing that can keep us alive today as well.


Milan Đ. Milićević, historian, states an event from the times of Serbo-Turkish wars 1876–1878. A unit of the Serbian army camped in the vicinity of the church in Peta. They received permission to cut an old pine tree, to keep them warm and to make food on the fire. When they put it down and cut the tree with axes, they found hidden synkellos inside it, which the metropolitans of Raška gave to the priests of Kućani. Thus sometimes you stumble upon an interesting historical source by accident.


Members of the Lazović family from Bijelo Polje are one of the most important Serbian painters from the XVIII and early XIX century. They painted many churches and icons from the coastal area to Old Vlah and Kosovo. Probably the most important temples decorated by their works today are Visoki Dečani and Savina. We find royal doors painted by Simeon Lazović, more or less similar to those in Kućani, in the Church of Holy Peter and Paul in Sirogojno (1764), in the log church in Sevojno (1779), Church of St. Nicholas in Brezova near Ivanjica (1805), log church in Seča Reka near Kosjerić (1780s), in the White Church of Annunciation in Karan (1780s). The royal doors from the Church of Holy Archangels in Bukovik near Nova Varoš (from 1800) were not preserved…


For the Memory
Most of Simeon Lazović’s works in this area were ordered by wealthy worldly people or monastic communities. However, he left an inscription on the doors of Kućani that he painted them ”for the memory and health” of his family, and mentions his wife Anđelija, son Aleksije (his painting associate and successor) and a bit mysterious son Maksim. At the end of the inscription, he mentions the Church of Holy Archangels, which opened the space for many ambiguous interpretations. One of them is the assumption that the royal doors were intended for another church, perhaps the Klisura Monastery near Arilje, but that they ended up in Kućani.


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