Nathaniel Brooks

Studio Tour: New Gracanica Orthodox Monastery

In Judson University - Traditional Architecture & Urbanism, Uncategorized on September 22, 2010 at 9:03 pm

The Church

In 1984, New Gracanica Church and the main building on the ground, dedicated to the feast of the “Protection of the Most Holy Mother of God”, were completed and consecrated. It is an impressive architectural replica of the old Gracanica of Kosovo, but eighteen percent larger than the one built in 1321 in Serbia. The original Gracanica was commissioned by King Milutin and built in 1321 by three brothers – Djordje, Dobroslav and Nicholas. Architecturally, Gracanica is the supreme achievement and is designed in the Kosmet style. This style was a development of the Macedonian style or cross-in-square. The one difference is that in the Kosmet style, on each corner is a supplementary dome, while in the center is the main dome. New Gracanica is richly attired with detail such as hand-carved wooden entrance doors, which depict twenty-three monasteries and churches from various regions of Serbia, uniting them in image as they are in the hearts and minds of the Serbian people. Domes with crosses, pillars and unique brickwork add to the grandeur of the original Gracanica.
Interior

The interior of the church with its carved wooden furnishings, ornate gold and crystal chandeliers, imposing icons and award-winning terrazzo floor create an aura of beauty and serenity. It fulfills the desire of the Orthodox Church to touch the senses, thereby touching the soul. The physical beauty of the church is reflective of the love and commitment the Serbians have for their faith, but the furnishings of the church also serve as symbols of the intrinsic ideas of the religion. Every element from the use of candles to the placement of saints on the iconostas in the church has a significance in the Serbian Orthodox religion.

The Frescoes

In 1995, the fresco project began. Fr. Theodore Jurewicz was commissioned to paint the entire church. The project took three years. Fr. Theodore, one of the most profound and celebrated iconographers in America today, came in stretches of three weeks to a month to do the work. The style is Byzantine and the richly colored designs and religious scenes that cover the walls, vaults, pillars and dome of the church are imbued with bright colors. This is its most distinctive feature. When one walks in, the church reflects brightness, hope, beauty, optimism, life. Described as religiously significant scenes and symbols, icons are painted on wood boards (the typical icon), done as mosaics (in stone, marble or tile) or painted as the frescoes that frequently cover the plastered surfaces of early Orthodox Christian churches. The frescoes painted by Fr. Theodore and other contemporary iconographers are done in acrylics on dry plaster. Formerly they were painted on wet concrete. Fr. Thomas Kazich said, “The frescoes make people feel like the people represented by the images are present. It is also a way to pass down events through the centuries so that even people who are illiterate or don’t read the Bible can visualize and understand what the priest is talking about. In the Orthodox Church we have not just an oral tradition, but also a visual tradition. Iconography represents that visual tradition. Icons are often referred to as ‘the gospel in colors’.” Icons are like windows to heaven. They are windows that take us to another kind of reality. We don’t pray to the images. We pray through them. Fr. Theodore was asked what it means to paint an icon. He said, “Painting an icon is like making a journey from darkness into light. In most paintings, the artist starts light and adds darker shades. In icons you go from dark to light. It is the Byzantine tradition of painting, although you can also think of it theologically as going from the darkness of ignorance to the light of enlightenment.” The frescoes were blessed in October of 1998 by His Holiness Patriarch PAVLE.

Text courtesy New Gracanica Monastery

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