Mileseva (pr. MEE-LE-SHE-VA)-Serbia-August 2000 -- This summer our BLAGO team went to monastery Mileseva for the second archives expedition. Mileseva was one of the most important Serbian spiritual centers for the last seven hundred years and its architecture belongs to the Raska school.
Short history lesson
The monastery of Mileseva was founded by Vladislav, King of Serbia, son of Stefan the First-Crowned and grandson of Stephan Nemanja, founder of the Serbian mediaeval dynasty. The ancient Serbian biographers recorded that the erection of Mileseva started immediately after Vladislav's accession to the throne in 1234.
King Vladislav had Mileseva built as his burial church. He died in the eighties of the 13th century and was buried in the monastery. Even today his preserved body lays in the royal sarcophagus inside the church.
The monastery itself played a very important part in the Serbian history. In 1237 the relics of St. Sava was brought to Mileseva where it was later to become a center of hope, courage, and inspiration for the Serbian struggle against the Turkish occupation. The Turks took away St. Sava relics and burnt them in Belgrade, at the site of today's St. Sava Cathedral.
Mileseva is also the site where Bosnian nobleman Tvrtko was crowned in 1377 as King of Bosnia and Serbia, assuming his royal name Stefan, and the tradition of the Nemanjic dynasty. In 16th century Mileseva was well known for its printing shop, and was mentioned in Serbian epic poetry as "Mileseva of Herzegovina".
In late 17th century th monastery was partially destroyed by the Turks and was deserted for many years. It was restored in 1857.
A very important aspect of the monastery Mileseva, the one that BLAGO expedition was focused upon, is its frescoes. Together with the frescoes of monastery Sopocani they represent the greatest treasury of the old Serbian paintings.
Coming to Mileseva
Our team assembled in Belgrade where we spent few days in preparations for the expedition. The whole trip, day by day, and all the details of our recordings were planned during our meetings, and placed on the paper. Having experience from Ravanica, and having our scouting people visited Mileseva a month before helped in finalizing our plans.
Mileseva is located in the south-west corner of Srbia, few miles away from the boarder with Montenegro. One long day of driving through the heartland of Serbia brought us to Prijepolje, a small town on the banks of river Lim, were most of our team was staying.
Thanks to the kindness and understanding of Bishop Filaret of Mileseva, father Sava and monks in Mileseva were aware that we are coming. From the very beginning we had their full support.
Since we carried lots of equipment, and few people worked on it at all time, it was not a trivial task to find the right place for all of it. After a day of moving from one place to the other (restaurant across the street, monastery living quarters, and few picnic tables under the oak tree) we gladly accepted Father Sava's offer and moved our equipment into the church itself. At first we thought that it might not be appropriate for us to have all the hi tech equipment inside, but pretty soon we realized that that was the most natural place for it. It was a pleasure working many hours a day under the watchful eyes of St. Sava, St. Simeon, and the White Angel. We kept reminding ourselves that monasteries, this one in particular, were the places where books were printed and other scientific projects accomplished. According to the stories, during the Turkish occupation, books were printed and kept in the church itself. And beside, it was very, very hot outside.
Virtual Reality Pictures
All of the still pictures required for the computerized virtual reality (VR) are taken with our Nikon E2N digital camera and a special leveling tripod. Usage of the wide angle lens, required for VR lighting of the church, was a persistent challenge to our crew, wide area of the church must be evenly lighten for the best results. Four strong direct lights, as well as many smaller indirect lights, were used for this purpose. Many people from our crew participated by holding up reflectors, blocking natural light from monastery windows, and moving the lightning equipment and cables around the camera circle (so we don't end up having it in the picture).
Our crew tried not to cause any disruption in the life of the monastery.
Pictures were taken only in between 8:00 AM and 6:00 PM (after and before every day services in the church). Many frequent visitors caused delays and at one point in time we had to assign some of our crew members to "visitor traffic control" duties (a pair of hand-held radios helped us coordinating our work).
To get better VR movies of the upper layers of the church we built a small scaffold (2m high) that we used to raise our camera nodal point. Tanja, the art historian, took the opportunity to use this scaffold throughout the duration of our trip.
To access many of the frescoes, a special scaffold was transported from monastery Studenica. It allowed us to elevate our crew up to 15 meters high and take all the pictures located in the church dome and upper layers of the nave. Our support crew worked very hard to assemble, move around, and disassemble the scaffold for many days. Six levels of scaffold must be built carefully, parts and equipment must be moved in and out of the church many times without making any damage to the church and its frescoes.
Special attention was given to the famous "White Angel" fresco (part of the larger composition "Myrrh-bearing women at the Holy Sepulchre"), which by the skillfulness of drawing, harmony of colors and spirituality of expression radiates a nearly transcendental beauty. Every detail of this important fresco was recorded with digital camera, as well as positive films (slides). Equal to the beauty of it is the fresco of Mary, Mother of God, which reproduction can be found in many history, art, and religious books. The other important frescoes, in none of the less beauty and historical values, are also recorded: St. Sava, Stefan Nemanja (St. Simeon), Stefan the First Crowned, Kings Radoslav and Vladislav, Emperor Constantine, and many others.
This year our expert group from the states, as well as from Serbia, was much bigger then at our previous work at Ravanica: Boris Price, camera & lights, Vladimir Vukicevic, computers, Mija Stefanovic, Mileseva expert, Zoran Jovanovic, historian, and Tanja Vuleta, art designer. It was a great pleasure to see them working together.
We are grateful to Vladika Filaret, Bishop of Mileseva, for giving us his permission to create Mileseva archives, to Father Sava and other monks in Mileseva monastery, for their patience and understanding during the weeks of recordings.
Also, we are thankful to Vladika Jovan, Bishop of the Western Diocese in America, for his continues support on this project.
Many thanks to our members from California, Savo and Nena Price, for their contribution and performance on this trip. Also, special thanks to our support crew, Ljubomir Medenica, Milan Medenica, Bojan Markovic, Sasa Trifkovic, and Jelena Vukicevic for their relentless work in organizing our trip.
We are also thankful to the Institute for the Protection of Cultural Monuments of Republic of Serbia in Belgrade for their permission and help during the recordings.