Morača Monastery

Northern Montenegro

Morača (founded in 1252) is one of the most important Orthodox monasteries in Montenegro, with some of its most accomplished religious art. Its two churches are plastered in frescoes; the Church of the Dormition (Crkva Uspenja Bogorodice) has external frescoes by the celebrated master Djordje Mitrofanović, plus beautiful doors inlaid with geometric patterns. Inside are icons by Mitrofanović as well as other masters. The monastery is located near the banks of the Morača River, 46km from Podgorica.

As you enter the walled compound into a garden courtyard where the bees from the monks’ hives dance between the hydrangeas and roses, it’s like stepping back into the 13th century. To the right, the small St Nicholas’ Church (Crkva Sv Nikole) has faded frescoes on its facade which were once as vivid as those inside. You can still make out the Madonna and Child above the door and an archangel on either side.

In the vestibule of the Church of the Dormition there’s a fascinating vision of Christ sitting in judgement, attended by saints. A slide of flames shoots the damned into hell where two-headed people-eating sea monsters do their worst. Look for the angels spearing little demons in the face to prevent them from tipping the scales of justice.

The church's treasures include Mitrofanović's The Virgin Enthroned with Child, Prophets and Hymnographers (1617), which sits within the iconostasis, to the left of the sanctuary door. The other master at work here was Kozma, whose icon of Saints Sava and Simeon (1645), on the right-hand wall, includes a border showing the construction of the monastery (the latter saint was the founder’s grandfather). Also look to the left of the iconostasis for the icon of St Luke (by an unknown painter) depicting the apostle painting an icon of the Madonna and Child; this is probably a reference to the famous Our Lady of Philermos icon which now hangs in Cetinje.

This is an active monastery (albeit with only four monks); dress appropriately.