• Владимир Алексић


Probably soon after their arrival in the Balkans, and quite certainly after the conversion into Christianity, Serbs became familiar with the fundamentals of the cult of St. Demetrius of Thessaloniki. Through this process, they joined other peoples who revered him as one of the most significant military saints and martyrs. This sequencing of events was helped by the fact Thessaloniki and the medieval Sremska Mitrovica were very close to the Serbian ethnic region, and also by the fact that, in the age of the Comnenus dynasty, military saints became additionally venerated. Major changes in southeast Europe politics in late 12th and early 13th centuries made it possible for an entire range of new beliefs related to this saint to emerge. The strongest such belief prevailed in Bulgaria. According to it, the protector of Thessaloniki left this city after it was taken by the Normans in 1185. He was soon to become the guardian of Bulgaria. As at this time Serbia became fully politically independent, the belief in St. Demetrius as a protector of the fatherland and aide in the fights was accepted in the Nemanjić state, too. However, this phenomenon did not prevail. In that respect, some advantage was given to St. Stephen the First Martyr as a family patron, Virgin Mary as the generally accepted patron of all Christians, St. George as the most revered military saint, and St. Nicolas, the most widely accepted saint of all. Still, the phenomenon can be tracked indirectly, observing the inscriptions on the temples or chapels, endowments of members of the ruling elite or the highest Serbian clergy. Particular attention is dedicated to the case of the lost church of St. Demetrius, in the vicinity of the capital in Ras. Probably the most reliable lead is found in the comparative analysis of frescoes from Studenica and Žiča, which reveal that in later paintings St. Demetrius had a more prominent role, even as one of the closest guardians of King Stephen the First Crowned. Images from temple decorations are accorded with the data found in the narrative sources. In the hagiography of his father, Stephen the First Crowned created the saintly image of his predecessor partly based on the traits often ascribed to the Thessaloniki martyr, presenting him as the guardian of the state, the people, and the dynasty. The reevaluation of the description of the miracle with Durres Despot Michael has led to the conclusion that Stephen the First Crowned had before him a copy of the Hagiography of St. Mercurius, from which he used a detail and incorporated it in his writing. Domentianus and Theodosius also left us valuable data on the great reverence of St. Demetrius. However, they seem to have used but also changed some earlier themes from Stephen's work. It is assessed that the basis for such an approach was found partly in their monasticism, partly in their conscious adaptation to the needs of the state and the church, which has been noted before, but also partly in their misunderstanding of the messages that Stephen the First Crowned sent to his readers, as, in the changed political circumstances, they had lost their importance. The reverence of St. Demetrius was quite certainly generally accepted by all the strata of the Serbian medieval state. With a caveat that today only few historical sources remain to unveil the ways in which St. Demetrius was respected among the lower classes, a serious obstacle to a comprehensive study of his cult, the position is favoured that the court of the Nemanjić dynasty and secular and clerical circles close to it played an important role in the strengthening of the cult. This way, the cult was given a position in the complex system of state ideology. This set of beliefs was not a constant, and, based on the material available, it seems that in the period of Stephen the First Crowned and Milutin reverence of St. Demetrius was gaining in importance. There is also a possibility that this condition in the Nemanjić court was presented in the coronation of Tvrtko I with a "double crown".