History of the Monastery of Besenovo
KING DRAGUTIN’S RULE
According to oral tradition, the Monastery of Besenovo was established on Fruska Gora Mt., in late 13th century, by King Dragutin Nemanjis (1253 – 1316), in the vicinity of the stream that is called Cikos today. The ruler dedicated the Monastery to Holy Archangels Michael and Gabriel, patron saints of his noble ruling dynasty.
This makes Besenovo the only monastery on Fruska Gora connected with the holy Nemanjic dynasty. As it is known, other monasteries were, mainly, established during the rule of the last Serb despot rulers of the Brankovic family, dynasty that was also canonized by our Holy Church.
Though other material traces have not been preserved, speaking in favour of existence of the Monastery of Besenovo in the time of King Dragutin’s rule is the ancient record on its cross, which dates back to the year of 1297. As it is stated in this record, engraved on one side of it are the picture and the name of the Monastery of Besenovo, with the same patron saints as today, Dragutin’s patrons, Holy Archangels Michael and Gabriel (marked on November 8/21).
Incidentally, it was the period when Dragutin Nemanjic ruled the Srem Kingdom, which he had established in 1282, stepping down from Serbian throne, on which he was starting from 1276, after conflict with his brother Milutin. His first capital was Debrc between Sabac and Belgrade. Later he moved his capital town to Belgrade and thus became the first Serb King to rule in our today’s capital.
Dragutin stayed at the helm of the Srem Kingdom until his death in 1316.
FIRST WRITTEN RECORDS AND VALUABLE OBJECTS
First written records of the Monastery existence date back to mid-15th century. Namely, on the wall of the Monastery church, there is an inscription suggesting that the church was icon-painted as far back as 1476.
Much more details on the Monastery of Besenovo are contained in the oldest Srem area Turkish census document, dating back to 1546. The Monastery was regularly mentioned, also, in all subsequent Turkish census documents in the second half of the 16th century.
The Monastery treasury, which had been relatively rich even before, got additionally enriched at that time. As Vitovnica Monastery near Pozarevac was looted by the Turks, its monks took the most valuable liturgy objects to Besenovo. These included, also, a Four-Gospel, plated by Vuk Kondo, as well as silver glass by the famous silversmith Luka.
These and many other objects from Besenovo are today kept in the Museum of Serbian Orthodox Church in Belgrade.
SAINT KIRIK AND JULITA
Though Holy Archangels Michael and Gabriel are the patron saints of the Monastery of Besenovo, Saint Kirik and Julita also have an important place in its history. These are a son and a mother, who died for Christian faith in the Greek town of Ikonia, during the rule of the Roman Emperor Diocletian.
One part of their relics (the other part is still kept in the Holy Mother of God Bolnichka Church in Ohrid) arrived in Besenovo in a manner on which there are no written records and was kept there for a long time. It is certain that this happened before 1753, when, within the Monastery church, the building of a chapel dedicated to them started. Among several icons in the church, there was, also, the one representing Saint Kirik and Julita, which was painted, exactly at that time, by Russian icon-painter Vasily Romanovich.
The summer patron saint day of the Monastery is marked on the day of Saint Kirik and Julita (July 15/28) and this tradition was revived a few years ago when the reconstruction of the monastery started.
Incidentally, their relics were kept in the Monastery by mid-WWII, to be secretly moved to the church in the village of Besenovo in 1943, in order not to be taken to Zagreb by the Ustasha of Ante Pavelic, along with other precious objects which were taken there. There the relics remained after the war, also, to disappear without a trace, in the meantime.
FIRST DEVASTATION AND RECOVERY
The whole 17th century was, according to chronicles of that time, a period of great poverty in the Monastery, so that its monks often travelled to Russia, to gain contributions there. Stated as the years of such trips are 1628, 1648, 1670 and 1671.
Soon after the Great Migration of the Serbs to the Pannonia, led by the Patriarch Arsenije II Carnojevic (1690), better times came for the monasteries on Fruska Gora Mt, yet, this lasted only until 1716. Namely, that year, the army of the Prince Eugene of Savoy, in which the Serbs had a very important role, dealt a hard defeat to the Turkish army on Vezirac hill near Petrovaradin. Among other casualties, the Great Vizier Damid Ali – Pasha also died in this battle, and, after the battle, the last Turkish raid on Fruska Gora took place. On that occasion, according to the chronicles of that time, “They burned down Krusedol and Velika Remeta monasteries and the Monastery of Besenovo also suffered hard“. The Monastery was damaged and whole of its property was either pillaged or destroyed.
The recovery was neither fast nor easy, yet, the rest of that century was the period of the Monastery’s rise. In his census of estates in Srem in 1757, the Count Georgie Fekete de Galanta mentioned, as the land belonging to the Monastery of Besenovo, forest strips „Cesma“, „Turska dolina“, „Raskovac“ and „Veliki Hrast“. On the other hand, in similar census in 1775, it is stated that the Monastery land takes 2,221 cadastre acres, of which forest makes 1,002 acres.
DUKES OF THE RASKOVIC FAMILY
In the autumn 2012, after nearly seven decades of neglect by the Serbs, during which period the Monastery was overgrown with bushes, when the foundations of the ruined Monastery were uncovered again, among other things, the tomb of the Duke Aleksandar Raskovic was discovered. He was the last member of the noble Raskovic family from Stari Vlah area, where his father Atanasije raised the people’s uprising against the Turks, immediately before the Second migration of the Serbs, led by Patriarch Arsenije IV Jovanovic Sakabenta.
Incidentally, Patriarch Arsenije was Duke Aleksandar’s uncle, while Aleksandar was colonel of the Austrian Army and the last commander of the famous Petrovaradin regiment, comprising Serbs, mainly. Walking the path of glory of his ancestors including Vuk Isakovic, hero described in the novel „Migrations“ by the greatest Serbian writer Milos Crnjanski, Aleksandar Raskovic, together with his fearless frontiermen fought and won very important battles in Frankfurt, Landshut, Leipzig, Graz …
Serb dukes of the Raskovic family were contributors to the Monastery of Besenovo, so it is not surprising that their last offspring, Duke Aleksandar chose the Monastery as his last resting place.
ICONS AND ICONOSTASES
As already mentioned, the first written record on icon-painting of the Monastery dates back to 1467. The second icon-painting took place in mid-18th century. A part of icons from that icon-painting have been preserved and are kept, today, in the Museum of Srem in Sremska Mitrovica, waiting for the Monastery to be restored, after which they will be put on the place where they were made.
The author of these icons was the aforementioned Vasily Romanovich, who already in 1737, as a young painter, icon-painted the Boris and Gleb Church in Kiev. How and when he came to Srem was not recorded, yet, it is certain that he was living in the Monastery of Hopovo, where he entered the monastic order and where he died in 1773.
Preserved among the icons of the old iconostasis painted by Romanovich are those from the Holy Doors, as well as the icons of the Christ, the God Mother with the Christ, Saint John and Holy Archangel Michael. These icons are also waiting for restoration of the Monastery, being kept in the Srem Museum in Sremska Mitrovica.
The icons for the new lavish and impressive iconostasis of Besenovo, which lasted until the tragedy of the Monastery during and after WWII, are a work by one of greatest Serbian painters ever Stevan Aleksic (1876 – 1923).
He started painting these icons in 1906 and finished his work in 1909. Preserved from the Holy Doors are the icons of the Annunciation, Saint Stephen and Holy Archangel Michael, as well as the icons of Jesus Christ, the Ascension, the Transfiguration, the Holy Trinity and Saint John the Evangelist.
Beside these, preserved, also, are Aleksic’s icons of Holy Archangel Michael killing Satan and the Passion of Saint Kirik and Julita, which were in the chapel dedicated to them.
All preserved Besenovo icons of Stevan Aleksic are kept in the Museum of Srem in Sremska Mitrovica.
Horrible tragedy struck Besenovo during and after WWII, and the Monastery did not start recovering from it until today-.
When Yugoslavia disintegrated in early April 1941 and when the Ustasha hordes started their bloody rampaging in Srem area, which also was a part of Pavelic’s Independent State of Croatia, the monks from Vrdnik and Jazak took the relics of the Saint Prince Lazar, Saint Emperor Uroš and Saint Stefan Stiljanovic from those two monasteries to Besenovo.
They managed to preserve the sanctities only partially. In 1942 the Ustasha looted the Monastery treasury, including the coffins of the three saints and all precious objects they contained. All was taken to Zagreb and the very relics were simply shaken out of coffins and dispersed across the Monastery! They were saved by professor Radoslav Grujic, who managed to transfer them to the Cathedral Church in Belgrade, thanks to the help by the Germans, who were also appalled at the Croatian savagery.
Though severely pillaged and without monastic brotherhood (all monks of Fruska Gora monasteries who failed to flee to Serbia under the rule of the tragic figure of General Milan Nedic were arrested by the Ustasha and sent to their death camps), Besenovo stood up until May 4, 1944. After the Srem partisans placed their headquarters in the Monastery, on request of the Ustasha headquarters in Zagreb, the Germans practically bombed the Monastery to the ground on that day with airplane bombs.
Instead of reconstruction, with tacit acceptance of the new beastly Bolshevik power, the locals dispersed the remaining bricks and other construction materials. In spite of superhuman efforts of the Abbot Miron Simicic and his requests clearly in accordance with post-war laws, the courts of the new state, left the Monastery even without the maximal allowed stretch of land of ten hectares. Believing they were stronger even than God, the communists simply sentenced the monastery to its final disappearance.
Yet, their „verdict“, as well as „verdicts“ of many other mighty figures in history was changed by the Providence of God: on initiative and with blessing of His Eminence, the Bishop of Srem Vasilije and thanks to work and perseverance of the Abbot Arsenije Matic, Besenovo is, again, reaching for skies above the hills of the holy mountain of Fruska Gora.