Hundreds of massive monoliths which are planted as soldiers around the Church of St. Jovan in the village of Dići near Rudnik are the largest preserved Serbian medieval cemetery. The large plates around the restored endowment of Vlkdraga, an veliki čelnik (title equivalent to count palatine) at the court of king Milutin, are adorned with unusual and unique symbols, such as the stylized crucifix of Christ which is also a pre-Christian tree of life.
With its monumentality, the Serbian necropolis, next to the Ibar highway, attracted the attention of the experts from the Institute of Archeology at the University College in London. English archeologists and anthropologists have already come three times to the village of Diće, eight kilometers away from Ljig, in an attempt to join the research, which, after a quarter of a century from the discovery of the necropolis, is still in the early phase.
Excavations, carried out from 1991 to 1993, revealed the foundations of the endowment church and the field of large tombstones under which deceased were buried from the 13th to the 15th century. Then a pause of almost two decades followed, after which the church municipality of Ljig began to organize the site and restore the church of veliki čelnik Vlkdrag. It was only in 2014 that the state finally provided money for the conservation of existing monuments, and last year more than fifty new ones were discovered.
-The graveyard has not yet been fully explored, we have only excavated 250 graves, and there are at least 1,000 medieval gravestone monuments that are unique in the Balkans - says archaeologist Željko Jež who discovered this cemetery. - Ornaments used on them are of the style on which the art of stećci was modeled in the 15th and 16th centuries. The church of the veliki čelnik Vlkdrag was built in a place which held the halo of holiness since prehistoric period. Its altar is located on a tumulus from the eleventh century BC.
The discovery of the memorial temple of the high noble and graveyard with monumental tombstones in Dići indicates that the border of medieval Serbia with Hungary was not on the Rudnik, as it is usually considered.
"Such an endowment one builds on his own land, heirdom, far from the enemy," says Jež. - This means that the border line of Serbia was at a safe distance, at least at Kolubara.
The medieval necropolis is located near a newer graveyard that the inhabitants formed alongside and above it after returning from a certain emigration. In the new necropolis, side by side stand monuments from the 18th century to the present day. All monuments except uniform, faceless modern black granite slabs, have retained a part of the medieval spirit and ornamentation.
- The site in Dići is a unique example of burial in a very long period of time, from prehistoric to modern day - says archeologist Radivoje Arsić from Valjevo Institute for the Protection of Cultural Monuments. - The ornamentation of the monuments retains a distinctive feature in spite of interruptions due to displacement, which indicates that the same population always returns here. Cemetery in Dići is a great testimony about Serbian continuity.
Archeologists admit that Dići site has only been superficially explored, although even now it can give us answers to many questions, like what was the medieval population, how did they look, what were their customs?
- The question is where did the people who were buried in front of the church lived, because such concentration of graves and their monumentality indicates that those buried are either nobility or rich population of a large settlement - says Arsić. - We are still looking for this mysterious city and the court of the veliki čelnik.
Paradoxically, despite the significance of the site in Dići, there are very few visitors, although it literally leans on the Ibar highway whose traffic shakes the bones of the medieval Serbs. Vehicles do not turn to the cobblestone road towards the Vlkdrag's church and the monolith field, although archaeologists say that everywhere in the civilized world this place would be flooded with visitors, from passengers on the highway, to pupil excursions.
- One thing is the great value of our heritage, and quite another our relationship towards it, which is miserable - said Jež. - There is no visitors at the site that has core importance for the research of the Serbian past, as there is almost no interest of the responsible institutions for research, publication and presentation. We do not even have a sign which would draw attention of those passing along the Ibar highway towards this uniquely important monument. We wanted to set up a billboard and we applied several years back with the Ministry of Culture, but not even the most modest sum was approved.
TRADITION SAVES THE SERBS
The medieval church and cemetery in Dići were deep underground when, at the beginning of the 90ties of the last century, archaeologist Zeljko Jež started his search.
- When we began excavating, we did not have any information about the church, except that it was allegedly located on a toponym that the old peasants called the Manastirine (the Monasteries). When we asked the villagers to cut ash tree growing there, so that we could dig, nobody, for the life of them, wanted to do it. They said it was a zapis (ancient trees across Serbian lands believed to be sacred) and that an accident is waiting for the one who cuts it. Only with the help of a local priest we managed to remove the tree and underneath it altar of the church appeared. The power of tradition is incredible. On the basis of it, the descendants returned from the migrations and continued to live and be buried where their ancestors were, leaving us a monument with continuity.
Ktetor plaque discovered in the remains of the temple revealed that it was built as a burial church by a monk Nikola, who, at the court of King Milutin and Stefan Dečanski, held the office of veliki čelnik which would correspond to the modern appointment of the Chief of Staff. He was buried in the church with his wife Vladislava, her monastic name was Ana, and other members of his family.
Tombstone inscription of the veliki čelnik Vlkdrag:
“In the summer of six thousand and
Eight hundred and thirty fifth
In days of king Uroš
Month of May, on the eight day and Day of Ascension
On Spasovdan, servant of God,
Monk Nikola passed away, mundanely known
As čelnik Vlkdrag, ktetor of this holy place.
This stone places
Servant of God Ana, mundanely known as
Madam Vladislava. To our God,
Glory eternal. Amin.”
The temple itself is of a Rascian architectural type, with frescoes by top masters from the beginning of the 14th century. The church was burned down and destroyed in 1459, when the mining fortress Ostrvica fell, followed by Smederevo and Serbian Despotate. However, the burials near the ruins of the church continued until the 17th century. Discontinuity appears afterwards due to the Great emigration. With the return of the population, burials continue in the 18th century.
Source: Večernje novosti; journalist: Boris Šubašić; original title of the article: "Serbian cemetery from the 13th century shaken by trucks from Ibarska", article published on September 25, 2016.
Prepared by: Boris Radaković
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