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Belgrade as new Jerusalem: Reflections on the reception of a topos in the age of despot Stefan Lazarević

Author(s): Erdeljan Jelena

Journal: Zbornik Radova Vizantološkog Instituta
ISSN 0584-9888

Volume: 2006;
Issue: 43;
Start page: 96;
Date: 2006;
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In the Vita of despot Stefan Lazarević, Belgrade is compared to Jerusalem The use of this topos is aimed at a social construction of meaning within the framework of historically determined cultural discourse, based on the premise that culture itself can be observed as a complex system of signs constantly open to redefinition. This implies that the approach to its more profound understanding must rely on a method based on reconceptualization of the problem of text and context. Therefore, the true object of investigation becomes the relation between text and society whose activities are themselves perceived as a sort of behavioral text, in which that relation functions as two homologous systems of signs. As a result, our attention is focused on activities which produce social and cultural phenomena and objects — actually on the means by the use of which a world filled with meaning is created. Apart from texts, those means, as real as the text itself, belong to the instruments of creating sacred space or hierotopy, a phenomenon historically recognized as translatio Hierosolymi. Beyond any doubt, in the eyes of homo medievalis, the absolute paradigm of hierotopic activity is Constantinople the capital of the Empire and universal model through the emulation of which or through the appropriation of whose elements of identity (ranging from cults of saints to visual identity) throughout history, and in particular in the later middle ages (especially following the events of 1204), a growing number of other points in the Christian oikoumene gains the status of center as a God-chosen and God-protected place — Arta, Trebizond and Nicea, Paris and Venice, Novgorod and Moscow, to name just the most prominent examples In investigating the case of Belgrade, attention is focused on the modes and vehicles of hierotopy which in the days of despot Stefan Lazarević (1402-1427) were laid as the foundation of likening Belgrade and Jerusalem as the utmost example of sacral space and their relation to the universal prototype of translatio Hierosolymi realized in Constantinople. Although related to that of Trnovo (relics of Agia Paraskevi were translated from Bulgaria to Serbia and encomiastic rhetoric developed within the Trnovo literary school was adopted in the Serbian milieu through the engagement of Constantine the Philosopher from Kostenec as the author of the highly learned and sophisticated text of the despot's Vita), the program of Belgrade appears to have more universal pretensions. Its emulation of Constantinople as a means of sacralisation is corroborated by a considerable number of phenomena in its hierotopy: the dedication of the city to the Virgin, the presence of her miracle working icon of the Hodegetria type (possibly even relics related to Mary), visions of her intercession and protection in the skies above the city, but above all the presence of imperial relics of the highest rank namely those of the first Christian emperor, Constantine the Great, and the holy empress Theophano (wife of Leo VI the Wise, dynastic saint of the Macedonians). As for topography, in the text of the despot's Vita the entire city is referred to as eptalophos polls, a notable Constantinopolitan epithet, while the location of its metropolitan see with the church of the Dormition of the Virgin is, in accordance with its dedication, likened to the Valley of Kidron and Gethsemane. Thus, although it is not the first sacral focus of the Serbian medieval state, Belgrade, as opposed to its monastic predecessors in that role — Chilandar, Studenica and Žiča, is the first such center created on an urban matrix and with a program of hierotopy focusing not on national but rather universal cults, a locus envisaged as the point of salvation drawing all the nations of the oikoumene. Such a concept of Belgrade as the capital of the Serbian state in the days of despot Stefan Lazarević is only one constituent part of a broader phenomenon of appropriating Constantinopolitan models as instruments in the process of sacralisation of the entire space of his state aimed at welcoming the eschatological reality expected to arrive with the year 7000. At the same time, this process was perceived as a political instrument, a true shield of divine protection against imminent Turkish threat. In the act of translating and mapping of sacred space, in asserting the occurrence and circulation of divine presence throughout the despot's land, other places, alongside Belgrade, also played an important role. Belgrade, politically certainly of utmost importance, together with its holy mountain located in its immediate vicinity, on Mt. Kosmaj, marks the northernmost point of that hallowed ground. Its southern perimeter is marked by Kruševac, Kalenić, Ljubostinja and other sacral focuses of so-called Morava Serbia while its ideal center so to speak, could be located in Manasija itself, despot Stefan's mausoleum or, in the words of Constantine the Philosopher, that other city which has the path towards celestial Jerusalem and is its likeness. .
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