Interesting facts about the Church of Saint Sava

Church of Saint Sava

The Church of Saint Sava is a Serbian Orthodox church in Belgrade.

It is the largest Serbian Orthodox church, the largest Orthodox place of worship in the Balkans and one of the largest Orthodox churches in the world.

From its location, the Church of Saint Sava dominates Belgrade’s cityscape, and is perhaps the most monumental building in the city.

The church is dedicated to Saint Sava, the founder of the Serbian Orthodox Church and an important figure in medieval Serbia. He was the youngest son of Serbian Grand Prince Stefan Nemanja (founder of the Nemanjic dynasty), and ruled the appanage of Hum briefly in 1190–92. He then left for Mount Athos where he became a monk, with the name Sava.

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To suppress the Serbs and their thirst for freedom, the Turkish Vizier Sinan Pasha ordered that the sarcophagus and relics of Saint Sava be brought by military convoy from the Mileševa monastery to Belgrade. When they reached Belgrade, the relics were publicly incinerated by the Ottomans on a pyre on the present location of the church on May 10, 1594.

In 1895, three hundred years after the burning of Saint Sava’s remains, the Society for the Construction of the Church of Saint Sava on Vracar was founded in Belgrade. Its goal was to build a temple on the place of the burning.

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Forty years after the initial idea, construction of the church began on 10 May 1935, 340 years after the burning of Saint Sava’s remains. The cornerstone was laid by Metropolitan Gavrilo of Montenegro, (the future Serbian Patriarch Gavrilo V). The project was designed by Aleksandar Deroko and Bogdan Nestorovic, aided by civil engineer Vojislav Zadina.

After the NATO bombing of Serbia in 1999, the works were halted again. Patriarch Pavle, known for his asceticism, thought that such an expensive works are inappropriate when people are beaten and impoverished.

As of 2017, the exterior of the church is complete.

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The Church of Saint Sava was built in the Serbian-Byzantine style and extends 91 meters (298 feet) in the east-west direction, and 81 meters (266 feet) in the north-south direction.

The church has four 44 meters (144 feet) high steeples. At its highest point the dome is 70 meters (230 feet) in height, while the main gilded cross is an additional 12 meters (39 feet) high, giving the Cathedral a total height of 82 meters (262 feet) and a height above sea level of 134 meters (440 feet).

The surface area of the ground floor is 3,500 square meters (37,670 square feet) with three galleries: one of 1,500 square meters (16,145 square feet) in area on the first level, a 120 square metre (1,290 square feet) gallery on the second level, and a choir gallery that holds 800 singers.

The temple can hold 10,800 faithful at any one time.

The basement contains a crypt, the treasury of St. Sava, and the grave church of St. Hieromartyr Lazar, with a total surface area of 1,800 square metres (19,375 sqare feet).

Church of Saint Sava crypt

The domes are decorated with 18 gilded crosses of three different sizes, while the belfries house 49 bells.

The central dome mosaic depicts the Ascension of Jesus and represents Resurrected Christ, sitting on a rainbow and right hand raised in blessing, surrounded by four angels, Apostles and Theotokos. To give a sense of the monumental scale of this mosaic, each eye will be about 3 metres wide. Total weight of the mosaic is 40 tons and it was placed on the dome from May 2017 to February 2018.

Church of Saint Sava dome

This composition is inspired by mosaic in main dome of St Mark’s Basilica in Venice. It was made for a year in Russia, during 2016 and 2017. It was then cut and transported by special trucks to Belgrade.

Beside its religious mission, the Cathedral also organizes various cultural, educational and social events. The Cathedral works tirelessly to preserve Serbian culture, tradition and language.

One of the largest gatherings in front of the Temple is that on Christmas Eve. Thousands of believers gather around a huge open-air hearth where the badnjak is set on fire. That is how the midnight liturgy and Christmas are celebrated each year with an air tremendous joy and excitement. Another spectacular event is the Orthodox New Year celebration when Serbs welcome the new year with phenomenal fireworks, music, dancing and laughter.

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