The peninsula of Athos in Chalkidiki was named after the mountain of the same name steeply rising at the peninsula’s end above the Aegean See. Since, from time immemorial, monks took shelter there, it was called the Holy Mountain, or AΓΗΟΝ ΟΡOΣ. The former fishing villages of Ouranoupolis and Hierissos are situated on the boundary of the territory inhabited by monks, to which entrance by women is prohibited.
The Holy Mountain, whose hills, except for Athos are covered by dense woods and bushes, is dotted with monastires, sketai (dependencies of a monastery or clusters of kellia) and small kellia. Karyes, located in the central part of the peninsula, houses the administrative seat of this large monastic community. Apear from about six hundred kellia and twelve sketai, there are twenty large monasteries on Mount Athos today, standing on a shore or a little way island: Great Lavra (Athanasios the Athonite), Vatopedi, Iviron, Chilandar, St Dionysios, Koutlumousiou, Pantocrator, St Paul etc. All these monasteries are Greek, except for three which are Slavonic- Chilandar (Serbian), Panteleimon (Russian) and Zographou (Bulgarian). Rumunians and other Orthodox monks also live in smaller monastic comunities. The Holy Mountain is governed by the Holy Community- Protaton- from Karyes, composed of the representative of all twenty monasetires.
The site of the present-day Serbian monastery seems to have been occupied in the 10th, and certainly in the 11th and 12th centuries, by the Greek monastery of Chelandariou, in all likelihood the foundation of George Chelandarios, a prominent Athonite monk. In the years following 1169, it was deserted and fell into decay due to the plundering attacks of pirates. When the Grand zupan Stefan Nemanja, having taken the monastic name of Simeon, joined his son, the monk Sava, on Athos, they at first lived in Vatopedi monastery. Wishing to found a Serbian monastery on the Holy Mountain, the father and son sent a request to the Byzan¬tine Emperor Alexios III Angelos that the derelict monastery of Chelandariou be ceded to them. The Byzantine Emperor granted their plea and in 1198 issued a chrysobull to Simeon and Sava by which they were granted the site of Chelandariou and shrines in Meleai — the area surrounding the monastery — “to be a gift to the Serbs in perpetuity”. The father and son, aided by Stefan, the Grand zupan of Serbia of that time, began to renovate Chilandar in the same year. During construction works, at the outset of 1199, Simeon passed away, but the monastery was nevertheless completed by the end of the year. Next to the ‘widely spread’ church, dedicated to the Presentation of the Virgin, a large tower (pyrgos) and cells for monks were erected. At first, there were up to fifteen monks in the monastery, but soon their number reached ninety. In 1200 Sava drew up a typikon, prescribing in it the way of life which was to be adhered to throughout centuries. The Grand zupan Stefan (the subsequent First-crowned king) and his father-in-law, the Byzantine Emperor Alexios III, lavishly endowed Chilandar with landed estates. At first, they were chiefly located in Serbian lands. Apart from this, Sava founded a hermitage at Karyes as early as 1199, dedicated to his patron-saint St Sabbas of Jerusalem, in which he, and his followers after¬wards, practiced a solitary and exemplary anchoritic life.
During the 13th century, the Serbian rulers from the house of the Nemanjics, who inherited the founder’s rights, did not cease to take care of Chilandar. In addition to a number of gifts endowed by all rulers, King Uros I, in order to protect Chilandar from the landward side, erected the tower of Transfiguration around the mid-13th century. In it, the Chilandar monk Domentijan, St Sava’s disciple, wrote the Life of St Simeon in 1264, having composed the Life of St Sava of Serbia at Karyes two decades earlier (1243). Apart from literary endeavours, various liturgical and other books were laboriously copied in the monastery. Of scribes, especially noteworthy was Theodore Grammatikos, who copied Hexaemeron in 1263 (today in Moscow). The abbots and brethren of Chilandar acquired grow¬ing prestige, and in the course of the 13th century many bishops and archbishops of the Serbian church were elected from their ranks (Sava II, Joanikije I, Jevstatije). In those years, the monastery was certainly embellished with frescoes, but little is known about it. The frescoes surviving in the tower of St George from the outset of the 13th century and in the Holy Trinity church at Spasova voda (Saviour’s water) from the mid-13th century, offer rare evidence of this. Besides this, several beautiful icons and manuscripts that have been preserved bear witness to the fact that the Chilandar church was constantly ornamented, and that the library became richer in books.
At the beginning of the 14th century, an important event occurred in the history of Chilandar. King Milutin undertook the restoration and expansion of the foundation of his ancestors, the dynasty’s founder Stefan Nemanja and the first Serbian archbishop St Sava. On obtaining the permission of the Byzantine Emperor Andronikos II Palaiologos, he ordered that the old church be demolished and the new, present one, erected. At the same time, the generous patron erected many kellia — abodes of the Chilandar monks, a common refectory, encircled the monastery with high walls fortified with strong towers, and built the burial church in its vicinity. Since the Athonite monasteries, and Chilandar, were constantly threatened by pirates and other brigands, in 1300 King Milutin decided to erect the Hrusija tower (known today as St Basil by the sea) right on the coast, then the so-called Milutin’s tower on the road leading from the coast to Chilandar, and a tower by the hermitage at Kareys, of which no trace is left today.
Thanks to these structures, Chilandar, headed by the abbot Danilo, resisted the Catalans, renegade Spanish mercenaries, when they pillaged and ravaged the Holy Mountain between 1307 and 1310. Apart from master masons, in the first decades of the 14th century Chilandar also saw the arrival of painters. They painted the church in 1321, and at about the same time the refectory and the burial church as well, and produced an iconostasis and icons for the new main church. Besides this, King Milutin, in fulfilling his founder’s obligations, endowed the monastery with estates, a number of manuscript books, liturgical vessels, embroidery and various costly objects. The generosity of King Milutin was followed by his heirs. The Emperor Dusan, under whose rule Mount Athos came for a short period of time, showered Chilandar and other Athonite monasteries with especially lavish gifts. In 1347-1348, he took refuge there from the plague. At that time, Chilandar possessed large estates in the Morava valley, Hvosno, around Pec, in the Strymon valley, around Thesalloniki, especially in Chalkidiki. Its land estates stretched over one fifth of the Holy Mountain’s territory. The rulers were emulated by the nobility. Many feudal lords presented to the monastery churches and villages with revenue: the church in Psaca was donated by knez Paskac and his son the sebastocrator Vlatko, the monastery of Konce by the grand voivoda Nikola Stanjevic, the church of the Virgin in Arhiljevica by the despot Dejan, the church of the Holy Archangels in Stip by the protosebastos Hrelja. Besides this, the noblemen endowed Chilandar with beautifully illuminated books, icons and various other objects. The material prosperity of Chilandar was followed by a spiritual flourishment. The monastery assumed and intensified its key position as a leading literary and religious centre.
At the end of the 13th and the beginning of the 14th centuries, the monk Teodosije composed two notable works of medieval Serbian literature: the Life with the Service to St Petar of Korisa, hermit from the environs of Prizren, and the Life of St Sava of Serbia, the founder of Chilandar. Another renowned monk from Chilandar and the subsequent Serbian archbishop, Danilo II, is the author of the celebrated Lives of Serbian kings and archbishops, then the services to St Arsenios and St Eustathios. Another archbishop, also a Chilandar monk, Jefrem, left behind him fine examples of ecclesiastical poetry. The gifted anonymous writer who continued Danilo’s Lives of Serbian kings and archbishops certainly lived in this monastery. In that epoch, Chilandar housed a number of scribes, who copied various writings for the requirements of liturgical activity, as well as those with a more complex theological content.
Except for the monastery itself, manuscripts were copied in the hermitage at Kareys (monk Theodoulos). Many of them were illuminated by initials and headpieces, and some contained figural miniatures as well. Chilandar’s reputation was to a great extent raised by its prominent abbots and monks. As in the 13th century, in the course of the 14th, several abbots from this monastery came to the head of the Archdiocese, that is, from 1346 the Patriarchate of Pec (archbishops Nikodim, Danilo II, patriarchs Jefrem, Sava IV).
The exceptional significance of Chilandar in the 14th century is confirmed by its role in the relations between the enfeebled Byzantium of that time, and Serbia in full ascent. A major role in these affairs was played by Gervasije, who held the office of the abbot of Chilandar for two decades and was an important intermediary in Serbia’s complex relations with Byzantium. The battle of the Marica in 1371, and the unstoppable Turkish conquest of the Christian states in the Balkans, did not severe the link of Chilandar with the mother country, nor were the monastery’s survival and welfare seriously threatened at first.
Around 1380, Prince Lazar appeared as a new patron, having added to the principal church, Milutin’s foundation, a spacious exonarthex. Besides this, he presented Chilandar with other gifts, i.e. with the annual revenue of the mine in Novo Brdo among other things. Other rulers, heirs to Dusan’s vast empire, lavishly aided Chilandar as well. Before his death at the battle of the Marica, the despot Jovan Ugljesa donated new land estates; around 1375, the despot Toma Preljubovic in all probability supplied financial assistance wilh which the small church of the Holy Archangels was fresco-painted. In the epoch around the battle of Marica, and after it, translation and scribal activities did not abate. Just before 1371, the famous theological-philosophical work of Pseudo-Dionisios the Areopagite was translated by Isaiah, the learned monk of Chilandar, the writings of Gregory Pala-mas and Gregory the Sinaites were copied out, and at the beginning of the 15th century the Agricultural law was copied and translated, perhaps for the first time.
Original literary creations were rare, but a few were nevertheless produced: at the close of the 14th century, a disciple of Isaiah’s concocted the Life of this distinguished Chilan¬dar monk. This Chilandar’s monk was to play a major role in the ecclesiastical and state affairs in fourteenth-century Serbia. It was through his efforts that in 1375 a reconciliation between the Patriarchates of Pec and Con¬stantinople was achieved, and the anathema pronounced on the Serbian church because of the unauthorized proclamation of the patriarchate, lifted. The precarious times before the final downfall of the Balkan states to Turkish rule were also felt in Chilandar. The endangered secular and ecclesiastical dignitaries took shelter at Chilandar: if laymen, they took a monastic vow, or secured the right to lifelong maintenance by donating the monastery a large contribution, that is, by purchasing the so-called adelphaton. The blind son of George Brankovic, Grgur, who adopted the monastic name of German, spent his last days on a Chilandar estate in the Strymon region; John Castriotes from Albania purchased a tower from Chilandar together with his sons, so that he could find shelter there in case the need should arise, while the Metropolitan of Serres Sabas and the Metropolitan of Melnik took shelter at Chilandar, having been deprived of their dioceses.
Chilandar and Mount Athos temporarily lost their freedom at first, between 1387 and 1403, and then were to live under the Turks for the five ensuing centuries (1430-1912), almost without interruption. The first decades under the supremacy of Islam were obviously not easy. Chilandar lost some of its estates, and it is not circumstantial that no evidence has survived bearing on scribal or literary activities. An indirect testimony to the monastery’s strained conditions is the fact that in 1503 the despina Angelina Brankovic solicited aid for it from the Grand Prince of Russia. Constant and generous Russian aid began to reach Chilandar from 1550, when the abbot Pajsije was kindly received by the Russian Tzar Ivan IV the Terrible. This Russian sovereign was the most generous benefactor to the monastery in the 16th century: Chilandar was supplied with money for restoration, then with icons, books, costly ecclesiastical objects, and in 1571 with a mansion in Moscow. Russia continued to provide contributions up to the beginning of the 20th century, and for some time this privileged position invested the monks of Chilandar with the right to journey to Russia to receive gifts once in three years. The monastery was also aided by other free Orthodox countries — the rulers of Wallachia obliged themselves to lend regular assistance and issued charters about this.
During the 16th and 17th centuries, the donations that reached Chilandar from Serbian lands primarily came from wealthy citizens: merchants, craftsmen, instead of the rulers and nobility of past times. In his will of 1539, Bozidar Vukovic, a Serbian printer in Venice, bequeathed to Chilandar his Meneion, printed on parchment with lavishly decorated covers. At the close of the 17th century, one of the monastery’s most generous benefactor was the monk Nikanor, as it seems, a former Serbian merchant from Venice, who restored the skete of the Holy Trinity and donated many other contributions. Besides this, gifts of books and icons made by the Serbian patriarchs of Pec Antonije and Jovan, or Maksim, on the occasion of his visit in 1658, confirmed that they had not forgotten the famous monastery. Two Metropolitans were especially generous to Chilandar. The Metropolitan of Herzegovina, Simeon, commissioned an iconostasis for the main church in 1634/1635. In the ninth decade of the 17th century, the small church of the Nativity of John the Forerunner was erected on the tower of St Sava of Serbia; it was painted with frescoes and adorned with an iconostasis at the expense of the Metropolitan of Belgrade, Simeon.
The protosyngelos of the Patriarchate of Pec, Visarion, supplied the means for the construction of a cistern in 1682. That in the 16th and 17th centuries Chilandar not only survived, but also experienced occasional flourishing periods, is to the merit of the capable abbots of Chilan dar, i.e. Filip, Teodosije, Filimon, and especially Viktor. In spite of strained circumstances, they managed to restore different buildings in the monastery, refectory, residence buildings, and small churches.
On the basis of large-scale artistic and construction enterprises in the 17th century, it could be deduced that as regards economy, the monks of Chilandar adapted themselves success-fully to the non-coreligionist authorities. In the course of the 16th and 17th centuries, Chilandar did not fall behind in the spiritual matters. True, among the ranks of Serbian monks of that time there were no prominent writers producing literary works, but there were many copyists working in the monastery itself, at Kareys and in the skete of St Anna. Because of their reputation, the Serbian monasteries from Bosnia and Srem, and many others, endevoured to provide themselves with manuscripts copied on the Holy Mountain. In Chilandar, and in Athos in general, important theological compos tions were translated and amended, in which a special role was played by Gregory from Karyes, hieromonk Damascinos, spiritual father from Spasova Voda, and daskal (teacher) Samuil Bakacic. The artistic activity in Chilandar was not particularly lively in the period from the Turkish conquest until the beginning of the 17th century. In the course of the second and third decades of the 17th century, an impetus to it was given by the Chilandar monk and painter Georgije Mitrofanovic, who worked a lot in his native country, but also in Chilandar. Chilandar entered the 18th century making an effort to reassume its key position by strengthening ties primarily with Orthodox Slavs in the Balkans. Apart from Russ¬ian aid, for whose distribution the responsibility was now transferred from the sovereigns to the Holy Synod, the monks of Chilandar requested help from the Metropolitan of Karlovac and Serbian ecclesiastical communes in south Hungary and Sarajevo. From the mid-18th century, they increasingly appealed to the Orthodox believers in Bulgaria, for a large number of monks came to the monastery from these regions of the Balkans. A major fire which in 1722 destroyed all the buildings, from the tower of St Sava to the tower of St George, induced the monks of Chilandar to undertake extensive reconstruction works, which began as early as 1728. In 1770, another large fire on the west side of the monastery induced the monks to exert new efforts, so that the restoration of the residence buildings and small churches in them was to last for the remaining part of the 18th century. In that period several residence buildings and small churches were con¬structed, and subsequently adorned with wall-paintings and iconostases.
Some benefactors came from Serbia, but for the most part Bulgarians from Vidin, and the villages of Banska and Koprivstica, distinguished themselves by their rich contributions. In the 18th century, spiritual life was not very inten¬sive. The most reputable among the monks was the Bulgarian Pajsije of Chilandar, who, living in the monastery in the mid-18th century, wrote a Slavonic-Bulgarian History (1762), a book of great significance for the arousal of national consciousness among Bulgarians. From Russia and the Ukraine, where they went for help, the monks of Chilandar brought new books, now only printed, in which a new aspect of Orthodox theology was fostered under the influence of the West. As the place treasuring a large number of relics, historical and artistic works, in the first half of the 18th century Chilandar began to attract pil¬grims and men of learning.
The Russian Vasilij Barskij paid a visit to the monastery as early as 1725, and after that in 1744. Dositej Obradovic sojourned in Chilandar in the winter of 1765-1766, and left a testimony to the fact that the Serbs disputed with Bulgarians to whom Chilandar actually belonged. At the very end of the 18th century, Chilandar ceased to be ruled by the abbot, and two epitropoi and two deputy abbots were elected instead, to run the monastery together with the most eminent monks – the Assembly of Gerontes. From that time onwards, the miraculous icon of the Virgin with the three hands was considered to be the abbotess of Chilandar for the ensuing two centuries. This was changed in 1991, when the abbot was installed again. The first half of the 19th century was marked by the construction of large residence buildings on the north side. During this period the Greek rebellion flared up (1821 -1829), bringing about great trouble to the Athonite monasteries because of Turkish violence. An epidemic of the plague, which broke out in 1837, thinned the ranks of (he Chilandar monks to a great degree. In the 19th cen¬tury, the monastery was almost exclusively peopled by monks from Bulgaria, although the connections with Serbian lands were not severed. Occasionally, as in 1820 and 1835, Prince Milos aided Chilandar and other Athonite monasteries. Chilandar was visited by an increasing number of scholars coming from Russia (V. Grigorovic in 1844, P. Uspenskij 1845), Bulgaria (K. Petkovic in 1852), and Serbia (J. Rajic in 1758, D. Avramovic in 1847, N. Ducic in 1882, and many others). At the end of the 19th century Sava of Chilandar, the learned Czech who took monastic vows, helped a lot to throw open the literary treasure of Chilandar to scholarly circles. When the Serbian King Aleksandar Obrenovic visited Chilandar in 1896, and the Serbian state paid off the monastery’s debt, the door of the monastery opened to monks from Serbia, so that at the beginning of the 20th century Chilandar became Serbian again.