Tvrdoš Monastery, the cradle of Orthodoxy in southern Herzegovina

Ljiljana Krejic | Live the World

November 23, 2022

In a pretty much scenic setting of the karstic elevation along the right bank of the Trebišnjica River, surrounded by bountiful vines and orchards, sits Tvrdoš Monastery – the cradle of Orthodoxy in southern Herzegovina. Existing in continuity since the Late Antiquity, this monastery testifies that the Christianity has a long-lasting tradition in this part of the Balkans. Barely six kilometres west of Trebinje, the place that once charmed Napoleon, this monastery perfectly complements the beauty of the picturesque city. I don’t know anyone who had a chance to visit those two places in the top southern Bosnia & Herzegovina, without being hypnotized by their magnetic loveliness.

Founded by St. Constantin and St. Helen in the 4th century

Dedicated to the Dormition of the Most Holy Theotokos, Tvrdoš Monastery is the seat of the Diocese of Zahumlje - Herzegovina - Littoral. The monastery was founded by the Roman Emperor St. Constantin and his mother St. Helen in the 4th century. We can see the foundations of the old Roman church, a three-nave basilica, as a part of the floor of the current church is made of glass. Being destroyed and abandoned afterwards, it became the endowment of the Serbian King Milutin in the 13th century. Due to the demolition at the end of the 14th century, the treasury of monastery with many valuable items was transferred to the Savina Monastery in Herceg Novi, where it is still kept until the present day.

Present-day monastery from 1509

Completely rebuilt in 1509 by Visarion I, the present-day monastery Tvrdoš served as a seat of the Orthodox archbishop called Metropolitan in the 16th and 17th century. In this monastery, one of the saints of the Serbian Orthodox Church - St. Basil of Ostrog, took his monastic vows and spent a part of his life. In 1694, during the battle between the Venetians and the Ottomans, this spiritual centre was again destroyed. Observing the remains of the ancient church and the surrounding walls, we can conclude that this complex was constructed to defend their territory. At the beginning of the 18th century, Metropolitan Nektarije and Abbot Isaije reconstructed some parts of the monastery. The present-day church was restored in 1928 as an endowment of Nikola Runjevac. The most intensive renovations started in the mid-1950s, and they are still ongoing.

The holy hand of Saint Helen treasured

The original church from the 16th century was painted in frescoes by a Dubrovnik-master Vice Lovrov and a monk Marko Stefanov. Five centuries later, some fragments of those frescoes we can still find on the walls of this church. Another particularity of this monastery is its role of the main spiritual centre and the most significant scriptorium of the south Slav’s territories at the beginning of the 18th century. The monastery also treasures a precious relic - the holy hand of Saint Helen, the queen mother of Serbian kings Milutin and Dragutin.

Renowned for Tvrdoš award-winning wines

If the spirituality and Serbian monasticism are your interests, the cradle of Orthodoxy in southern Herzegovina should be on your bucket list. Also, history and art lovers will be pleased to explore the Tvrdoš Monastery, the** city of Trebinje and 16th-century masterpiece - Arslanagića bridge, as they all boost in precious remnants of the Middle Ages. Finally, all others should know that this monastery is renowned for Tvrdoš award-winning wines**, a result of centuries-old wine-making tradition.

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