Saint Sava

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For other uses, see Sabbas.
His Holiness the Archbishop of Serbs
Sveti Sava Kraljeva Crkva.jpg
Frescoe of Saint Sava in the King's Church, Studenica Monastery, Serbia
Church Serbian Orthodox Church
See Metropolitanate of Žiča
Installed 1219
Term ended 1235
Predecessor (First)
Successor Arsenije I
Ordination Patriarch Manuel I of Constantinople
Personal details
Birth name Rastko Nemanjić
Born 1169 or 1174[a]
Died January 27, 1236(1236-01-27)
Tarnovo, Bulgaria
Buried Holy Forty Martyrs Church (until May 6, 1237)
Mileševa (until 1594)
Nationality Serb
Denomination Orthodox Christian
Parents Stefan Nemanja and Anastasija
Motto Only Unity Saves the Serbs
Signature {{{signature_alt}}}
Feast day January 27 [O.S. January 14]
Venerated in Eastern Orthodox Church Roman Catholic Church Eastern Catholic Churches
Canonized by Serbian Orthodox Church
Attributes ktetor, teacher, legislator, diplomat, protector of the poor, writer
Patronage Serbian schools[2]
Shrines Cathedral of Saint Sava (Belgrade)

Saint Sava (Serbian: Свети Сава, Sveti Sava, pronounced [sʋɛ̂ːtiː sǎːʋa], 1174 – 14 January 1236) was a Serbian prince and Orthodox monk, the first Archbishop of the autocephalous Serbian Church, the founder of Serbian law and literature, and a diplomat. Sava was born Rastko Nemanjić (Растко Немањић, pronounced [râstkɔ nɛ̌maɲitɕ]), the youngest son of Serbian Grand Prince Stefan Nemanja (founder of the Nemanjić dynasty), and ruled the appanage of Hum briefly in 1190–1192. He became a monk in his youth, receiving the monastic name Sava (Sabbas), subsequently founding the monasteries of Hilandar on Mount Athos, and Žiča. In 1219 he was recognized as the first Archbishop of Serbs, by the Patriarch of Constantinople, and in the same year he authored the oldest known constitution of Serbia, Zakonopravilo, thus securing full independence; both religious and political. Sava heavily influenced Serbian medieval literature.

He is widely considered as one of the most important figures of Serbian history, and is canonized and venerated by the Serbian Orthodox Church, as its founder, on January 27 [O.S. January 14]. His life and has been interpreted in many artistic works from the Middle Ages to modern times. He is the patron saint of Serbian schools and schoolchildren.

The Cathedral of Saint Sava in Belgrade is dedicated to him, it was built on the scene where the Turks burnt his remains in the 16th century, following an uprising in which the Serbs used icon depictions of Sava as their war flags; the cathedral is currently the largest Eastern Christian church building in the world.

Early life[edit]

Rastko (from Rastislav)[3] was born in 1169 or 1174[a], in Gradina (modern Podgorica, Montenegro). He was the youngest son of Grand Prince Stefan Nemanja and Anastasija, and was thus part of the first generation of the Nemanjić dynasty; his brothers were Vukan and Stefan. The brothers received a good education, and Rastko showed himself serious and ascetic; as the youngest son, he was made Prince of Hum at an early age,[4] in ca. 1190. That office was previously held by his uncle Miroslav of Hum, who continued to hold the Lim region with Bijelo Polje while Rastko held Hum,[5] however, after two years, in autumn 1192 or shortly afterwards, he left the rule for Mount Athos.[4] Miroslav most likely continued as ruler of Hum when Rastko had left.[6] Athonite monks were frequent visitors to the Serbian throne – lectures perhaps made him determined to leave.[4]

Monastic vows[edit]

Saint Sava, Patriarchate of Peć.

Upon arriving at Athos, he entered the Russian monastery of St. Panteleimon monastery where he received the monastic name of Sava (Sabbas), and according to tradition it was a Russian monk who was his spiritual guidance.[4] He then entered the Greek Vatopedi monastery.[4] His father tried to persuade him to return to Serbia.[4] Sava replied to his father: "You have accomplished all that a Christian sovereign should do; come now and join me in the true Christian life".[4]

Stefan Nemanja took his son's advice – he summoned the assembly at Studenica and abdicated, withdrawing to Mount Athos on March 25, 1195.[4] He took monastic vows under the name Simeon. The father and son asked the Holy Community for the establishment of the Serbian religious base at the abandoned Chilandar, which they renovated, marking the beginning of cultural prospering (in arts; literature, and religion). His father Nemanja died in Hilandar on February 13, 1199, and was canonized as Saint Simeon. Nemanja had earlier decided to give the rule to Stefan (II) (henceforth referred to as Stefan), and not the eldest, Vukan. Sava built a church and cell at Karyes, where he stayed for some years, becoming a hieromonk, then an archimandrite in 1201. He wrote the Karyes Typicon during his stay, of which a marble inscription of his work still exist.

The Karyes Typicon with the authentic signature of Saint Sava from 1199 – one of the oldest Serbian documents in the monastery of Hilandar, (detail)

In the meantime, back home, Vukan began plotting against his brother Stefan; he found an ally in Emeric, the King of Hungary, and together they banished Stefan to Bulgaria, and Vukan usurped the Serbian throne. Stefan returned to Serbia with an army in 1204, and pushed Vukan to his maritime appanage in Zeta. After problems at the Holy Mountain with Latin bishops (Boniface of Montferrat), Sava returned to Serbia in the winter of 1205–06 or 1206–07,[7] with the remains of his father which he relocated to the Studenica monastery, and reconciled his two brothers. Stefan asked him to remain in Serbia with his clerics, which he did, beginning a widespread pastoral and educational duty to the people of Serbia. He founded several churches and monasteries, among which was the Žiča monastery.

Autocephaly of the Serbian Church[edit]

Sava brought the regal crown from Rome, and crowned his older brother Stefan "King of All Serbia" in the Žiča monastery in 1217,[8] hence Stefan's epithet "The First-Crowned".

Crowning of Stefan, by Anastas Jovanović.

Sava returned to the Holy Mountain in 1217/18, marking the beginning of the real formation of the Serbian Church. He was consecrated in 1219 as the first Archbishop of the Serbian church, given autocephaly by Patriarch Manuel I of Constantinople, who at the time was in exile at Nicaea. In the same year Sava published Zakonopravilo (also St. Sava's Nomocanon), the first constitution of Serbia; thus the Serbs acquired both forms of independence: political and religious.[9][10] Its purpose was to establish a codified legal system in Serbian Kingdom, and to regulate the governing body of the Serbian Church. In a small town of Ston, on the Peljesac peninsula, Sava founded an eparchy in late 1219.

He then stayed at Studenica and continued his education of faith to the Serbian people, later he called for a council outlawing the Bogomils, who were regarded heretics. Sava appointed protobishops, sending them over all of Serbia to baptize the unbaptized, marry the unmarried etc. To maintain his duty as the religious and social leader, he continued to travel among the monasteries and throughout the lands to educate the people. King Stefan died on September 24, 1228, and was succeeded by his son Stefan Radoslav. After the Battle of Klokotnitsa (1230), Stefan Vladislav, Radoslav's younger brother, married Beloslava, the daughter of Bulgarian Emperor Ivan Asen II, subsequently becoming the new King by 1234.

Pilgrimage and death[edit]

Mar Saba monastery, where Sava met Athanasios II, founding Serbian cells in the Holy Land.

In 1229/1233, he went on a pilgrimage to Palestine, and in Jerusalem he met with Patriarch Athanasios II. Sava saw Bethlehem where Jesus was born, the Jordan River where Christ was baptised, and the Great Lavra of Saint Sabbas the Sanctified (Mar Saba monastery). Sava asked Athanasios II, his host, and the Great Lavra fraternity, led by hegoumenos Nicolas, if he could purchase two monasteries in the Holy Land. His request was accepted and he was offered the monasteries of Saint John the Theologian on Mount Sion and St. George's Monastery on Akona - both to be inhabited by Serbian monks. The Trojeručica-icon (Three-handed Theotokos), a gift to the Great Lavra from St. John Damascene, was given to Sava and he, in turn, bequeathed it to Hilandar.

He died ill during a pilgrimage, on 12 January 1235, in Trnovo, Bulgaria.

Sava died in Trnovo, capital of the Second Bulgarian Empire, during the reign of Ivan Asen II of Bulgaria. According to his Life, he fell ill following the Divine Liturgy on the Feast of the Epiphany, 12 January 1235. Sava was visiting Trnovo on his way back from the Holy Land, where he had founded a hospice for Syrian pilgrims in Jerusalem and arranged for Serbian monks to be welcomed in the established monasteries there. He died of pneumonia in the night between Saturday and Sunday, January 14, 1235, and was buried at the Cathedral of the Holy Forty Martyrs in Trnovo where his body remained until May 6, 1237, when his sacred bones were moved to the Mileševa monastery in southern Serbia.

Legacy and myth[edit]

Sava boosted the cultural enrichment of Serbs, forming the state-church; architecture and literary renaissance.

In medieval Serbia his grave was a place of pilgrimage. Beside Serbs, both Turks and Jews went to pilgrimage to Mileševa. Gregory of Sinai considered him to be a great illuminator. Sava III calls him great apostle and archbishop of Serbia, while for Archbishop Danilo I he is our master and teacher.

In 1448, after the conquer of monastery Mileševa, Stefan Vukčić Kosača proclaimed himself "Herzog of Saint Sava " and the area he later ruled was named Herzegovina.

The burning of Saint Sava's relics by the Ottomans after the Banat Uprising, on April 27, 1595. Painting by Stevan Aleksić (1912)

In 1594, the Banat Uprising is instigated by Bishop of Vršac Teodor Nestorović, Sava Ban and voivode Velja Mironić, among others, in the area around Vršac. The rebellion begins in what is the Ottoman Temeșvar Eyalet. For a short time, the Serb rebels captured several cities in Banat, including Vršac, Bečkerek, and Lipova, as well as Titel and Bečej in Bačka.

It had the character of a holy war, the Serb rebels carrying war flags with the image of Saint Sava. Sinan Pasha, an Albanian Grand Vizier who led the Ottoman army, ordered the green flag of Muhammad brought from Damascus to counter the Serbian flag. Sinan Pasha then ordered that the remains of Sava be taken to Belgrade and burnt.[11] Ahmed-beg Ochuse carried out the orders, he took a military convoy to Mileševa, ordered the monks to remove Sava's wooden coffin in the sarcophagus and put it on the horses that the monks would lead. On the way, they beat the monks and killed or took along those that were in their path, so that the rebels in the woods would hear of it.[11] On April 27, 1595, the wooden coffin burnt on a pyre on the Vračar hill in Belgrade. The flames were seen over the Danube, and the Turks celebrated.[11] The Temple of Saint Sava was built on the place where his remains were burned, its construction began in the 1930s and was completed in 2004.

In the time of Ottoman occupation, Sava's cult overpast previous Serbian boundaries. It expanded in Russia, notably during the reign of Ivan the Terrible. Russian monk Elder Isaija brought the manuscript "life of Saint Sava" from Mount Athos to Russia. Later many other libraries across Russia possessed works by Saint Sava or about him.

As a saint, Sava was respected even among the Roman Catholics. Tomko Mrnjevic, a Bosnian bishop in the early 17th century, wrote the first biography of Saint Sava, which did not not contain historical character but a literary. Various writers wrote about Saint Sava with respect, among others: Antun Sasin, Jovan S. Kavanjin, Pavle Riter Vitezovic.

In Serb-populated places, various works of cultural significance have been done on the feast day of Saint Sava. For example Matica srpska was founded on Sava's day, the Serbian gymnasium in Novi Sad etc. From the 19th century, Saint Sava is more seen as a patron of school and education, first in Vojvodina (probably in Zemun, 1826). Some of the most respected Serbian writers found inspiration in the life and works of Saint Sava, such as: Branko Radičević, Jovan Jovanović Zmaj, Vojislav Ilić, Miloš Crnjanski and recently Matija Bećković.

Monument, complex (day) and front walk (night) of the Temple of Saint Sava,
the biggest Orthodox church-building in the world.

Around 42 portraits of him remained from medieval times. Saint Sava's artistic cult reached its height in the 18th century, reached at rood screen of cathedral church in Sremski Karlovci, which was built around 1780 by Teodor Kracun and Jakov Orfelin. In more modern Serbian art (19th and 20th centuries) Saint Sava was an inspiration of those artists who wanted to show their patriotism and devotion to the church, education, enlightenment and generally - culture.

Many stories show Saint Sava as a teacher and wonder-worker. As a wonder-worker Sava is related to water, ice and snow. Veselin Čajkanović considered that many former Serbian pagan beliefs could be seen through Saint Sava. In Serbian folk tales, Saint Sava favours shipbuilding. He also had power to calm the sea and storm, but he also used ships to immerse sinners.

Saint Sava is considered a Serbian patron saint, and is the most respected Serbian saint in the Orthodox world.

Law and literature[edit]

Saint Sava, fresco from Bogorodica Ljeviška (1307–1309), UNESCO.

Saint Sava is considered to be a founder of independent Serbian literature. His relation to books and writing can be seen through his typcs where writing, reading and books have been given an important place. His first works are on church themes, unliteral. The first of Saint Sava's work with literary elements is his letter to monk Spiridon, which is the only original letter written by Saint Sava which remained until today.

His gift for writing was shown mostly in autobiographies and poetical works.

On the legal problems, Saint Sava had met for the first time during his short stay at the Hum area (1190/91). During his visit to the Mount Athos his legislative activity was a rich and diverse, it is endowed his activity in the monastery had to follow the law, given that he had to sign contracts to purchase property, etc. The establishment of monastery of Hilandar followed a number of different legal acts including Hilandar tipyc. It is believed that the Serbian were organised for the first time by him, analogously to the Byzantine Empire.

The Nomocanon of Saint Sava or Zakonopravilo was the first Serbian constitution and the highest code in the Serbian Orthodox Church, finished in 1219. This legal act was well developed. St. Sava's Nomocanon was the compilation of Civil law, based on Roman Law and Canon law, based on Ecumenical Councils and its basic purpose was to organize functioning of the young Serbian kingdom and the Serbian church. Today, the Nomocanon is the official Canon law of the Serbian, Russian, and Bulgarian Orthodox church.[citation needed]

His literary work is very large, and especially made for the organisation of monasteries. He first wrote three Typicons:

Zakonopravilo manuscript.

In the first part of Studenica typikon he described life of the ktitor of that monastery, his father Stefan Nemanja, in church known as Simeon. Žitije Sv. Simeona, which lately separated from Studenica typikon and became special work, is the most important work of Sava. Under influence of this biography, completely independent literary cind of "žitijas" (biographies) of Serbian saints and rulers, formed. Žitije Svetog Simeona contains eleven chapters, which are sorted in these groups: Building of Studenica, Nemanja's withdrawal from the throne, Sava's way to Mount Athos, Death of St. Simeon, Moving of Simeon's body to Serbia.


And many other churches across Serbia, as well.



And many other donations in Jerusalem and Serbia.

See also[edit]

Orthodox Church titles
Archbishop of Serbs
December 6, 1219 – January 14, 1235
Succeeded by
St. Arsenije I Sremac
Royal titles
Preceded by
Prince of Zahumlje
under Stefan Nemanja

Succeeded by


  1. ^ Most sources puts the year of his birth in 1169, as does the Serbian Orthodox Church,[12] while some other sources claim 1174.[1]


  1. ^ a b Mileusnić 1989, p. 40: "Светитељ Сава, први архиепископ српски, равноапостолни ... О Растку— Сави Немањићу, односно светитељу Сави, ... Најмлађи је син српског жупана Стефана Немање и Ане. Рођен је 1169 а негде се наводи и 1174. као година његовога рођења."
  2. ^, 27.01.2012, Škole u Srbiji obeležavaju Savindan
  3. ^ Vlasto 1970, p. 218
  4. ^ a b c d e f g h Vlasto 1970, p. 218.
  5. ^ Fine 1994, pp. 19-20, 52.
  6. ^ Fine 1994, pp. 19–20
  7. ^ Fine 1994, p. 79
  8. ^ Ferrari (2003), p. 295
  9. ^ Zorić 2006, p. ?.
  10. ^ Fine 1994, p. 118.
  11. ^ a b c Velimirovic, p. 159
  12. ^ Srpska pravoslavna crkva 2007, p. 45: "Растко (рођен 1169)"


  • Vlasto, A. P. (1970). The Entry of the Slavs into Christendom: An Introduction to the Medieval History of the Slavs. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. ISBN 9780521074599. 

External links[edit]