Saint Sava

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For other uses, see Sabbas.
Equal-to-apostles, the Illuminator
His Holiness the Archbishop of Serbs
Sveti Sava Kraljeva Crkva Detalj.jpg
Fresco detail 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
Other posts archimandrite
Ordination Patriarch Manuel I of Constantinople
Personal details
Birth name Rastislav "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 Serbian
Denomination Orthodox Christian
Parents Stefan Nemanja and Anastasija
Occupation prince, archbishop
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[1]
Shrines Church of Saint Sava (Belgrade)

Saint Sava (Serbian: Свети Сава/Sveti Sava, pronounced [sʋɛ̂ːtiː sǎːʋa], 1174 – 14 January 1236), known as the Illuminator, was a Serbian prince and Orthodox monk, the first Archbishop of the autocephalous Serbian Church, the founder of Serbian law, and a diplomat. Sava, born Rastko, was the youngest son of Serbian Grand Prince Stefan Nemanja (founder of the Nemanjić dynasty), and ruled the appanage of Hum briefly in 1190–92. He then left for Mount Athos where he received the monastic name Sava (Sabbas) and restored, together with his father, the monastery of Hilandar, which marked a beginning of cultural prospering (in arts; literature, and religion). 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 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 Church of Saint Sava in Belgrade is dedicated to him, built where the Ottomans burnt his remains in 1594–95 following an uprising in which the Serbs used icon depictions of Sava as their war flags; the church is one of the largest church buildings in the world.

Early life[edit]

Rastislav "Rastko" Nemanjić (Растко Немањић, pronounced [râstkɔ nɛ̌maɲitɕ]) 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[2] at the Serbian court, in the Byzantine tradition, which Serbia was under great political, cultural and religious influence.[3] Rastko showed himself serious and ascetic; as the youngest son, he was made Prince of Hum at an early age,[2] in ca. 1190.[4] Hum was a province between Neretva and Dubrovnik.[3] Teodosije the Hilandarian said that Rastko, as a ruler, was "mild and gentle, kind to everyone, loving the poor as few others, and very respecting of the monastic life".[3] He was uninterested in fame or wealth, and the throne.[3] The governing of Hum was previously held by his uncle Miroslav of Hum, who continued to hold at least the Lim region with Bijelo Polje while Rastko held Hum.[5] After two years, in autumn 1192 or shortly afterwards, Rastko left Hum for Mount Athos.[2] Miroslav may have continued as ruler of Hum when Rastko had left.[6] Athonite monks were frequent visitors to the Serbian court – lectures perhaps made him determined to leave.[2]

Mount Athos[edit]

Upon arriving at Athos, he entered the Russian St. Panteleimon Monastery where he received the monastic name of Sava (Sabbas),[3] and according to tradition it was a Russian monk who was his spiritual guidance,[2] said to have had earlier guested the Serbian court with other Athonite monks.[3] He then entered the Greek Vatopedi monastery.[2] His father tried to persuade him to return to Serbia.[2] 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".[2]

Stefan Nemanja took his son's advice[2] – he summoned the assembly at Studenica and abdicated on March 25, 1196, giving the throne to his middle son, Stefan.[3] The next day, Nemanja and his wife Ana took monastic vows.[3] Nemanja took monastic vows under the name Simeon, and stayed in Studenica until leaving for Mount Athos in fall 1197.[7] The arrival of Nemanja was greatly pleasing to Sava and and the Athonite community, as Nemanja as a ruler had donated much to the community.[8]

When Sava guested the Byzantine Emperor at Constantinople, he mentioned the neglected and abandoned Hilandar, and asked him that he and his father be given the permit to restore the monastery and grant it to Vatopedi.[8] The Emperor approved, and sent a special letter and much gold to his friend Stefan Nemanja (monk Simeon).[8] Sava then addressed the Protos of Athos, asking them to support the effort that the monastery of Hilandar becomes the haven of the Serb monks.[8] All Athonite monasteries, except Vatopedi, accepted the proposal, and in July 1198 Emperor Alexios III authored a charter which revoked the earlier decision, and instead not only granted Hilandar, but also the other abandoned monasteries in Mileis, to Simeon and Sava, to be a haven and shelter for Serb monks in Athos.[8] The restoration of Hilandar quickly began and Grand Prince Stefan sent money and other necessarities.[8] Stefan issued the founding charter for Hilandar in 1199.[8]

Karyes Typikon with Sava's signature (1199), one of the oldest Serbian manuscripts in the monastery of Hilandar.

Sava wrote a typikon (liturgical office order) for Hilandar, modeled on the typikon of the monastery of The Mother of God Euergetes in Constantinople.[8] Besides Hilandar, Sava was the ktitor (founder, donator) of the hermitage at Karyes (seat of Athos) for the monks who devoted themselves to solitude and prayer.[8] In 1199, he authored the typikon of Karyes.[8] Along with the hermitage, he built the chapel dedicated to Sabbas the Sanctified, whose name he received upon monastic vows.[8] His father died on February 13, 1199.[7]

As Nemanja had earlier decided to give the rule to Stefan, and not the eldest, Vukan, in the meantime, back home, the latter began plotting against Stefan; he found an ally in Emeric, the King of Hungary with whom he banished Stefan to Bulgaria, and Vukan usurped the Serbian throne. Stefan returned to Serbia with an army in 1204, and pushed Vukan to Zeta, his hereditary land.[9] After problems at Athos with Latin bishops and Boniface of Montferrat following the Fourth Crusade, Sava returned to Serbia in the winter of 1205–06 or 1206–07, with the remains of his father which he relocated to his father's endowment, the Studenica monastery, and then reconciled his quarreling brothers.[10]

Enlightenment in Serbia (1207–17)[edit]

Sava blessing Serb youth, Uroš Predić.

Having spent 14 years in Mount Athos, Sava had extensive theological knowledge and spiritual power.[8] According to Sava's biography, he was asked to teach the court and people of Serbia the Christian laws and traditions and "in that way enwisen and educate".[11] Sava then worked on the religious and cultural enlightenment of the Serbian people, educating in Christian morality, love and mercy.[11] While working on the Orthodox enlightenment, he also worked on the church organization.[11]

Crowning of Stefan, by Anastas Jovanović.

In 1217, archimandrite Sava left Studenica and returned to Mount Athos. His departure has been interpreted by a part of the historians as a revolt against his brother Stefan accepting the royal crown from Rome.[11] Stefan was crowned king in the Žiča monastery in 1217.[citation needed] It is possible that Sava did not agree with everything in his brother's international politics, however, his departure for Athos may also be interpreted as a preparation for obtaining the autocephaly (independence) of the Serbian Archbishopric.[11] His departure was planned, both Domentijan and Teodosije, Sava's biographers, stated that before leaving Studenica he appointed a new hegumen (abbot) and "put the monastery in good, correct order, and enacted the new church constitution and monastic life order, to be held that way", after which he left Serbia.[11]

Autocephaly and church organization[edit]

On 15 August 1219, during the feast of the Dormition of the Mother of God, Sava was consecrated by Patriarch Manuel I of Constantinople in Nicaea as the first Archbishop of the autocephalous (independent) Serbian Church.[11] With the support of Emperor Theodore I Laskaris and "the Most Venerable Patriarch and the whole Constantinopolitan assembly" the blessing that the Serbian archbishops receive consecration from their own bishops' assemblies without visiting the Patriarch of Constantinople.[11]

From Nicaea, Archbishop Sava returned to Mount Athos, where he profusely donated to the monasteries.[11] In Hilandar, he addressed the question of administration: "he taught the hegumen specially how to, in every virtue, show himself as an example to others; and the brothers, once again, he taught how to listen to everything the hegumen said with the fear of God", as witnessed by Teodosije.[11] From Hilandar, Sava travelled to Thessaloniki, to the monastery of Philokalos, where he stayed for some time as a guest of the Metropolitan of Thessaloniki, Constantine the Mesopotamian, with whom he was a great friend ever since his youth.[11] His stay was of great benefit as he transcripted many works on law needed for his church.[12]

Upon his return to Serbia, he had great engagement regarding the organization of the Serbian church, especially regarding the structure of bishoprics, those that were situated on locales at the sensitive border with the Roman Catholic West.[12] At the assembly in Žiča in 1219, Sava "chose, from his pupils, God-understanding and God-fearing and honorable men, who were able in managing by divine laws and by tradition of the Holy Apostles, and keep the apparitions of the holy God-bearing fathers. And he consecrated them and made them bishops" (Domentijan).[12] Sava gave the newly appointed bishops law books and sent them to bishoprics in all parts of Serbia.[12] It is not known how many bishoprics he founded. The following bishoprics were under his administration:[12]

Bishopric Seat Bishop
Zeta (Zetska) Monastery of Holy Archangel Michael, Prevlaka near Kotor
Hum (Humska) Monastery of the Holy Mother of God, Ston Ilarion
Dabar-Bosnia (Dabrobosanska) Monastery of Saint Nicholas on the Lim
Moravica (Moravička) Monastery of St. Achillius in Moravica region
Budimlja (Budimljanska) Monastery of St. George
Toplica (Toplička) Monastery of St. Nicholas
Hvosno (Hvostanska) Monastery of the Holy Mother of God
Žiča (Žička) Žiča (seat)
Raška (Raške) Monastery of Holy Apostles Peter and Paul
Lipljan (Lipljanska) Lipljan
Prizren (Prizrenska) Prizren

In the same year Sava published Zakonopravilo (or "St. Sava's Nomocanon"), the first constitution of Serbia; thus the Serbs acquired both forms of independence: political and religious.[13][14] 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 1229–33, 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.


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.

Zakonopravilo manuscript.

The Zakonopravilo (1219) was the first Serbian constitution and highest code in the Serbian Church, well developed with the compilation of Civil, Roman law, and Canon law, based on Ecumenical Councils, and its basic purpose was the organization of the Serbian monarchy and church. Today, it is the official Canon law of the Serbian, Russian, and Bulgarian Orthodox churches.[citation needed]

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

In the first part of Studenica typikon he first described the life of his father Stefan Nemanja, the ktitor of the monastery, while the Life of St. Simeon (Žitije Sv. Simeona). 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.

Legacy and cult[edit]

Hilandar became one of the most important cultural and religious centre of the Serbian people.[15] Gregory of Sinai (1260s–1346) considered him to be a great illuminator. Sava III (fl. 1292–1316) calls him great apostle and archbishop of Serbia, while for Archbishop Danilo II (fl.1324–1337) he is our master and teacher. In 1448, after Stefan Vukčić Kosača took over parts of Raška, proclaimed himself "Duke (Herzog) of Saint Sava" in Mileševa; the region of Herzegovina ("the Herzeg's land") was named after him. 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.

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 was organized by bishop Teodor of Vršac, Sava Temišvarac and vojvoda Velja Mironić, among others, in the area around Vršac. The rebellion began in 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. Grand Vizier Sinan Pasha, 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.[16] 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.[16] 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.[16] The Church 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 of 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. Bosnian bishop Ivan Tomko Mrnavić (1579–1637) 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 (1525–1595), Ivan Kavanjin (d. 1714), Pavao Ritter Vitezović (1652–1713).

In Serb-populated territories, 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 remains 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 Kračun 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.

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


Sava founded and reconstructed churches and monasteries wherever he stayed.[12] While staying at Vatopedi, even before the arrival of his father (1197), he founded three chapels (paraklisi).[12] He had the monastery church covered in lead, and was regarded the second ktitor, also having donated highly valuable ecclesiastical art objects.[12] Together with his father he was the great, second ktitor of the monasteries of Iviron, Great Lavra and churches in Karyes.[17] The most important was Hilandar, together with his father (1198).[17] He then founded the cell at Karyes, and in 1199 became he ktitor of three more Authonite monasteries: Karakallou, Xeropotamou, and Philotheou.[17] In 1197 he gave a large contribution to the Constantinopolitan monastery of the Holy Mother of God Euergetes, and did the same to Philokallou in Thessaloniki; "due to him also giving much gold for the erection of that monastery, the population there regard him the ktitor", according to Teodosije (1246–1328).[17]

And many other churches across Serbia, as well.


And many other donations in Jerusalem and Serbia.

Fresco depictions[edit]



See also[edit]

Orthodox Church titles
Founding of
Serbian Church
Archbishop of Serbs
December 6, 1219 – January 14, 1235
Succeeded by
Arsenije Sremac
Royal titles
Preceded by
Prince of Hum
under Stefan Nemanja

1190 – 1192
Succeeded by
Miroslav or Toljen


  1. ^ Sources puts the year of his birth in either 1169 or 1174.[18] The Serbian Orthodox Church uses 1169.[19] Historian Slobodan Mileusnić supports 1174.[18]


  1. ^, 27.01.2012, Škole u Srbiji obeležavaju Savindan
  2. ^ a b c d e f g h i Vlasto 1970, p. 218.
  3. ^ a b c d e f g h Mileusnić 2000, p. 38.
  4. ^ Fine 1994, p. 19.
  5. ^ Fine 1994, p. 52.
  6. ^ Fine 1994, p. 20.
  7. ^ a b Mileusnić 2000, p. 30.
  8. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l Mileusnić 2000, p. 39.
  9. ^ Fine 1994, pp. 41–48.
  10. ^ Fine 1994, p. 79.
  11. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k Mileusnić 2000, p. 40.
  12. ^ a b c d e f g h Mileusnić 2000, p. 41.
  13. ^ Zorić 2006.
  14. ^ Fine 1994, p. 118.
  15. ^ John Anthony McGuckin (15 December 2010). The Encyclopedia of Eastern Orthodox Christianity, 2 Volume Set. John Wiley & Sons. pp. 560–. ISBN 978-1-4443-9254-8. 
  16. ^ a b c Velimirović 1989, p. 159.
  17. ^ a b c d Mileusnić 2000, p. 42.
  18. ^ a b Mileusnić 2000, p. 37.
  19. ^ Srpska pravoslavna crkva (2007). Pravoslavlje, Issues 955-978. Izdaje Srpska patrijaršija. p. 45. 


External links[edit]