Fruška Gora, Serbia – April 2012
On a gentle mountain in northern Serbia, there are many holy places. They call this one Krušedol. It is said that there are 500-year-old frescoes in this sanctuary. This is why I have come.
Monks glide through passageways and courtyards. Soft footsteps and the swish of long, black robes. They are stately presences, but visitors are welcomed with a humble bow of the head.
Inside the main chapel, a baptism is taking place. A lone chandelier, candlelight, and dust-speckled sunrays illuminate the rich primary colors. The baby’s screams drown out the priest’s monotone chants. I’m told that I can go no further than the entryway. I lower my head and step back, stifling my disappointment. There are frescoes in the entryway, too. Peeling and slightly faded, but still vivid.
I lift my eyes and stare into the faces of ancient saints. The paintings that I’ve seen from this era, in books and museums, have been two-dimensional and lifeless. There is a soft benevolence in some of these expressions. And is that a twinkle of amusement that I see in their eyes? The expressions vary – in others I see apprehension. We tend to create and recreate that which we understand. Those were turbulent times.
The frescoes cover every corner, sweeping across the ceiling like holy constellations. The result of days, weeks, months spent in communion with the creative force. I imagine the artists, elevated and contemplative, escaping the earthly realm through exaltation of the divine.