THE CATHEDRAL OF THE NATIVITY OF THE BLESSED VIRGIN MARY (1834)


At the beginning of the 19th century, there were no religious buildings in Zaječar. Instead, on the land between the present-day cathedral and primary school “Ljuba Nešić” there was a water well with an old elm tree (zapis – a sacred tree) with a cross inscribed into its bark on western side. Around it, the citizens would gather for major church holidays. In his memoirs, Stojan Simić writes that around this tree, “the inscribed elm, people created a structure made of wooden beams covered by carpets, leaving small “doors” at the western side for the people to enter for a confession”. In 1830 a small wooden church was made next to the elm tree, used for a brief period of time for important services, and which was replaced by a “real” building a few years later. That same year, the schooling of children begun as well. Namely, on the initiative of duke Sima Nikolić, the first primary school in Zaječar has been opened and it was located at the “grandpa-Jovan’s yard” (today’s church yard).

Due to its position next to the state border, the Timok Eparchy was constantly hit by war adversities that reached Serbia from the east. In almost all wars, first led against the Turks and later against the Bulgarians, all churches and church items were destroyed, while the priests were killed or expelled. Therefore, it was not possible or advisable to build large and expensive church buildings in Timok Eparchy. Apart from the old monasteries and church ruins, the oldest church buildings in this region originate from the 18th century. They are mostly small in size, erected on hidden places, from weak building materials, clay and wood. The lack of churches was substituted by the people practicing rituals at sacred places, on the “inscribed” land, trees or buildings.

The letter written by Prince Miloš Obrenović to Mr. Stefan Stojanović, the administrative leader of Timok Region in Negotin. It reads, "Concerning the erection of the churches in Mihailovac and Zaečar, make sure it begins as soon as possible." In Požarevac, March 31, 1834. From the collection of the Historical Archives "Timok Region" Zaječar.

Zaječar didn’t have a church until 1830, hence the main monastery church at Grlište was used for all major events. After the liberation from the Ottomans, on an initiative by Prince Miloš, the Timok Eparchy was founded and the works on the new church begun in April 1834. It was finished within six months, thanks to the free work by the surrounding villagers. After it was completed, Prince Miloš has personally sent precise instructions how and where the text of his message should be inscribed. This inscription was lost during some of the later renovations. The church was finished at the end of October 1834 and it was dedicated to the Nativity of the Blessed Virgin Merry. The main architect still remains unknown. 

The text of the inscription that was most likely placed at the entrance, but was lost since. (No date.) From the collection of the Historical Archives "Timok Region" Zaječar.

The icons were made by Georgije Bakalović of Karlovac in 1840 but were unfortunately burned during a Serbian-Turkish War in 1876. The destroyed icons were replaced by the new ones in 1880, painted by Nikola Marković and his student and collaborator, Stevan Todorović.

In 1839 the newly appointed bishop Dositej had decided to move his residency and the seat of the Eparchy to Negotin due to a low church attendance by the locals. The bishop had had enough of an empty church, and the seat of the Eparchy was returned to Zaječar only half a century later, in 1890.

Photo from the collection of the Historical Archives "Timok Region" Zaječar

In 1898 the new narthex was built, as well as the choir and bell tower with five bells made in 1899 in Kragujevac (of which one was the gift by the businessman Jota Pašić, and the remaining four by the municipality of Zaječar). Most likely, the inscription by Prince Miloš has been removed during those works and replaced by the one still in place. Several years later, the church walls were decorated: in 1906 the images from the Life of Christ were painted by Mihajlo Vrbica, a professor at Zaječar Gymnasium, while the images of saints were painted by a Belgrade professional painter Vladimir Predojević between two world wars. In early 1990s those paintings were restored and repainted by the Ukrainian masters.

During the first decade of the 20th century, the church got a new fence, new bells, the new entrance was built, and the park around the church was renovated; in 2019 the church shop was opened with the support of Zaječar Municipality. Around the church, several graves are still to be found with preserved inscriptions. To the west, across the main entrance to the church, the seat of the Timok Bishop is located today.

The icon of the Virgin Mary and Christ.

SOURCES:

Spomenica Timočke eparhije 1834-1934. Timočka eparhija, Zaječar, 1934.

Suzana Antić, Jelena Ilić, Nina Pogarčić: Zaječar čudesna priča – Iz života u Zaječaru 1466-2006. godine. Narodni muzej, Zaječar, 2013.

dr Miodrag Velojić: Zaječarske javne česme. Zaječar, 2015.

Church Official Web page: http://eparhija-timocka.org/

The poster announcing the celebration of a century since the foundation of the Eparchy and the church. The collection of the Historical Archives "Timok Region" Zaječar
The bishop Emilijan Piperković with the dignitaries. The collection of the Historical Archives "Timok Region" Zaječar
The bishop Emilijan Piperković with the dignitaries. The collection of the Historical Archives "Timok Region" Zaječar
Church procession through Zaječar. The collection of the Historical Archives "Timok Region" Zaječar
The image from the collection of the Historical Archives "Timok Region" Zaječar

THE CATHEDRAL OF THE NATIVITY OF THE BLESSED VIRGIN MARY WAS BUILT

After the liberation from the Ottomans, as personal initiative by Prince Miloša, the Timok eparchy was founded in 1834. That same year, the church was built in only six months, thanks to the volunteer work by the surrounding villagers. It was dedicated to the Nativity of the Blessed Virgin Merry, while the main architect still remains unknown. 

1834

THE SEAT OF THE TIMOK EPISCOPY MOVED TO NEGOTIN

The bishop Dositej moved his residency and the seat of the Timok eparchy to Negotin (Bukovo Monastery) due to low church attendance by the locals.

1839

THE ICONS WERE PAINTED

The icons in the church were made by Georgije Bakalović of Karlovac.

1840

THE ICONS DESTROYED

Unfortunately, the original icons were destroyed during the Serbian-Turkish Wars.

1876

THE NEW ICONS PAINTED

The new icons were painted by Nikola Marković.

1880

THE SEAT OF THE TIMOK EPISCOPY RETURNED TO ZAJEČAR

The seat of the episcopy was moved back to Zaječar almost almost half a century.

1890

THE NARTEX AND THE CHOIR BUILT

The new narthex and the choir were built.

1898

THE BELL TOWER WITH FIVE BELLS MADE

The bell tower with five bells made in Kragujevac has been erected, of which one bell was a gift by the businessman Jota Pašić, and the remaining four by the Zaječar Municipality. Most likely, the inscription by Prince Miloš was removed during those works and replaced by the one still in place.

1899

THE SCENES FROM CHRIST'S LIFE PAINTED

The images representing Christ's life were painted by Zaječar-based professor Mihajlo Vrbica, while the images of other saints were painted by a professional painter Vladimir Predojević between two world wars. These images were repainted by Ukrainian masters in early 1990s.

1906
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