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Church of Saint Sava

The Church of Saint Sava (Serbian: Храм светог Саве / Hram svetog Save,[a] literal translation into English: "The Temple of Saint Sava") is a Serbian Orthodox church located on the Vračar plateau in Belgrade, Serbia. It is one of the largest Eastern Orthodox church buildings and ranks among the largest church buildings in the world.

Church of Saint Sava
Храм Светог Саве / Hram Svetog Save
Front view of Church of Saint Sava
Church of Saint Sava
Church of Saint Sava is located in Belgrade
Church of Saint Sava
Church of Saint Sava
Location within Belgrade
44°47′53″N 20°28′6.74″E / 44.79806°N 20.4685389°E / 44.79806; 20.4685389Coordinates: 44°47′53″N 20°28′6.74″E / 44.79806°N 20.4685389°E / 44.79806; 20.4685389
LocationKrušedolska 2a, Vračar, Belgrade
DenominationSerbian Orthodox
Architect(s)Aleksandar Deroko
Branko Pešić
Architectural typeSerbo-Byzantine
Years built1935–present
Groundbreaking10 May 1935
Capacity7,000 [note 1][1][2]
Length91 m [2]
Width81 m [2]
Height78.3 m (ground-cross) [note 2][2]
68.5 m (top dome)
64.85 m (dome ceiling)[3]
Nave height36.4 m (interior)
Other dimensions170,000 m3 [2]
Floor area5,094 m2 [note 3][2]
Dome diameter (outer)30.16 m (interior)[4]
35.16 m (exterior)

The church is dedicated to Saint Sava, the founder of the Serbian Orthodox Church and an important figure in medieval Serbia. It is built on the Vračar plateau, on the location where his remains were burned in 1595 by Ottoman Grand Vizier Sinan Pasha.



In 1594, Serbs rose up against Ottoman rule in Banat, during the Long War (1591–1606)[5] which was fought at the Austrian-Ottoman border in the Balkans. The Serbian patriarchate and rebels had established relations with foreign states,[5] and had in a short time captured several towns, including Vršac, Bečkerek, Lipova, Titel and Bečej, although the uprising was quickly suppressed. The rebels had, in the character of a holy war, carried war flags with the icon of Saint Sava.[6]

The war banners had been consecrated by Patriarch John I Kantul, whom the Ottoman government later had hanged in Istanbul. Ottoman Grand Vizier Sinan Pasha ordered that the sarcophagus and relics of Saint Sava located in the Mileševa monastery be brought by military convoy to Belgrade.[5][6] Along the way, the Ottoman convoy had people killed in their path so that the rebels in the woods would hear of it.[6] The relics were publicly incinerated by the Ottomans on a pyre on the Vračar plateau, and the ashes scattered, on 27 April 1595.[5] According to Nikolaj Velimirović the flames were seen over the Danube.[6]


Date and location of the Burning of Saint Sava's relics remained disputed. Given years are 1594 and 1595, while the proposed locations, as the name Vračar was applied to the much wider territory than it occupies today, include: Crveni Krst, suggested by Gligorije Vozarović [sr] who erected reddish Vozarev Krst at the spot, which gave name to the entire neighborhood of Crveni Krst ("Red Cross"); mound of "Čupina Humka", in Tašmajdan, previously known as Little Vračar, which is the preferred location of modern historians; Vračar plateau, which attracted the widest public acceptance.[7][8][9]

In 1894, which was then celebrated as 300 years since the burning, consensus was reached to build the church on the third, plateau location. In 1895 the "Society for the Construction of the Church of Saint Sava on Vračar" was founded in Belgrade. The major part of the parcel donated for the construction came from Scottish missionary Francis Mackenzie, who purchased and developed this part of the city in the late 19th century. By the 1900 ukaz of King Alexander Obrenović, planned church was declared a "nationwide edifice".[9] A small church was built at the future place of the temple, and it was later moved so the construction of the temple could begin.

In 1906, an architectural design competition for the future church was announced. Saint Petersburg Academy of Sciences was authorized to judge the project, and it rejected all five applications as not being good enough. A series of wars followed (First Balkan War in 1912, Second Balkan War in 1913, World War I in 1914-1918), which stopped all activities on the construction of the church.[9] After the war, in 1919, the Society was re-established.

New design competition was announced in 1926. Beside the church itself, new project was to include buildings of the Patriarchate, Ministry of Religion, Seminary and Great Religious Court [sr]. The competition rules stipulated that the new church must be in the style of the Serbo-Byzantine architecture, from the period of Prince Lazar (late 14th century). There were 24 submissions. Though the first and third prize were not awarded, the second-place submission by architect Bogdan Nestorović [sr] was selected.[9]

Soon, the project itself, but also the idea of the church and its proposed style became a matter of fierce public debate. In 1905, Croatian sculptor Ivan Meštrović proposed his idea of building the Vidovdan Temple. Fragments of the future building were exhibited in the pavilion of the Kingdom of Serbia at the major Rome 1911 exhibition. The full scale model was then exhibited by Meštrović in London in 1915. Idea of Meštrović was that epics of all Yugoslav ethnicities is the same and he wanted to represent all "three tribes" (Serbs, Croats and Slovenes) in the monumental temple. He sculptured caryatides for the entrance of the future temple, which are today in the hallways of the National Museum in Belgrade. Meštrović planned to build it at Gazimestan, on Kosovo, between the rivers of Sitnica and Lab.[9]

After the 1926 design was chosen, those who opposed it, pushed for the construction of the Vidovdan Temple instead, as the unified South Slav state was formed in 1918, and renamed to Yugoslavia in 1929. Especially vocal was art historian Kosta Strajnić [sh]. He, and his supporters, opted for the "Yugoslav, not Serbian Pantheon". They also rejected the medieval Serbian design, as it only symbolized "one tribe". Meštrović supported Strajnić, insisting that the new "Yugoslav style" should be created, instead of the sacral architecture that would fit only one of the denominations. King Alexander Karađorđević publicly didn't support any solution, but privately pushed for the Meštrović's temple. King was a major proponent of integral Yugoslavism and changed state's name to Yugoslavia. Meštrović, as the most important representative of the idea of the "autochthonous Yugoslav art and architecture", was his favorite artist.[9]

After he was elected as the new patriarch of the Serbian Orthodox Church in 1930, Patriarch Varnava pushed for the traditional Serbian appearance of the church and in 1932 ordered the correction of the Nestorović design, which was done by architect Aleksandar Deroko and engineer Vojislav Zađin. Still, construction of the church couldn't start for several more years. King Alexander was assassinated in Marseilles, France in 1934, and the idea of integral Yugoslavism died with him. The Vidovdan Temple was never built.[9]


Location within Vračar

Forty years after the initial idea, construction of the church began on 10 May 1935, 340 years after the burning of Saint Sava's remains. The cornerstone was laid by Metropolitan Gavrilo of Montenegro, (the future Serbian Patriarch Gavrilo V). The project was designed by Aleksandar Deroko and Bogdan Nestorović, aided by civil engineer Vojislav Zađina. The work lasted until Second World War Axis invasion of Yugoslavia in 1941.

The church's foundation had been completed, and the walls erected to the height of 7 and 11 meters. After the 1941 bombing of Belgrade, work ceased altogether. The occupying German army used the unfinished church as Wehrmacht's parking lot, while in 1944 the Red Army, and later the Yugoslav People's Army used it for the same purpose. After that, it was used for storage by various companies. The Society for Building of the Church ceased to exist and has not been revived. Children who grew up in the vicinity, including the future President of Serbia Boris Tadić, didn't know the intended purpose of the unfinished construction, so they played inside thinking it was a ruin of some old castle.[10]

In 1958, Serbian Patriarch German renewed the idea of building the church. After 88 requests for the continuation of the building, of which 82 were sent to the President of Yugoslavia Josip Broz Tito to which Tito never personally replied. Permission for the continuation of building was granted in 1984 when patriarch talked to Dušan Čkrebić, President of Presidency of Serbia.[10] Architect Branko Pešić was selected as new architect of the church. He remade the original projects to make better use of new materials and building techniques. Construction of the building began again on 12 August 1985. The walls were erected to full height of 40 meters.[citation needed]

The greatest achievement of the construction process was lifting of the 4,000 ton central dome, which was built on the ground, together with the copper plate and the cross, and later lifted onto the walls. The lifting, which took forty days with the especially constructed hydraulic machines, was finished on 26 June 1989.

After the NATO bombing of Serbia in 1999, the works were halted again. Patriarch Pavle, known for his asceticism, thought that such an expensive works are inappropriate when people are beaten and impoverished. After becoming a prime minister in 2001, Zoran Đinđić talked with patriarch and convinced him to continue the works.[10] As of 2017, the exterior of the church is complete. The bells and windows had been installed, and the façade completed. The Russian Academy of Arts under the guidance of Nikolay Mukhin is currently working on the internal decoration.[11] On 22 February 2018, during the presentation of the new internal decoration, the decorated cupola was donated to the Serbian Orthodox Church.[12]


Saint Sava church Crypt

The church is centrally planned, having the form of a Greek Cross. It has a large central dome supported on four pendentives and buttressed on each side by a lower semi-dome over an apse. Beneath each semi-dome is a gallery supported on an arcade.

The dome is 70 m (230 ft) high, while the main gold plated cross is another 12 m (39 ft) high, which gives a total of 82 m (269 ft) to the height Church of Saint Sava. The peak is 134 m (440 ft) above the sea level (64 m (210 ft) above the Sava river); therefore the church holds a dominant position in Belgrade's cityscape and is visible from all approaches to the city.

The church is 91 m (299 ft) long from east to west, and 81 m (266 ft) from north to south. It is 70 m (230 ft) tall, with the main gold-plated cross extending for 12 m (39 ft) more. Its domes have 18 more gold-plated crosses of various sizes, while the bell towers have 49 bells of the Austrian Bell Foundry Grassmayr.

It has a surface area of 3,500 m2 (37,674 sq ft) on the ground floor, with three galleries of 1,500 m2 (16,146 sq ft) on the first level, and a 120 m2 (1,292 sq ft) gallery on the second level. The Church can receive 10,000 faithful at any one time. The choir gallery seats 800 singers. The basement contains a crypt, the treasury of Saint Sava, and the grave church of Saint Lazar the Hieromartyr, with a total surface of 1,800 m2 (19,375 sq ft) .

The central dome mosaic depicts the Ascension of Jesus and represents Resurrected Christ, sitting on a rainbow and right hand raised in blessing, surrounded by four angels, Apostles and Theotokos. This composition is inspired by mosaic in main dome of St Mark's Basilica in Venice. The lower sections are influenced by the Gospel of Luke and the first narratives of the Acts of the Apostles. The texts held by the angels are written in the Church Slavonic language, while the names of the depicted persons are written in Greek. First points to the pan-Slavic sentiment while the latter connects it to the Byzantine traditions. The total painted area of the dome is 1,230 m2 (13,200 sq ft)[13]. It is one of the largest curved area decorated with the mosaic technique and when the work is completely finished Saint Sava will be the 4th largest church ornamented this way after St. Peter's Basilica in Vatican City, People's Salvation Cathedral in Bucharest (also unfinished yet) and Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception in Washington, D.C. The mosaic was made for a year in Russia, during 2016 and 2017. It was then cut and transported by special trucks to Belgrade. Total weight of the mosaic is 40 tons and it was placed on the dome from May 2017 to February 2018.[14]


See alsoEdit


  1. ^ The official site specifies that, on the nave floor can be accommodated 7,000 worshipers. More precisely 6,300 worshipers on the nave floor and 700 choirs (balconies). In the temple galleries (underground), can be accommodated 3,000 worshipers. Also the official site specifies that, in total 10,000 worshipers, can accommodated on the nave floor and in the underground galleries. The nave floor criterion is considered standard without annexes. Also valued at 10,000 can be disputed including the annexes, to increase the value.
  2. ^ Nave floor - Top cross: 77.34 m
    Stairs: 0.96 m
  3. ^ The official site specifies that, the Nave & Altar area is 3,650 m2 and the three Narthex area is 1,444 m2. The total internal area of the temple (cathedral) is 5,094 m2 (without stairs). On the official site, the area of the temple is specified separately, not as a total. This is why confusion arises.


  1. ^ The church building is sometimes referred to as a "cathedral" because of its size although it is not a cathedral in the technical ecclesiastical sense, as it is not the seat of a bishop (seat of the Metropolitan bishop of Belgrade is St. Michael's Cathedral). In Serbian it is called hram (temple), which is another name for a church in Eastern Orthodoxy.


  1. ^ "Организација унутрашњег простора Храма и његове функције" [Organization of the inner space of the Temple and its functions]. - Hram Svetog Save. Archived from the original on 2017-08-24. Retrieved 2019-02-09.
  2. ^ a b c d e f "Храм у простору и бројевима" [Temple in space and numbers]. - Hram Svetog Save.
  3. ^ "Oбнова градње од 2000. до 2016" [Renewal of construction from 2000 to 2016]. - Hram Svetog Save.
  4. ^ "Российская мозаика для белградского храма" [Russian mosaic for the Belgrade temple] (PDF).
  5. ^ a b c d Mitja Velikonja (5 February 2003). Religious Separation and Political Intolerance in Bosnia-Herzegovina. Texas A&M University Press. pp. 75–. ISBN 978-1-58544-226-3.
  6. ^ a b c d Nikolaj Velimirović (January 1989). The Life of St. Sava. St Vladimir's Seminary Press. p. 159. ISBN 978-0-88141-065-5.
  7. ^ "Pozdrav ispod Beograda" [Greetings from beneath Belgrade] (in Serbian). 21 July 2008.
  8. ^ "Sve tajne beogradskog podzemlja" [All secrets of the Belgrade underworld] (in Serbian). 8 June 2008.
  9. ^ a b c d e f g Goran Vesić (18 October 2019). Храм Светог Саве [Saint Sava Temple]. Politika (in Serbian). p. 14.
  10. ^ a b c Aleksandar Apostolovski (27 January 2013), "Legenda o Hramu Svetog Save", Politika (in Serbian)
  12. ^ Торжественная церемония передачи Сербской Православной церкви мозаичного убранства главного купола Храма Святого Саввы в Белграде.
  13. ^
  14. ^ Ana Vuković (18 February 2018). "Мозаик од 40 тона украсио куполу" [40 tons mosaic ornamented the dome]. Politika-Magazin, No. 1064 (in Serbian). pp. 14–19.


  • Milanović, Ljubomir (2010). "Materializing authority: the church of Saint Sava in Belgrade and its architectural significance". Serbian Studies. NASSS. 24 (1): 63–81.

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