The refectory, whose primary appearance is, fortunately, known to us, and the tower with an open area facing the interior through which even today one enters the monastery, bear witness that the builders – as their name also suggest – were born there and raised on the local tradition. The refectory, as is often the custom, was situated west on the church, its placement adapted to following the outside walls. In later centuries, however, its appearance changed numerous time. A primary room with tables for monastic meals and a wide semi-circular apse with the abbot’s table occupy the larger, northeastern part of the building; in front of this, in the center, was a so-called mutvak, a kitchen with heart – similar even today to the preserved examples on Mount Athos – with a vaulted structure and raised chimney which became narrower by degrees. The onetime character of the other, western wing of the refectory, as well as its appearance in its entirety could reasonably be reconstructed, so a few years ago it was rebuilt. On the exterior, shallow pilasters along the walls separated the even areas of the facade into fields, but it appears they were without relief decorations. Masterbuilder Djordje and his brothers, judging what is by known, were given jobs which did not require special stone cutting experience.
The construction of the great church was entrusted to builders from the coast, led by master builder Vita of the Franciscan Order, who after the work was completed left an inscription over the southern entrance: Fr. Vita, Friars Minor, from Kotor, city of kings, built this church of the Holy Pantocrator, for Lord King Stefan Uros the Third and his son, the eminent and all-great and all glorious Lord King Stefan. Built in eight years. And the church is finally completed in the year 6843.
According to the Byzantine manner of reckoning time, this would be between 1 September 1334 and 31 August 1335. As the construction season ended in autumn and not in the summer, it is natural to assume that the inscription was engraved in 1334. The work on building the church which lasted for eight years began most likely in 1327 and was continued and completed during the time of King Stefan Dusan (1331-1355).
In his inscription Fr. Vita mentions both benefactors of the great church, but alongside Dusan’s name lists appellations which unpresumptuously but clearly express changes at the head of the country – as a faithful subject the Master builder from Kotor paid special respect to the King who had in the interim taken reign. Behind all of this lies hidden the deeper tragedy of the first ruler who, because of his great endowment remained the most in memory and even received the name: Stefan of Decani, whose eyesight was taken in his youth, who was imprisoned in Zvecan, and afterwards put to death in circumstances yet unclear. This most unfortunate member of the Nemanjics, however, received a special place as a martyr in the cult, particularly in his own monastery, and for centuries would be glorified in literature and rendition.
The decision of its founder to be buried in the monastery decisively influenced the character of this greatest memorial of Serbian medieval architecture, as it did in Banjska. That understood taking into account the Church of the Theotokos in Studenica Monastery to where the bodily remains of the founder of the dynasty, Stefan Nemanja, were transferred and interred; and expressed itself in its own way in the iconography scheme distinctive for shrines of the Raska school and, especially, in the exterior adaptations in the spirit of western architecture.
The spacious interior of the narthex is separated by four slender columns into sections. From the exterior it repeats the appearance of the eastern, somewhat lower, part of the church by means of which a definite balance is achieved in the interrelation of the architectural masses. On the other hand, the central part of the church – the highest and, at the same time, widest retreats by degree in elevation to its focal point and over the cubic bed ends with a dome with circular drum. Even though of massive dimensions, the entirety is thus to a certain extent divided and lightened.
In the well-lit interior, the lucidity of the area whose size is strongly experienced especially in the area under the dome, is kept in the heights. At the height of the faithful, however, the single space of the basilican area, characteristic for western architecture, is partitioned by parapetic blocks which have adapted it not only to the Orthodox ritual but also to the tradition of Raska architecture. That is to say, railings have partitioned the central nave of the church with its field under the dome and the sections of the neighboring naves on the north and south side, which agrees with the layout of Raska structures (with one nave, a dome and transepts for singers). This type of appearance in the 14th century was also repeated in Banjska as we have seen, due to its purpose as a mausoleum
The building language of the masters of Decani, led by Fr. Vita, reveals a high aptitude for stone cutting, fostered in Kotor, which from the end of the 12th century was not only a center of special importance for the economic life of the Serbian state, but also a valuable connection with the cultures of other regions, especially Italy. Special regal privileges which Kotor enjoyed within its borders prompted the builder of “the church of the Pantocrator” to call it in his inscription the “city of kings.”