At the very end of his life, King Milutin allowed his elder son Stefan – who, after rising up against his father and being blinded, lived in exile with his family in Pantocrator Monastery in Constantinople – to return home to his country. Even though before this he had borne the title of young king (heir to the throne), Stefan had not received a place in the scene of the Family Tree in Gracanica Monastery, painted, judging by available facts’ shortly before this. In the unrest resulting from the death of Milutin, however, Stefan, aided by some of the landowners and rumors of a miraculous return of his sight, succeeded in seizing the throne.
These events have also left a direct trace on the shrines that he built. In Banja near Priboj where due to ill health he resided from time to time for its medicinal waters, a church was dedicated to Saint Nicholas, to whose aid his cure was attributed; and in Metohija, south of Pec, he undertook the building of Decani which he dedicated in remembrance of the years of banishment, to Christ the Pantocrator. In gratitude the King also richly endowed the famous Holy Site in the capital city of Byzantium.
The excellent location of Decani Monastery near a river with wooded hillsides on one side, a gorge cut into the mountain behind and fertile land before it, was already described with rapture by Grigorije Camblak, a gifted writer and head of a brotherhood, at the beginning of the 15th century in his Life of Stefan of Decani.
Most of the information, however, on the construction of this great endowment is found in the founding charter itself. Its first, original version – officially written on a roll of parchment over five meters in length with the ruler’s signature in red ink and a seal of gold – in cultured language, presents the motives which moved the benefactor to undertake this work, emphasizes his royal birth and in a special, moving way describes the unfortunate misunderstanding between father and son.
The document furthermore calls to mind the King’s great donation to the monastery in expensive items, and the lists the numerous lands and the people on them by name, which, alongside the estates of Hilandar Monastery, made up the greatest landholding of this type in medieval Serbia.
All of this, one learns from this Act, was ratified at an assembly which met most likely at the palace in Nerodimlja where the Charter was written. Some time before this, it is also noted, while the Document was being put together, the country was attacked by Bulgarian Czar Mihailo; at the battle on Velbuzd on 28 July 1330 he was defeated and also lost his life. The result of this great battle in which young King Stefan Dusan proved himself, permanently affected a change in relations with the neighbor to the East.
The detailed Charter of Decani – also preserved in other versions allowing the life of the monastery and its large land holdings and changes to be subsequently followed – includes excellent topographical and onomastical material of 14,000 names; and also offers, rare for an act of this kind, information on the state of building project and the experts who took part in them.
Thus the overview of estates verifies the village of Manastirica, granted already by King Milutin to Protomaster Djordje with his brothers Dobroslav and Nikola “for their work in the adornment of many churches throughout all the Serbian lands.” It adds furthermore that in the “home of the Pantocrator” – as the entire monastery is called here – they built a refectory and a ureas tower over the entrance gate, and in the “city” (the monastery complex is surely meant) and “around the church” (on buildings no longer extant today) they also carried out many other jobs.
The refectory, thus, was finished before the great church, whose construction – the charter mentions – was underway when the conflict with the Bulgarian Czar broke out; and at the same time certainly, the ramparts were built which provided solid protection for the complex in the valley. Part II