St. George in King's Church at Studenica Monastery
St. George in King's Church at Studenica Monastery

By Sofija Trpčevski | Independent Researcher


The King's Church is located in Studenica Monastery and it is dedicated to the Virgin Mary’s parents, Sts. Joachim and Anna. Based on the founder’s inscription, which is carved in stone and located under the roof cornice of the apse, it is known that the founder of the church was King Milutin (r. 1282–1321) and that the edifice was built in 1313–14. King’s church was built as a single nave church with a dome. The wall paintings of the King’s Church are one of the most beautiful examples of frescoes from the Palaiologan period, and they were painted around 1318–19. Although the painter's signature has not been preserved, based on other endowments of King Milutin and their stylistic features, it can be concluded that the same workshop, led by Michael Astrapas, was in charge of these wall paintings. The frescoes of the King’s Church, in their proportions, scene arrangements, and composition, achieved the ideals of the Palaiologan era and represent one of the best works of Michael Astrapas and his workshop.

The representation of St. George is located in the first zone of the north wall of the nave. The saint is painted next to the ancestors of King Milutin – St. Sava and St. Simeon, who are depicted next to the Virgin holding the Christ Child. St. George is depicted as a warrior; he wears armor over a blue long-sleeved tunic, and a purple cloak over it. He holds a spear in his right hand, a sword in his left, and he has a round shield strapped to his back. The figure of the holy warrior is damaged, but he is recognizable by the established iconographic features specific to representations of St. George in Serbian and Byzantine painting. Besides the iconography, the inscription next to the holy warrior is preserved confirming that this military saint is St. George.


St. George is one of the saints whose cult was highly respected and widespread both in Byzantium and in the territories of the Serbian state in the Middle Ages. The veneration of St. George in the Serbian lands dates back to the time of the great župan Stefan Nemanja (r. 1168–96). He is one of the first saints to be portrayed as a holy warrior in both Serbian and Byzantine art. Individual representations of this saint, as well as scenes from his life, can be found in many royal endowments of the Nemanjić dynasty. His cult was especially important to the founder of the dynasty, Stefan Nemanja, who dedicated one of his projects, the church at Djurdjeve Stupove (ca. 1175), to St. George. Following the example of the great župan, his heirs continued to revere St. George, and so the saint was depicted in a prominent place in the endowments of Nemanja's great-grandson, King Milutin.

Before the 11th century, holy warriors were mostly depicted in tunics, and St. George was among the first to receive the garb of a warrior. When the cult of this saint became widespread among rulers and nobles, many chose him as the patron of their endowments, and he was depicted several times in some churches. In these representations, he was often shown as a warrior with a sword and a spear - an iconographical model transferred from Byzantine art. Depictions of warrior saints also related to the veneration of holy warriors among rulers during times of war, which is also a tradition that was transferred from Byzantium.

During the reign of King Milutin, the Serbian state significantly expanded its territories. Therefore, in the period of war, it was customary for the rulers to ask for help from the patron saint. In the case of King Milutin, who followed the model of his ancestor Stefan Nemanja, that was St. George. Therefore, it is not unusual that the individual representation of this saint was painted in the nave of the King's Church at Studenica Monastery. Moreover, this representation is also significant for its symbolic meaning and in relation to other individual figures that appear next to the saint. St. George is shown next to another holy warrior, St. Dimitrios, and on the right side next to the Serbian saints St. Sava, with the inscription: “St. Sava The first Archbishop of all Serbian lands” and St. Simeon, with the inscription: “St. Simeon Nemanja.” The two ancestors of King Milutin appear as his representatives before the Virgin and Christ, but they also emphasize that the king is a legitimate heir and part of Nemanjić's holy lineage.

King Milutin chose to portray St. Simeon as a representative in his endowment, which he built next to the Church of the Holy Virgin, the endowment of great župan. Also, he chose the representation of St. George, a saint who was especially respected by the great župan. St. George is depicted here in a procession with St. Simeon, who was the first Serbian ruler to dedicate his building projects to this saint, and it is known from his hagiography that he often relied on St. George during times of war. This procession, observed in relation to the founder's composition on the opposite wall, namely the south wall, conveys the idea of a ruler as a perfect warrior who achieved his military successes with the assistance of holy warriors.

This kind of representation of St. George in the endowments of King Milutin was not unusual; the holy warrior was painted in the founder's composition in the church dedicated to him in Staro Nagoričino (1312–13). In addition to the symbolic significance of this representation, which emphasizes King Milutin as a warrior and victor in battles with the help of St. George, it also indicates the connection of King Milutin with his ancestors, specifically Stefan Nemanja.

This representation is also important because of its artistic qualities. It is part of the wall paintings accomplished by Michael Astrapas, and is an important example of fresco painting from the Palaiologan era.

Further Reading

Babić, Gordana. The King’s Church of Studenica, Revised and amended edition, Novi Sad – Studenica Monastery, 2020.

This monograph offers a detailed study of the frescos in King’s Church at Studenica Monastery.

Marković, Miodrag. O ikonografiji svetih ratnika u istočnohrišćanskoj umetnosti i o predstavama ovih svetitelja u Dečanima (On the Iconography of the Military Saints in Eastern Christian Art and the Representations of Holy Warriors in the Monastery of Dečani), Zidno slikarstvo manastira Dečana, Beograd (1995), 567-627.

This essay focuses on the development of cults of the holy warriors and their representations throughout the Middle Ages. It is significant for its detailed interpretations of depictions and iconographies of military saints in Dečani Monastery, as well as in some other significant Byzantine monuments.

Walter, Christopher. The Warrior Saints in Byzantine Art and Tradition, Ashgate Publishing, USA, 2003.

This study presents elaborate research on warrior saints. This is significant for studying the development of cults of these saints and for their representations since the Early Christian period.

White, Monica. Military Saints in Byzantium and Rus, 900-1200, Cambridge University Press, 2013.

This book offers a comprehensive study on military saints and their roots in late antiquity. It is significant since the author also includes the roles of these saints as patrons of the imperial armies.


Sofija Trpčevski, "St. George in King's Church at Studenica Monastery," Mapping Eastern Europe, eds. M. A. Rossi and A. I. Sullivan, accessed June 3, 2023,