The Church of the Mother of God Hodegetria, Patriarchate of Peć
The Church of the Mother of God Hodegetria, Patriarchate of Peć

By Anđela Gavrilović | University of Belgrade


The Church of the Mother of God Hodegetria (“The one who shows the way”) in the Patriarchate of Peć, the monastic complex on the left bank of Bistrica River, in Metohija, Serbia, represents one of the most precious religious monuments of Serbian medieval art, built in the era of flourishing and rise of Serbian medieval state in the 14th century. Its founder, the Serbian archbishop Daniel (Danilo) the Second (1324–37), built it in the old church site, in the region of Hvostno, on the metochion of Žiča monastery, next to the church built by the second Serbian archbishop, Arsenios the First (1233/4–63). In addition to this church, archbishop Daniel erected several other churches and buildings within the monastic complex: the narthex of Peć, which connects three churches, the small church of St. Nicholas on the south side of the Hodegetria church, and the unpreserved pyrgos dedicated to St. Symeon the Stylite. The church was built around 1330 and painted with frescoes between 1335 and 1337. It was built as the funerary church of the Serbian archbishop Daniel the Second and as the spiritual center of the Greek monks. Since 2006, the church and the whole complex within the monastic walls, including the Churches of Holy Apostles, St. Demetrios, St. Nicholas, the narthex of Peć, are part of the “Medieval Monuments in Kosovo”, a combined World Heritage Site with three other monuments of the Serbian Orthodox Church.


As an important part of the Serbian cultural heritage in Kosovo and Metohija, as an endowment of one of the Serbian archbishops and the most learned person among Serbs in the Middle Ages, the church of the Mother of God Hodegetria’s significance is manifold: historical, artistic, ecclesiastic, and spiritual. It is a shrine whose building, with the exception of the painted decoration of the façades, has preserved its original appearance and whose original frescoes, an iconographic program imbued with numerous and multiple nuanced theological messages and allusions, are almost completely preserved.

The endowment of Serbian archbishop Daniel the Second has a very rare and double dedication, created under strong Constantinopolitan influence. According to the unknown biographer of Daniel the Second, the church is dedicated to the Mother of God “of Constantinople,” the feast of the Dormition.

From an architectural perspective, the church is unique. Its exterior, dimensions, and features are harmoniously merged into a single architectural corpus of several buildings forming one whole. The specific position of the Church of the Mother of God as a counterpart to the Church of St. Demetrios reveals its two façades – the east one and the south one, which are highlighted by windows, painted ornaments, and niches. The external articulation of the Hodegetria Church entirely corresponds to its internal structure.

The church has a complex and elaborate structure, conditioned by its multifunctional purpose. The tripartite altar area includes two smaller separate chapels on the site of the prothesis and the diakonikon dedicated to St. Arsenios of Serbia and St. John the Forerunner.

Built out of stone and brick and subsequently plastered, the church is of medium size. It has the plan of an inscribed cross with nine bays and painted façades, whose preserved frescoes are now rather damaged, and except for non-figural decoration, unidentified. In the first decade of the 21st century, the façades were painted red in accordance with its earlier appearance and with decorations added according to the field documentation of Đurđe Bošković.

The church is well lit – it has three portals and twelve windows. The floor in the church is composed of multicolored stone slabs of large dimensions. In front of the northeast column, there is a coffin-reliquary with the holy remains of the Serbian archbishop Sabbas the Third (1309–16), while on the opposite side in front of the southeast column is a representatively carved throne, with the miraculous icon of the Mother of God of Peć Krasnica of a later date, made in the 19th century. Particularly notable in the northwest bay of the church is the tombstone of the founder of the Church of the Mother of God in the form of a sarcophagus made of reddish Rugova marble.

From a decorative perspective, the Church of the Mother of God in Peć represents one of the rich and conceptually layered program ensembles of wall painting in the Serbian medieval state. All frescoes belong to the older layer, the one from around 1335–37, except for the representation of the church donor with St. Nicholas of Myra and the fresco of St. Ermolai, most probably dated to the fifth decade of the 14th century.

The painted program of the Church of the Mother of God was outlined in such a way that the separate church units constitute a thematically well-rounded whole, both enriching and complementing the themes of the wall painting of the church. All inscriptions are written in Serbo-slavonic, except for the one on the codex of prophet Habaccuc in the sanctuary (written in Greek).

Depicted in the calotte of the dome of the Mother of God Hodegetria in Peć is the bust of Christ Pantokrator, surrounded by the text of Psalm 101 and the scene of the Heavenly Liturgy, while below, in the drum the figures of the prophets are surmounted by cherubs. In the pendentives there are figures of evangelists, while between the pendentives of the north and south sides are cherubs with scrolls handed to the evangelists.

The wall painting of the Church of the Mother of God comprises three cycles (the cycle of the Great Feasts, the Post-Resurrection cycle and the cycles of the patron saint), that of the chapel of St. Arsenios of Serbia depicts the cycle of the life of St. Arsenios, while the chapel of St. John the Forerunner portrays the cycle of St. John the Forerunner; different categories of saints are represented as individual figures, mainly in the register of standing figures in all three ensembles. On the south wall of the church the procession of the holy monks is depicted while across from them, on the north wall, is the procession of the holy warriors.

The dado register, regularly designed in the form of geometric fields inscribed in a square, also contains an unusual iconographic solution – on the north wall, there is an ochre field with representations of monochrome snakes, shown next to one another.

Further Reading

Đurić, Vojislav, ed.  Arhiepiskop Danilo II i njegovo doba: međunarodni naučni skup povodom 650 godina od smrti: decembar 1987. Beograd: SANU, 1991.

This collection of papers contains articles written by different specialized scholars analyzing various topics related to the Church of the Mother of God (architecture, dedication of the church, the iconographic program of the frescoes, the tomb of archbishop Daniel the Second, liturgical themes in the fresco program, figures of prophets, etc.).

Đurić, Vojislav, Vojislav Korać, and Sima Ćirković. Pećka patrijaršija. Beograd: Jugoslovenska revija, 1990.

In this monograph the architecture and the wall painting of the church of the Mother of God Hodegetria as part of the monastery complex in Peć has been analyzed most minutely up to that moment. The monograph abounds in numerous photographs of large format, and is voluminous.

Čanak Medić, Milka. Arhitektura prve polovine XIII veka (II). Beograd: Republički zavod za zaštitu spomenika kulture, 1995.

In this book the architecture of the church is examined in detail. The book also contains a large number of old photographs, as well as drawings of the church, covering all aspects considered in the text.

Gavrilović, Anđela. Crkva Bogorodice Odigitrije u Pećkoj patrijaršiji. Peć: Srpska pravoslavna Lavra manastir Pećka patrijaršija, 2018.

In this monograph the church of the Mother of God in Peć is analyzed systematically and thoroughly from the aspect of the entirety of the monument and based on the principles of modern scientific methodology (history of investigation, history, dedication, architecture, frescoes). It brings valuable new data and facts about this monument.

Jovin, Marija. Pećka patrijaršija. Istraživanja i rezultati. Beograd: Republički zavod za zaštitu spomenika, 2006.

The book represents the history of conservation works performed in the Patriarchate of Peć from 1926 to 2005, including the Church of the Mother of God.

Petković, Sreten. The Patriarchate of Peć. Belgrade: The Serbian Patriarchate, 2009.

The book offers a brief survey about the founding the church and its earliest history, the sarcophagus of Daniel the Second and the fresco-painting of the church of the Mother of God Hodegetria in the Patriarchate of Peć – the themes, the program, the style (esp. 27–32).

Vasiljević, Maxim, Bishop, ed. The Christian Heritage of Kosovo and Metohija. The Historical and Spiritual Heartland of the Serbian People. Los Angeles, Sebastian Press, 2015.

The book brings description of the architecture of the church of the Mother of God Hedegetria and its plan, as well as the the survey of the main themes depicted on frescoes (esp. 75–76, 83–87).


Anđela Gavrilović, "The Church of the Mother of God Hodegetria, Patriarchate of Peć," Mapping Eastern Europe, eds. M. A. Rossi and A. I. Sullivan, accessed June 3, 2023,