Founded in 1186 the Monastery of Studenica, dedicated to the Presentation of the Holy Virgin, is the mother-church of all Serbian temples. The first stage works were completed by the spring of 1196, when its founder Stefan Nemanja (St. Simeon Nemanja) abandoned his throne, becoming a monk. Nemanja's third son St. Sava molds Studenica into the political, cultural and spiritual center of medieval Serbia founding within its walls crucial institutions like the first organized hospital and school. Studenica was continualy expanded by the members of the Nemanjic dynasty. King Radoslav, grandson of the founder added to the church an exonarthex in 1235. King Milutin built a small dedicated to Saints Joachim and Anna in 1314.
There were other church buildings built over time within the monastery complex, but they were either completely lost or remain only as a foundation trace. Church of St. Nicholas, a small single-nave church predating the monastery complex remains there as well.
During Turkish occupation monastery have suffered desecration of conversion to storage building and even the stable. It have also been damaged by fire and earthquake. Smaller restoration efforts happened throughout its history. Major restoration effort occurred in modern times, between 1963-1989.
Monastery of Studenica celebrated its 800th anniversary in 1986.
The Virgin's Church is a domed single-nave basilica. At its eastern end there is a three-sided apse, while a narthex faces west. There are also vestibules on the north and the south. In the 1235, a large exonarthex was added, though in much poorer workmanship and stone quality. The main facades were built with slabs of locally queried white marble. Externally, the Church harmoniously reconciles two architectural styles, the Romanesque and the Byzantine. The blending of these two styles eventually produced a particular style of architecture known as the Raska School.
The oldest frescoes within the monastery complex can be found in the Church of St. Nicholas, dating to early 12th century. However, the knowledge about their origin is lacking.
Initial fresco layer in the main church have been designed by St. Simeon Nemanja and St. Sava finished by 1208 by painters from Constantinople school. Two frescoes from this period thankfully surviving in excellent shape to the modern age best represent the style and the ideas of the initial decoration. Monumental Crucifixion and the fresco Mother of God of Studenica.
Mother of God of Studenica fresco represents symbolic spiritual mother of newly fledged Serbian state. In its signage and name it contains religious, political and ideological statement of a new state. First, the inscription is in Serbian language cyrillic "Studenicka Holy Mother of God", not usual Greek "MHTHR QEOU". Fresco signage in Cyrillic in any of the churches built in the region of the archiepiscopacy of Ohrid before the church in Constantinople had given the independence was a challenge its jurisdiction. Another novelty was the very name Studenicka (meaning: of Studenica), which confirms the creation of national cult regarding the icon of the Mother of God, striving toward ecclesiastical independence, which does follow.
Fresco the Crucifixion dominates whole Western wall of the main chapel. Here we see style of St. Sava who wants to represent important ideas in proportional physical size, and there is no greater message in Christianity but the Crucifixion of Christ. While most other Studenica frescoes of the time follow more reserved appearance, in Crucifixion one can see clearly emotional figures, pointing to the development of a new style in century to come.
Frescoes in the Kings Church have been painted during 1310's. Main theme are a number of narrative frescoes about Saints Joachim and Anna and Holy Virgin. They do not serve only religious purpose but were known as an educational tool as well. Great example is Nativity of the Virgin. In addition to describing Biblical story, fresco shows and have been used to teach about proper hygienic practices.
Major repainting of the lost or heavily damaged areas have been done in 1569.
For the first time in the Orthodox iconography all the inscriptions were done in Serbian language, instead of the traditional Greek satisfying both political needs of the Serbian Royal family and practical needs of the population.
- St. Sava of Serbia
- Teodosije, Life of St. Sava, (Belgrade: Danicic Publishing, 1860)