Protected cultural monument of exceptional significance, listed as SK 208 with the Republic Institute for the protection of monuments of cultural heritage.
The Church of the Holy Mother of God in Kuršumlija was erected on a high river terrace, opposite the confluence of the river Kosanica into the Toplica. Basically, it is an Early-Byzantine church of the VI century, renovated by Stefan Nemanja between 1158 and 1162.
During Nemanja’s renewal, the original plan was kept. The narthex was built, and the sanctuary was separated by a templon with three arched openings. It was one of the two oldest churches built by Stefan Nemanja in Toplica. The other one was the Church of Saint Nicholas, on the plateau above the confluence of the Banjska river into the Toplica. The two churches were covered with lead plates that shone white in the Sun, thus giving the town the name Bele Crkve (“White Churches”). This was the town’s name until the Turks named it Kuršumlija, which has stuck until today. The naos was most probably covered with a dome. The narthex is of equal width as the naos, with two rectangular rooms on the northern and southern side. A new narthex, of approximately square base with a three-part entrance, was built in the XIV century. The entrance to the church is decorated with two columns which have as their base reversely-placed capitals from Justinian’s times and originate from an older edifice. The oldest temple was built with bricks with wider mortar ties. During the XII century renovation, bricks and quilted stone were used, while in the XIV century, nicely shaped limestone pieces were used, arranged in regular rows. The traces of iconography discovered on the iconostasis during the research date back to the XIV century.
A nunnery was founded next to the church, cared for by Nemanja’s wife Ana. Stefan the First-crowned, writing the hagiography of Saint Symeon, the former temporal ruler Stefan Nemanja, states the following about him: „He arriveth, not a moment late, and begun hastily building a temple to the holiest Mother of God in his fatherland, on the confluence of the river named Kosanica. And decorateth it by all churchly rules, and placeth in it a monastic unity with his honorable and God-loving consort, named Ana. And giveth to her the temple of the most holy Mother, to cherish its every detail and the nuns that cameth to this most holy monastery. And she listenth – keeping the temple of the most holy Mother of God, given to her by our most holy lord”.
The foundations of one of the buildings of the monastery complex, which according to the preserved remains had a storey construction, are preserved south of the church. During the Turkish conquests, both the church and the entire monastery complex were destroyed, leaving the ruins that remain to this day.
The tradition says that the monastery of the holy Mother of God was built as a nunnery, where the wife of Stefan Nemanja, Ana Nemanjić, first took care of it, and then took the veil and was named Anastasia. The legend also says that one of the inhabitants was Mara, the daughter of Đurađ Branković, married to the Ottoman sultan Murat II. After her husband’s death, her stepson Mehmed II entrusted her to govern the Toplica District. The fortress Mara’s tower, on the other bank of the Toplica, is said to be built by her.
Since the XV century, the monastery has rarely been mentioned in sources. In Ottoman defters, according to the research by Olga Zirojević, it is known to have been active between 1455. and 1530., when tax was regularly paid to the Ottomans. In the mid-XVII century, more precisely in 1661, a Turkish travel writer Evlija Čelebija mentions a deserted church on the way to Kuršumlija.
It is believed that in the early XVIII century, a Turk devastated the church and used the material to build a water mill, which was soon washed away by the river Toplica.
The remains of the church were also noted by the Austro-Hungarian travel writer Feliks Kanic, travelling around Serbia in the early XX century.
Nowadays, the Church of the Holy Mother of God is generally known as the Church of Saint Parascheva, or Petkovača. People used to gather there on Good Friday, before Easter, when a great convocation took place. It is likely that during the Turkish reign, the people who did not remember the previous edifice, attributed the ruins to Saint Parascheva, the saint protector of house and hearth, to whom they prayed for help and salvation.
Archaeologist Julka Kuzmanović Cvetković,museum advisor