Mr.sc. Ivan JOVOVIĆ*
Abstract. The cult of Saint Vladimir Prince of Duklja represents a significant stream in the development of contemporary spiritual and national identity of Montenegro. The Cross of Vladimir connects us with the deepest layers of our collective memory. However, as the history progressed, eventually cult of Vladimir lost its significance as primary in Montenegro, maintaining stronghold during the centuries among the local populace in region of Bar and Ulcinj.
The reaffirmation of his cult happened once his relics were moved first from Krajina to Durrës, and then to an Orthodox monastery Shijon near Elbasan. At the same time, his hagiography was edited. Starting with 14th century he appears in hagiographic writings as Jovan (Ivan) Vladimir.
The survival and spread of his cult was due to efforts of Ohrid Archbishopric. His character is portrayed in many Orthodox churches and monasteries in the Balkans, and his portraits even reached the Danube countries, due to the emigration of Vlachs – Tsintsari people during the 18th century. The cult of Vladimir came to be known in Croatia as well, due to the literary and historical works of Catholic priests during the 17th and 18th centuries.
Due to the specific religious and national ritual that has been taking place for centuries on the Feast of Pentecost on Mount Rumija (on May 22nd by the old, and June 4th by the new calendar) near Orthodox monastery near Elbasan dedicated to Jovan Vladimir, his cult gained ecumenical characteristics, thus becoming of international significance.
Key words: Saint Vladimir Prince of Duklja, Duklja, Vojislavljevići, Priest of Duklja, Karlo Thopia, Shijon by Elbasan, Archbishop of Durrës Kozma
In the year of great jubilees that are woven into the overall Montenegrin tradition, a special space is held by the thousandth anniversary of Prince Vladimir’s death. His tragic death came to be a pledge of Montenegrin statehood. This is also the reason that contemporary Montenegro institutionalized its goals, which we recognize in the forming of State Committee for commemorating 1,000th anniversary of the death of Prince Vladimir of Duklja – Saint Vladimir. However, it would be biased to consider above-mentioned millennial anniversary in the narrow framework of the administration. Vladimir’s holy halo has long before become a symbol of universal love, that represents a home for various Balkan ethnicities, confessions and traditions. The Foundation Saint Peter of Cetinje and the National Museum of Montenegro rose to the occasion of the jubilee and published the first monograph on Montenegrin and English language titled St. Vladimir Prince of Duklja (970-1016). The book was promoted on May 22nd this year, on Feast of St. Vladimir, in Bar and later in other cities as well. This publication features original articles of referential researchers from Montenegro and Macedonia, Albania, Serbia, and
even as far as Russia, where cult of St. Vladimir traveled by writings. The book also features various hagiographic and literary additions written in Croatia and Slovenia. Keeping in mind that Vladimir’s character was presented in art form on icons in Orthodox Church of Bulgaria, we can make a reasonable claim that his cult is spread from the Adriatic to the Black Sea. Prince Vladimir represents a significant cultural connection between Balkan people, and that is the reason we proclaim him as the Balkan personality of the millennium.
There are not a lot of subjects that have been present for so long in the oral national traditions, historical or literary and art works, such as the life of St. Vladimir of Duklja (970-1016). During the last thousand years his cult grew and lived in folk traditions and church liturgies, somewhere between documentary fiction and historical reality. At its foundation, cult of St. Vladimir Prince of Duklja is a significant link between the East and the West, a medium that connects and permeates various peoples, cultures and religions.
He is the saint of the undivided Church of Christ, who has hagiography written in both Latin and Greek, based on the original, lost Slavic template. Not only the liturgies, but the literary and artworks as well, gave way to cult of Vladimir becoming a cultural value of Southern Slavic and Balkan peoples. The cult of St. Vladimir of Duklja enriches the heritage of European civilization and corresponds to the concept of multi-cultural and civic society.
The name of Slavic state Duklja (appearing as Dioclea in medieval Slavic documents) appears in the separate Byzantine administrative-political units called archons in the 10th century. The area was spread between the Montenegrin coast of the Adriatic, over Lake Skadar area, up to the rivers Tara and Lim. The center of Duklja state formation of Slavs, our ancestors, was located at the foot of the Mountain Rumija, which is the source of the Montenegrin spirituality, and the birthplace of Montenegrin medieval tradition.
The oldest material trace of Duklja state traditions is the lead seal of Archon Petar, who is called Petrislav by Priest of Duklja, that reads in Greek: „PETAR ARHONT DUKLJE AMEN”. Archon Petar was a Byzantine vassal. The seal confirms what Constantine Porphyrogenitus wrote in mid 10th century in The Ceremonial Book, which is the fact that up to mid 10th century, Duklja was formed and clearly separated from neighbouring Slavic states and other areas of Byzantium. At the same time, the seal of Archon Petar, who is the father of St. Vladimir according to the writings of the Priest of Duklja, represents an important testimony to the christianization of a part of Duklja during the 10th century. The patronage of St. Mary’s Church in Krajina is attributed to him as well.
After his father’s death, Prince Vladimir inherited the throne and ruled Duklja until he was attacked and captured by Tsar Samuel of Bulgaria in 998. Samuel’s expansionist road took him to Dalmatia, and Vladimir found himself on his way, organizing the defense of his state. Samuel destroyed the city of Duklja, and Vladimir and his army had to retreat to Krajina, to a fortress on the hill Oblik, where they resisted Samuel’s army. However, he was forced to surrender due to betrayal. The traditional tribe writings of Drobnjaci describe the fight of Duklja lead by Prince Vladimir against Tsar Samuel.
With the fall of castles and fortresses in the interior of the Principality of Duklja, Samuel continued war march westward. He held Ulcinj under siege for a long time, but he did not manage to conquer it. Progressing along the Adriatic coast, he burned down Kotor and Dubrovnik, ending his expedition near Zadar. Returning from this march to his throne in Prespa, he took along with him Prince Vladimir of Duklja as a war hostage. In Prespa, love grew between him and Tsar’s daughter Kosara. She begged her father to approve of her marriage to the elegant vassal, who was modest, well-natured, filled with the wisdom of God. The union of Vladimir and Kosara was explained through the presence of the Holy Spirit. As he was now Tsar’s son-in-law, he returned as a ruler to Duklja, that now accrued some new territories in present-day Albania. As a ”just, peaceful, virtuous man” (Skilica), Vladimir enjoyed a great reputation among his people. With his wife Kosara he lived in a ”sinless marriage” and thus had no heirs. The new Tsar Ivan Vladislav, Kosara’s relative, did not appreciate Vladimir’s modesty and popularity, so he constructed a plot to bring him to Prespa, where he was killed and buried in a church. His death happened on May 22nd 1016. This fateful day in the history of Duklja represents the tragic end of Prince Vladimir’s earthly life. His sacrifice marked the beginning of his saintly cult.
The turbulent history of this area is certainly one of the causes that we now have very little material traces from the period of Prince Vladimir’s rulership, and the whole dynasty of Vojislavljević. However, due to the ritual that entails carrying of the oldest Montenegrin relic – the Cross of Vladimir, that is held on Mount Rumija in honor of St. Vladimir Prince of Duklja, the memory of the deepest layers of Duklja’s spiritual and national tradition remains. The life of St. Vladimir Prince of Duklja today represents an important guideline in the development of modern Montenegrin spiritual and national identity, while Vladimir’s cult has ecumenical and international significance.
For the Feast of St. Vladimir, a procession has been held for ages on the day of Pentecost, when in the early morning hours, the cross is taken to the highest top of Mount Rumija, and four sides of St. Vladimir’s state are blessed. According to the folk belief, a new church will be built there once enough stones have been gathered. On the occasion of celebration, many pious followers of all three confessions carry a large stone and leave it on the already formed heap of stones that dates back to Ancient times.
According to the legend, Prince Vladimir was martyred holding a cross, which is made of wood, plated with metal on the back. On the four ends of the cross there are four portraits of evangelists. On the thicker part, Latin letters FOIO FOIO are inscribed. According to the experts, this sacral object can only be conditionally considered to be cross of St. Vladimir, given that it is a cross with a Gothic archaic iconographic program, which is dated to the first half of the 16th century.
The cross of Saint Vladimir is owned by the Andrović family from the village Mikulići. The Muslim clan Mrkojević also had a significant role in maintaining the cult during the centuries. Rare are the relics in the world that in one day can gather Orthodox, Catholic and Islamic populace in the same place, such as the cross of St. Vladimir can. During the communal liturgy on Pentecost day, on the summit of Rumija, faithful people of Bar region pray and bless all four sides of Prince Vladimir’s state. Similar religious-folk ritual used to happen in Albanian city Elbasan, while the relics of St. Vladimir were held there in St. John Vladimir monastery. His relics also gathered Orthodox, Catholic and Islamic populace on May 22nd, and not only from Elbasan, but from many other Balkan countries.
The end of the First Bulgarian Empire and reinstatement of Byzantine rulership in Duklja was against the aims of Duklja’s independence. Like many other Southern Slavs, Duklja wanted to be free from vassal relationship. In this regard, Vladimir’s heirs benefited from colder church – state relations between Constantinople and Rome, which had tremendous impact on the national and spiritual direction Duklja took in the future. The direct confrontation with Byzantine throne lead Prince Vojislav to face Rome. This changed the relations greatly, because Duklja was set to become the strongest Slavic state in this part of the Balkans and the Mediterranean from mid 11th century.
The most recent readings into the deepest layers of Montenegrin history demonstrated that the founder of Vojislavljevići dynasty Dobroslav (Vojislav) was born during the rulership of Prince Vladimir, and not immediately after the death of his father Prince Dragomir in 1018. The fact that Vojislav was brought up in the proximity of his uncle Prince Vladimir certainly influenced his personality and military and political strategies. During his leadership, Duklja became de facto an independent state. (After Byzantine army lost a fight on Tuđemil in 1042, Dobroslav was named Vojislav.) Vojislav knew that in order to accomplish state goals he must follow the footsteps of his predecessor Prince Vladimir, meaning he had to strengthen familial relationships between Duklja and Bulgaria. Vojislav married a cousin of Tsar Samuel who was named Neda at birth, and changed her name after marriage to a Latin name Domenika. It was no surprise that Bulgarians then named King Bodin as tsar in 1072.
Although folk tradition and some hagiographic writings call Prince Vladimir a king or even a tsar, history remains firm at the fact that the first ruler from Vojislavljevići dynasty to be called king was Mihailo Vojislavljević. This ruler was installed by Pope Gregory VII who gave him royal insignia in 1078, which at the time meant the international recognition of the state. The foundation of the church in Duklja was resolved a while later due to conflicts between Bar and Dubrovnik. In 1089, Pope Clement III, per request of King Bodin, founded Duklja – Bar the metropolitan archdiocese. The Papal Bull from 1089 calls Bodin ”glorious king of Slavs”, and Archbishop Petar and his heirs in Duklja Church were given the jurisdiction over Bar, Kotor, Ulcinj, Svak, Skadar, Drivat, Pula, Serbia, Bosnia and Travunija Churches, as well as management of all monasteries of Dalmatians, Greeks and Slavs in Duklja Church province. Thus, Duklja to the end of 11th century gets all the attributes of classical feudal state formations, flag – the mantle – the crown. Since it had obtained royal insignia, Duklja was a constitutional monarchy, because the ruler shared the prerogatives of independence with the people, so we can find the origins of the institution of Assembly in Duklja – Zeta period of Montenegrin history. By the end of the 12th century, five princes and eight kings of first Montenegrin dynasty Vojislavljevići had ruled Duklja either fully or partially independently. In the genealogy of Vojislavljevići dynasty, Vladimir and Mihalo are the most common names. There were three Vladimirs, of which one was king and two were princes.
In the writings of the Priest of Duklja, a Latin version of St. Vladimir’s hagiography was given, the one that was held in the Church of St. Mary in Krajina and that originated from older template in Slavic language. According to the experts, Hagiography of St. Vladimir should be found in the period between 1075 and 1089. The hagiography was to serve as the basis of the new dynasty, after the Duklja rulers gained monarchy and archbishop seat in Bar. By forming the cult of saint ruler, founder of the dynasty, all necessary arguments were made in order to obtain state legitimacy in the Middle Ages.
The territorial expansion of Duklja to the neighbouring areas happened during the rulership of Prince Vladimir and it represented the basis of their integration to Kingdom of Duklja, which was later reflected in the formation of the wide church jurisdiction of Duklja – Bar archdiocese. This spiritual institution in Kingdom of Duklja was an integrational factor that in critical times defended not only its jurisdiction but the Duklja state as well, when it was threatened by internal or external factors.
However, due to the regular conflicts within the dynasty, the reappearance of Byzantine influence in the region, and the expansion and strengthening of the first Serbian state – Raška, the Kingdom of Duklja faded from the historical stage by the end of 12th century. The memory of St. Vladimir faded as well, and his cult eventually gained local characteristics.
After 1215, when St. Vladimir’s relics were taken from Krajina to Durres by the despot of Epirus Michael I, we do not have much knowledge on his cult. In the recently published Sinodik of Tsar Borilo from 1211, Vladimir’s name is found on the list of Bulgarian rulers between Gavrilo Radomir and Jovan Vladislav. Since that time, until the foundation of Orthodox Zeta metropoliten in the restored monastery of Prečiste Krajinska in the end of 14th century, we do not have a lot of written sources, which does not mean that the cult of St. Vladimir disappeared from church books and people’s memory. On the contrary, the memory of the Prince remained in the folk memory, testified by Venetian documents from 1406 and 1426 that mention the site St. Vladimir in present-day Ulcinj, former Municipality of Oblik, that was under the jurisdiction of Svac Bishop. At the same site, reports of Bar archbishops from 17th and 18th centuries mentioned the existence of the Catholic church of St. Vladimir the Prince. Until the first half of 19th century, local populace used to go on Tuesday after the Pentecost and organize a procession to the top of the hill Vladimir, where, according to their belief, used to be king’s church.
Only with the development of cultural and educated life in the Principality of Montenegro, the cult of St. Vladimir rose from the local frameworks and returned to the collective memory of Montenegrin people. A group of prominent citizens from Cetinje founded the Society of St. Vladimir in 1914, with the task of helping and schooling children of war veterans. This humanitarian society continued its work in 1927 in the Kingdom of SHS.
The transfer of St. Vladimir’s relics from Durres to Elbasan probably influenced the appearance of the Greek legend that was first published by Durres Archbishop Kozma in 1690, based on the lost Slavic original template. Until the appearance of Venetian publication of Greek service of St. Jovan Vladimir in 1690, we have no documents mentioning his canonization by the Church of Constantinople. The hagiography and the service in Greek language contain many historical contradictions (such as claiming that Vladimir is son of Nemanja) and they greatly differ from the Catholic version written in the works of Priest of Duklja. The death of Vladimir was told differently by the Catholic and Greek versions of this saint’s hagiography. The fact that some historical facts pertaining to the transfer of his relics were unknown, Vladimir’s hagiography started being reformulated by the beginning of 17th century, in order to propagate different political and church interests. This practice is alive at the present day as well, and different authors consider him a Bulgarian, Macedonian, Serbian or Croatian saint, avoiding the historical fact that he was born, lived, ruled and was buried in his throne city Krajina in Duklja, present-day Montenegro.
Many other sources and literary texts name Vladimir a king instead of a prince. In Byzantium tsar hierarchy, a title of ”rex” could not have existed, because it would have marked a ruler, not a king. The tsar administration gave other titles to regional rulers, such as archons, toparchs, protopators, protosevasts and ecusiasts, and according to available sources, Constantinople gave these titles to rulers from dynasty of Vojislavljevići as well. On a similar note, Vladimir cannot be called Prince of Zeta, because the name of Zeta does not appear in historical sources predating his death. The name of Zeta is first mentioned after 1042.
The name of Jovan Vladimir first appeared in the writings above the doors of the monastery church not far from Elbasan that was restored by the Albanian lord Karlo Thopia in 1383. The merging of the names of two saints – Jovan and Vladimir happened because Karlo Thopia, although Catholic, restored the Orthodox Monastery of St. Jovan (Shijon), and placed the relics of St. Vladimir inside. It is a little know fact that in the monastery where St. Vladimir rested until recently, donor’s records were written in three languages – Greek, Slavic and Latin. Under the patronage of the Ohrid Archbishopric, the cult of St. Vladimir was nurtured and spread, and it gained a new shape in time, that we recognize in frescoes, icons, engravings and other art forms in the churches and monasteries all over Albania, Macedonia, Bulgaria, Greece, Mount Athos. Vladimir’s character was portrayed in the monastery of St. Catherine on Mount Sinai as well. After Orthodox Vlachs – Tsintsari people emigrated during the 18th from Eastern Albania, the cult of St. Vladimir reached Habsburg monarchy. Based on one lost church book Service and hagiography of tsar Jovan Vladimir of Bulgaria and Illyria from 1716, we can conclude that this cult reached Russia as well. His hagiography and service in Greek language was printed and published several times from the end of the 17th century to the mid 19th century.
On the Western side, due to the efforts of Dubrovnik and Dalmatian historics and writers from the late Middle Ages, the memory of St. Vladimir comes to life on the Eastern coast of the Adriatic. The works of Marko Marulić, Mavro Orbini and Ivan Lucić saved parts of St. Vladimir’s hagiography through the Chronicles of Priest of Duklja. Through Orbini’s work, the Chronicles of Priest of Duklja soon became intellectual property in cultural circles of Western Europe. We can conclude as much based on the scientific analysis of one of Shakespeare’s works The Tempest, where we can recognize the source of the fabula in the chapter of the Chronicles of Priest of Duklja documenting the relationship between Vladimir, Kosara and Samuel.
Orbini’s and Lučić’s editions of the Chronicle were an occasion for Catholic priests of 18th, from Vitezović, Kačić-Miošić to Bedeković, to animate and reaffirm the cult of St. Vladimir among the Catholic clerics and people. In the very beginning of the 18th century, literary forms written in the pan-Slavic spirit appear, such as religious ep Bogatstvo i ubožtvo, Velepjesan u 30 pjevanjah by Jeronim Kavanjin, a poet from Split. In this work he writes odes to Slavic kings, and his 13th ode is dedicated to Vladimir and Kosara. In the end of 18th century, in the works of Julij Bajamontij, another poet from Split, we encounter translations of South-Slavic heroic eps to Italian language, including a poem How was Vladimir, king of Slavs, fred, when he was captured by Samuel, king of Bulgaria.
One of the great creators during the Illyrian movement, Petar Preradović, wrote a libretto for opera in 4 acts Vladimir i Kosara in 1873, but he considerably changed the fabula created by ”Dalmatian” tradition.
Through literary works, the cult of St. Vladimir reached Slovenia as well. In 1831, in the llyrisches Blatt, that was published in German language as an addition for science, entertainment and education to Ljubljana’s newspapers, a poem about Vladimir and Kosara was published, titled Wladimir und Cossara. Its author was J.N. Aschman. Two decades later, in the spirit of pan-South-Slavic cultural movement, a patriotic magazine was formed in 1851 called ”Slovenska bčela”. From the very first number, a novel in parts was published, called ”Vladimir in Kosara (Izvirna povest)”, written by a then-young author Luka Svetec aka Podgorski. This novel created a link with an almost forgotten thousand years long past.
During the 19th century, romantic interpretations of St. Vladimir’s legend were present in Serbian literature. These were works best described as historical drama, with a narrative suitable to reveal a character long forgotten. The character of Vladimir became an inspiration in dramas of Lazar Lazarević (Vladimir i Kosara: drama in III acts) from 1829 and in works of Jovan Sterija Popović (Vladislav: tragic drama in 5 parts) from 1843, as well as in the historical novel of Stevan Sremac (Vladimir Dukljanin), published in 1888.
Along with liturgies, both literature and art helped make the cult of St. Vladimir a prominent cultural value of South Slavic and Balkan peoples. The fact that there are more hagiographic than historical sources on the life of St. Vladimir lead to his name being different in different cultures. Macedonians and Serbians call this saint Jovan Vladimir, Croatians and Bulgarians Ivan Vladimir, and Albanians Djon Vladimiri. However, in The Chronicles of Priest of Duklja, ”birth certificate” of Montenegrin history and literature and one of the most significant medieval works of South Slavs, the name of Duklja Prince as an individual in the end of 10th and the beginning of 11th is VLADIMIR, which is confirmed by the Byzantine sources of that time.
Everything mentioned above clearly demonstrates that the cult of Prince of Duklja St. Vladimir can be a starting point for reconsidering and reviewing the cultural history of the Balkans. In that regard, the international project Paths of Prince St. Vladimir should be supported, not only in order to connect the institutions, but also the peoples of the Balkans, who do not only share the same space, but also the heritage. One of those inescapable links is the cult of Prince of Duklja St. Vladimir.
There are not a lot of subjects that have been present for so long in the oral national traditions, historical or literary and art works, such as the life of St. Vladimir of Duklja (970-1016). During the last thousand years his cult grew and lived in folk traditions and church liturgies, somewhere between documentary fiction and historical reality. At its foundation, the cult of St. Vladimir Prince of Duklja is a significant link between the East and the West, a medium that connects and permeate various peoples, cultures and religions.
He is the saint of the undivided Church of Christ, who has hagiography written in both Latin and Greek, based on original, lost Slavic template. Not only the liturgies, but the literary and artworks as well gave way to the cult of Vladimir becoming a cultural value of Southern Slavic and Balkan peoples. The cult of St. Vladimir of Duklja enriches the heritage of European civilization and corresponds to the concept of the multi-cultural and civic society.
* Ivan Jovovic graduated at the Faculty of Law at the University of Montenegro in Podgorica and gained his master thesis from the Faculty of Law at the University of Split – Maritime Law and Law of the Sea.
He is member of the Managing Board of Matica crnogorska. He was Deputy Minister in the Ministry for Human and Minority Rights and member of Joint Committee of Montenegro and Holy See. He is member of the Commission for designation of 1,000 years of the death of Duke Vladimir – Holy Vladimir of Duklja.
Other than publicist addendums, his expert articles and notices in the field of historiography, culture and maritime law represent part of Montenegrin periodical publications. He published the book From the Past of The Archbishopric of Duklja (Lat. Dioclea) and Bar in 2004 and Addendum to the History of The Archbishopric of Bar in 2012.