Unless you are of Serbian background, it is unlikely that you have ever heard of the saint depicted in this fresco:


The pose is typical of that used in the Balkans for royal persons who have paid for the building of a church or monastery.  Here the saint offers to Jesus (seen at right) the Monastery of Dechani, in Serbia.

But who is this fellow?  If we look at a detail in an icon of him, we will soon find out.  And looking at the inscription is the point of this posting, because it will not only introduce a Serbian variant term, but also will remind you of the other aspect of Cyrillic letters.


Yes, this is a Serbian icon.  But if you have been keeping up with the postings on how to read inscriptions on Russian icons, this one should present only a couple of problems.

The title inscription, put all together, reads:


You should recognize СТЫИ as Svyatuiy, “Holy.”  And you should recognize СТЕФАН as the name Stefan, or “Stephen” in English form.  That leaves only КРЛЬ, ОУРОШЬ, and the lone letter Г.

КРЛЬ (abbreviation for КРАЉ), transliterated Kral’ (Kralj), means “monarch” or “king.”  The feminine form is краљица —kral’itsa  So when you see that word in that spelling used on an icon, the image is likely Serbian, not Russian, because Russians commonly use the word tsar’ (which also means “emperor”) for “king,” even though Russian does have the related word король — korol’ — meaning “king” (and sometimes “baron”).  Oddly enough, kral’ is related to the English name Charles, or in its Latin form Carolus/Carol.  Some people may think “Carol” only a female name, but originally it was a masculine name, which accounts for the 20th century King Carol of Romania.

ОУРОШЬ Ourosh — is a dynastic name, the name of a family.

Г — the single letter G — might really mystify you unless you recall that in Church Slavic, letters are used not only as sounds but also as numbers.  So the first three numbers in Church Slavic are:

А – 1
В – 2
Г – 3

Perhaps you have already figured it out.  The inscription reads:

“HOLY KING STEFAN UROSH [THE] THIRD,” the “3” here being for “Third.”

Stefan Urosh III (c. 1275-1331), was a Serbian king later made a saint in Serbian Orthodoxy.  He is also known as Стефан Дечански — Stefan Dechanski — Stefan of Dechani — because of the important monastery he built there (in Kosovo). Dechani Monastery, called Visoki –“High” Dechani), is today noted for its 14th century frescoes on the interior of a romanesque structure.

Stefan Urosh III had an interesting life (I won’t go into that today), though the story is somewhat barbaric in detail.



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