One building dominates the skyline of Old Belgrade – the St. Sava Temple. Its huge light-blue domes capped with golden Orthodox crosses seemingly pop out of nowhere when looking at the sky. It dwarfs any other building in the city, and is the largest place of worship that I have ever seen. I have only been in Serbia for a few days, but I am nearly certain that visiting the St. Sava Temple will be my highlight of these two weeks.
Walking up to the Temple really puts into perspective how small – both literally and figuratively – one is. A long rectangular plaza seemingly always dotted with running children and parents watching from benches leads to the church entrance. Upon approaching the massive wooden arch doors, one sees the faithful patiently waiting to kiss the doors, afterwards blessing themselves.
When I entered, I was startled by the sight I saw. The unfinished interior, the floor dotted with makeshift scaffolding and construction equipment, along with the sheer size of space enclosed in a single room took me aback. The framed icons of saints on small tables a few feet from the entrance look like mere Polaroid photos with such a huge room as the backdrop. At present, the building is a feat of engineering, but upon completion, the sanctuary I’m sure will be a landmark of human artistic achievement.
The unfinished nature of the sanctuary is in stark contrast to the finished hall below. White-ivory marble makes up the stairs and floor of the underlying hall. Descending underground, the temperature certainly dropped from the comfortable 75 degrees it was outside. The shivers from the cool were soon accompanied by goosebumps as the opulence of the Serbian Orthodox Church revealed itself to me in one view.
At the bottom of the stairs, murals of haloed individuals and golden chandeliers consumed my vision. Enormous paintings of saints, the epitomes of holy living and examples of virtue in the world, cover the walls and ceilings. Suspended above the floor are gargantuan chandeliers made of gold, attesting to the special status of St. Sava in the Serbian consciousness. Such lavishness is only created in the name of the divine.