Church of Saint Nicholas: History and significance of the Serbian Orthodox Church in Novi Bečej

Dive into the past through the story of the Church of Saint Nicholas in Novi Bečej, the famous Serbian Orthodox Church that proudly carries the burden of centuries of history and spirituality of this region. This feat of construction symbolizes togetherness and faithfulness, representing at the same time a monument to past times and a place of faith that gathers the community in prayer and worship.

A Brief History of the Foundation and Urban Development of Novi Bečej

Serbian Orthodox Church of St. Nicholas in Novi BečejIn the present area of Novi Bečej and its immediate surroundings, there were human settlements as early as ca. 3000 B.C. There were two extraordinary archaeological sites of this period in the vicinity of Novi Bečej and Vranjevo: Borđoš and Matejski Brod.[1]

The most famous remains from the Medieval period are the ones of the basilica Arača, located in the area between Novi Bečej and Novo Miloševo, at the distance of about 20 kilometers northeast from the city. The monastery was probably built in the first half of the 13th century.[2] While changing its owners, this monastery was reconstructed and expanded, and so its outer shape and inner content has been changing too.

Apart from Arača, the forerunner of today‘s Novi Bečej was a medieval stronghold Castellanum de Beche that was mentioned in 1342 as the fortress of Novi Bečej or city fortification. This fortress was built on the island, upstream from the present site of Novi Bečej, facing the western periphery of Vranjevo, connected with the mainland by an artificial mound.[3]

At the time of the Great Migration of Peoples, this territory was successively populated and temporarily ruled by Goths, Gepids, Huns, Lombards and Avars. The last ones who came to the region and have remained here were the Slavs in the 6th and Hungarians in the 9th century.

The name of the settlement Bečej was probably derived from the aristocratic family of French origin Becse - Gergely who moved here at the time of the introduction of Christianity among Hungarians under the first kings of the house Arpad in the late 10th and early 11th century.[4]

The first written sources, as stated by Rudolf Schmidt in his study Town Bečej, mention Bečej in 1238, during King Bela IV.[5] While Lazar Mečkić believes, in the monograph Novi Bečej and Vranjevo through History, that “it can be claimed the first written record of Novi Bečej in its history was made in the year of 1091.“[6]

According to the book by Dušan Popović Serbs in Banat by the End of the 18th Century, Bečej had belonged to Torontal County in the past. It was recorded as a city in 1342, and as a town in 1441 and 1660. It had 20 inhabited homes in 1717, 45 homes in 1727, and 56 taxpayers ten years later. In 1752, Serbs from the regions of the rivers Mures and Tisza were settled there, and it had 207 Orthodox and 44 Catholic households in 1773.[7]

At the beginning of the 15th century, Bečej had been in possession of Serbian despots Stefan Lazarević and Đurađ Branković and then, after a short time, it passed into the possession of the Hungarian nobility.

In 1551, Bečej was conquered by Turks and remained in their possession until the wars of liberation (1682-1716).

After the demolition of the Bečej fortress in 1701 and the abandonment of Banat by Austrian troops, under the provisions of the Karlovac Peace Treaty 1699, Serbs who were still in Bečej crossed over to Bačka and there they founded Bečej of Bačka. After the Turks were expelled from Banat in the aftermath of the Battle of Petrovaradin in 1716, one part of the population returned and rebuilt the abandoned city. Although the medieval Bečej is significantly older than Bečej of Bačka, the newly rebuilt town is then named Novi Bečej (New Bečej) to distinguish it from the other Bečej on the Bačka riverside. The name Turski Bečej (Turkish Bečej) began to be used only after the expulsion of the Turks from this region.

When the District of Velika Kikinda was formed, in 1774, Vranjevo, now part of Novi Bečej, became a part of its territory, which had a very favorable effect on its development in economic terms. On the other hand, the District had an adverse impact on the development of Novi Bečej itself because all the surrounding villages belonged to the District. Novi Bečej and Beodra which were estates and did not belong to the District represented an isolated island, deprived of an economic backing. After the abolition of the District of Velika Kikinda in 1876 and its inclusion in Torontal County, Vranjevo and some other villages returned to the Novi Bečej canton.[8]

When the sales of cameral estates had begun in Banat, at the proposal of Joseph II, the landed estate Novi Bečej was bought in 1782 by Pavle Hadži-Mihajlo, a tradesman of Aromanian origin, who had immigrated from the Greek part of Macedonia from the vicinity of Kastoria and, along with his son Jovan, managed this landed estate. His family received a peerage in 1799 and in 1800 changed their surname to Sisanji. The peasants had difficulties adjusting to the new situation so there were various rebellions recorded as early as in 1776. Not long after that, a considerable number of Serbs migrated from Bečej to the Military Border.[9] On the other hand, during the Austro-Turkish War of 1788-89, a considerable number of refugees from war-affected regions of Banat came to the village.[10]

During the 19th century until the First World War, valuable buildings are constructed in Novi Bečej in the prevailing European architectural styles of the time, Academicism and Secession (Art Nouveau).

In 1896 Novi Bečej officially changed its name to Turski Bečej, while Vranjevo became Arača eight years earlier. These names had remained until 1919 when they were changed back to the old ones.

These two towns, Novi Bečej and Vranjevo, were merged into one after the World War II under the name Vološinovo.

The town has had its present name, Novi Bečej, since 1952.[11]

[1] Rašajski, R., Nagy, S. “Protective Archaeological Excavations on Matejski Brod near Vološinovo”, Matica Srpska Scientific Journal I, Novi Sad, 1950, pp. 231-237; Medović, P. “Ploughshare of Plow from Borđoša near Novi Bečej”, Work of museums of Vojvodina 35, Novi Sad, 1993. pp. 33-40; Medović I. “Neolithic Cult Vessels from the Middle Banat, Work of museums of Vojvodina 54, Novi Sad, 2012. pp. 23-49; Jankulov, B. “Prehistoric Era of Vojvodina”, Bulletin of the Historical Society of Novi Sad, Vol. IX, Novi Sad, 1936 p. 254; Mečkić, L. Novi Bečej and Vranjevo through History, Novi Bečej, 1989. p. 11.

[2] Bakić, S. A new research of Arača, Materials for the Study of Cultural Monuments of Vojvodina XXVII, Novi Sad, 2014. pp. 17- 47; Stanojev, N. Arača: Churches, Necropolis, Monastery, Museum of Vojvodina, Novi Sad, 2004.

[3] Čurčić, S., Jovanović M. Banat - Atlas of Settlements in Vojvodina, II book, M-Š, Novi Sad, 2014. p. 110.

[4] Mečkić, L. op. cit. p. 19.

[5] Šmit R. “Town Bečej”, Bulletin of the Historical Society, Novi Sad, 1939.

[6] ibid. pp. 19-22.

[7] Popović D. Serbs in Banat by the End of the 18th Century, Belgrade, 1955. pp. 91-92.

[8] Mečkić, L. op. cit. 69-76; Stajić, V. District of Velika Kikinda 1776-1876, Novi Sad, 1950.

[9] Popović, D. op. cit. p. 92.

[10] Čurčić, S., Jovanović M. op. cit. p. 111.

[11] Kasaš, A, Andre K., Greetings from New Bečej, Novi Bečej, 1994. pp. 11-17.

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