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.

Explore the rich history of the Serbian Orthodox Church of St. Nicholas in Novi Bečej, from its contested construction dates to notable renovations and benefactors

Serbian Orthodox Church of St. Nicholas

According to historical sources known so far, several years have been suggested regarding the commencement of the construction work of the Novi Bečej temple and all of them are within the second half of the 18th century. According to the record on the church itself, it was built in 1774. While writing about the history of Novi Bečej and Vranjevo, Lazar Mečkić contests this year, citing data from multiple historical sources. The book of Dr. Jene Sentklarai The History of a Parish of the Čanada Diocese states that the current large church was built in 1786. Dimitrije Ruvarac in Schematism of Eastern Orthodox Serbian Metropolitanate of Karlovci (Sr. Karlovci, 1900) mentions the year 1794, while Dr. Samu Borowsky in Torontúl vármegye (Budapest, 1911), suggests 1796, but this date is connected with the description of Vranjevo.15

L. Mečkić explains that the information about the construction of the church and the year 1774 in fact originate from 1871, when the Church assembly re-covered the tower and a gilded the cross. The dates of these events were found during the restoration of the church tower in the ball under the cross, which was partly destroyed during a lightning storm in 1931.

In the ball of the demolished part of the tower, a tin box with oil was found and a sheet of paper was in it with the writing saying that during the restoration of the Holy Cross and the entire tower with a new roof in 1871, for the benefit of our progeny’s knowledge it was noted that the church was built in 1774 in Turkish war time under the reign of Emperor Joseph II, and the cross on the tower was built later because of the times of war, in 1789. It was also written that the cross had been gold plated again, as it was said, in 1871. The same data on building of the church have been also put in one arm of the cross during the restoration of the temple in 1931.16

The doubts of L. Mečkić that the information in this document are incorrect, except for those where it is said that the Church assembly re-covered the tower and a gilded cross in 1871, are well founded. It can be assumed that during those repairs, the memories of the oldest residents were taken into account and so, on the basis of the traditions, the conclusion was reached that the year in question was 1774. Whether that year is accurate may be questioned due to the fact that Novi Bečej at that time already had one, for those circumstances, well-built church which was capable of accommodating the needs of the number of believers of that time.

The doubt as to the stated date of construction is also caused by the fact that Novi Bečej as landed estate was sold to the family Hadžimihajlo only in 1782 and that Klara Sisanji as a major church contributor was born in 1773. At the end, as explained by L. Mečkić, the war against the Turks was not waged in 1774, but from 1788 until 1791, and it is known among us as Kočina Krajina.17

It seems that the most acceptable data are those presented in the First Schematism of Eparchy of Timisoara from 1897, in which it was stated that the church in Novi Bečej, dedicated to St. Nicholas, was built from 1792 to 1796. In support of this presumption is the fact that the family Hadžimihjlo had been exploiting Novi Bečej landed estate for ten years now, and therefore it could also participate in the construction of an Orthodox church. At that time Klara Papapoliso was already the wife of Pavle’s son, Jovan Pavle Hadžimihajlo. Probably it was precisely the year of completion of the temple, the year when she gave birth to her second son, Nikola, who may have been named after the church patron.

Klara Sisanji, as a great benefactor of the church, was buried on September 9, 1830 in the naos of the Serbian Orthodox Church of St. Nicholas. The Chronicles of the Church said: “A woman of the first lord of Turkish Bečej“. It is believed that she donated to this church the funds for the making of the iconostasis, which was painted in 1804.

According to The Chronicles, which had been recorded from 1918 by the parish priest Boško Pecarski and kept in the temple, one of the many church restorations was undertaken in 1858 and not before seventy years afterwards, in 1928, the church of St. Father Nicholas was fully restored again. The restoration included the entire interior of the church, namely: the icons on the iconostasis were renovated and other icons in the church, the frescoes on the walls that were already completely darkened by smoke and soot, the church itself was gilded and repainted and decorated, inside and out.

Then, new tables were built and installed in the nave and choir, as well as a new ambo. The new floor made of white-gray ceramic tiles imported from Czechoslovakia was set then. Electric light was installed in the temple.

When laying the new flooring, Sisanji family tomb which was located in the middle of the temple has been restored.

Thus, the upper vault of the tomb was somewhat lowered down and rebuilt, strengthened and secured. The top plate with an inscription remained the same as it was.18

The work on the reconstruction of the temple was entrusted to artists, and was done as following: painting work by Vasa Pomorišac, an academic painter from Belgrade (originally from Modoš, today Jaša Tomić village) and Zdravko Sekulić from Belgrade (originally from Surduk), gilding work by Ignjat Đorđevic, a goldsmith from Belgrade, painting - decorative work by Nikola Stanković from Bela Crkva, building work by a construction business entrepreneur Franja Vajda from Vranjevo, and carpenter‘s work by Dušan Tomašev from Vranjevo and Kis from Novi Bečej.

All the work was completed to the general satisfaction, as was noted and verified by the engineers of the State Construction Section of the Veliki Bečkerek (Zrenjanin) that conducted the supervision of the work.

The solemn consecration of the church was carried out by His High Grace Bishop Georgije Letić with numerous clergy, on October 29, 1928. Shortly afterwards, the next repair of the church was carried out on October 5, 1931 by setting up the ball and cross that were knocked down, after the great storm that befell Novi Bečej on the 12th of September. The top of the tower broke through the roof and the vault of the church during its fall and so it destroyed the fresco of Christ’s birth, on the wall, which was done by Pavle Simić. The cap of the bell tower of the church had had slimmer end before the demolition, while the new, current one, has blunted end. It was set in order to serve only as a temporary solution until better times.

The bells were, as was the case with other churches, requisitioned by the government during the First World War and melted down for armament needs of Austro-Hungarian army. New ones were purchased in 1923.

In the next period, significant work was done on the exterior of the temple, primarily tin work, painting and carpentry, conducted in 1961 and 1971.

On the Patron Saint‘s Day, the day of the transfer of the relics of St. Father Nicholas, on 22 May 1974, the memorial plaque with the names of all priests, known benefactors and contributors was revealed and consecrated.

It was set on the outer side of the church - on the south side below the fresco icon.

The plaque is made of white marble with dimensions 120 x 140 cm and was manufactured by the stonecutter Isván Varga from Bečej.

Around the middle of 1981, one of the last major general external repairs of the temple in 20th century was done (insulation, plastering, whitewashing and painting). The contractor was Bora Stojanović, a bricklayer from Crna Trava, while the supervisor was architect Živorad Berbakov from Zrenjanin.

The church was built of solid material, and the dimensions are: 24.5 m in length with a width of 12 m and height of tower of 30 m. The height of the tower before the accident in the storm in 1931 was 35 m.19

[15] Mečkić, L. op. cit. pp. 252-253.

[16] ibid. p.251.

[17] ibid. p.252.

[18] The same Chronicles also reveal that the tomb was then carefully examined and that the skeletal remains of four persons were found. With the deceased Klara Sisanji, who had been buried there in a wooden coffin, there were three more skeletons that are assumed to be brought from somewhere else and buried there. Two of the skeletons could be identified as children’s, male and female (10-14), and one was an older male.

[19] The data from the said Church Chronicles; Mečkić, L. op. cit. 1989, p. 255; Bakić, S. Architectural Heritage of Villages in the Municipality of Novi Bečej, Materials for the Study of Cultural Monuments of Vojvodina XX, Novi Sad, 1999. pp. 28-29.

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