The sanctuaries in which prayers were held which have been on the territory of Sremska Mitrovica since the ancient times until the end of the 20th century
During the several-millenium-long history of the town, first of the ancient period, then the Middle Ages and finally of the modern period, the sanctuaries had a special role, both for the inhabitants and the public and clerical administration. For the religious people they were the symbol of their national being. There is no information on the architecture of the pagan, polytheistic temples in ancient Sirmium, but there is a lot of matherial evidence of ancient Roman deities, as well as of altars of sacrifice which the citizens built in the honour of their gods. It is assumed that the first Christians on this territory might have appeared in the 3rd century, but the first temple that has been excavated so far dates back from the first half of the 5th century. It is the Basilica of St Demetrius. One part of the ruins of that temple has been conserved and the vistitors can see it today. Although numerous dramatic events had been occuring in Sirmium during the several centuries to follow which resulted in the complete destruction of the city, hardly anithing is known about the temples. Sirmium was also the centre of the clergy, and it had its episcopes – one of whom was St Ireneaus, who was killed in the 4th century, and Methodius, the brother of Cirilus, in the 9th century, who is assumed to have been burried in Sirmium.
However, there are no holy places from that period that have been excavated, and there must have been some, because it has been mentioned in some documents that Sirmium had a powerful religious organization and was an appreciated centre of Christianity. Not until the middle of the 13th century (1247) did we know of the two benedictine monasteries in Srem – the Monastery of St Demetrius and the Monastery of St Gregory. The Monastery of St Demetrius was definitely founded much earlier, according to some sources back in the 9th century, and there was also a settlement around it built in the 14th century which was named by the monastery. The monastery and the settlement around it were situated on the ruins of Sirmium, so the settlement is naturally considered to be the successor to the ancient city. During the 14th and 15th century, the settlement which has been referred to as the settlement (city) of St Demetrius – Civitas Sancti Demetri ever since that period, has developed and became an important centre of trade and crafts. In the second half of the 14th century, besides the Monastic Church of St Demetrius, two more churches were mentioned – the Church of Holy Mary and the Church of St Nicholas. There had been no other sanctuaries until the Turks arrived in these areas, at the beginning of the 16th century.
Since then, for some 200 years, the Turks had ruled over the City of St Demetrius, and the town was completely islamized. The Christian sanctuaries were demolished, and mosques were built for the Muslims. In that period there were 15 mosques in the town. None of those sanctuaries, or any other building from the time of the Ottoman rule, have been preserved because they were built of friable materials. The Church of St Stephen is known to have been the only Christian sanctuary in the Turkish period, and it was built at the end of the 17th century in the western part of the town, by the Sava River. It is assumed that it was built on the foundations of some Early Christian church. After the Turks had left and the Austrian authorities took Sremska Mitrovica over, Serbian Orthodox inhabitants returned. Old Serbian church on the Sava River was not large enough for all the religious followers, so they started the procedure for getting permition to build a new church. However, it was not easy – they had not got the permition unti 1777, but the construction of the church was prolonged for another fifteen years. Meanwhile the newly arrived Aromanians and Greeks built their Orthodox sanctuary in an ordinary house built of wattle, whereas about a dozen Croatian families had their holy ceremonies in ‘a shabby and roofless chapel’. Much later, in the second half of the 19th century, Jewish families started settling down in Mitrovica, as well as some Ruthenian families. A small colony of the Jews built their church at the very beginning of the 20th century – the sinagogue, which was completely demolished at the beginning of World War II (in 1942), and the Ruthenians built their Church of Holy Assumption in 1906 where the holy ceremonies have been performed for all the Greek-Catholics until the present day.
The Roman-Catholic church, with the Parish Mansion, was built at the beginning of the 19th century.
The new Church of St Stephen (St Demetrius)
The construction of the new Orthodox church (nowadays the Orthodox Cathedral Church which was originally dedicated to St Stephen, and since recently has been dedicated to the patron of the town, St Martyr Demetrius) started in 1791 and it was completed and consecrated in 1794. The church was built from the funds raised by the Orthodox believers. The inner decoration of the church and the procurement of the necesary inventory were finished in the first decades of the 19th century. The decorations carved in wood were made by Marko Vujatović, the woodcarver from Sremski Karlovci (in 1810). Only a few years later Arsa Teodorović, the most eminent woodcarver of that time, made the iconoctasis. The most prominent icon on the iconostatsis was the one of St Irenaeus and the scene of his execution. At the end of the 19th century the inner decoration of the church was significantly damaged in a fire, and its refurbishment was not able to completely revive the former splendor of the icons.
Eventually the church had been restored several times, its façade was renewed, the copper coat on the Baroque tower was repaired, and the icons were restored. The original apperance of the church is still preserved, and the space in front of it has been turned into a square – Trg Sv Stefana (St Stephen Square). On the occasion of the celebration of the 200-year anniversary of the temple, the tower was covered with the new copper coat, the façade was renewed and the restoration of the icons and furniture was completed.
The Old Serbian Church – Sremska Mitrovica
This sanctuary belongs to the Serbian Orthodox Church and it has been dedicated to the Holy Protomartyr and Archdeacon Stephen. It is the oldest building on the territory of Sremska Mitrovica. There is no information on the origin of this church.
The archeological excavations undertaken under the altar of this monumental venue in 1980 resulted in finding the red marble mosaique cross which dates back from the time of Sirmium. That is how it was discovered that this church was built on the foundations of a temple, which were probably the remains of a Christian basilica from the period of the Early Christianity. Further archeological excavations proved that there were baths (thermae) on this site in the time of the antique city of Sirmium, and after the triumph of Christianity such places were either demolished or turned into sanctuaries. There were no written documents until 1729, which were created on the occasion of the Canonical Visitation of the representatives of the Bishopry of Pecs to the Parish of Sremska Mitrovica, when the visitors noted down ‘The Parish of Sancti Demetrii by the Sava River, where now the Serbian population prevails, was consecrated on July 5. Now they have a wonderful and monumental church…’ Three years later the analyst of the Metropolitanate of Karlovci wrote ‘It is an antique church built of stone, with the dome made of wooden boards, and the altar of stone.’ That is what history says.
The interior of the church is distinguished by its beautiful iconostasis. It has several levels and it is ornamented by the finest carvings with the motifs of fauna and flora. There are lions, cranes, and serpents, vine, roses and leaves: everything is combined and merged. The iconostasis contains the icons by the most prominent Baroque painter of this region, Teodor Kračun. The physiognomy of the saints characterizes their personalities, which is most obvious in the icon of St John the Baptist. Some of the motifs on the iconostasis are unique in the world of art. There was no such scene in the annals of art as the one of the Resurrection of Christ on the second level of the iconostasis, with Christ holding a spade and Mary Magdalene on her knees before him.
In the last few years the area surrounding the Little Church has been cultivated, and being by the Sava River the Old Serbian Church and the area arround it abounds in fresh air coming from the river. The water from the new artesian well which is more than 300 metres deep is the refreshment for the passers-by, and the expanding green vegetation isolates the Little Church from the heat, crowd and rush of the urban lifestyle.
The Greek Catholic Church of the Holy Resurrection in Sremska Mitrovica
The Greek Catholic Parish of Sremska Mitrovica was founded in 1886. After 1848, the Ukrainians and the Ruthenians from Hungary began settling in Sremska Mitrovica and the nearby villages, so they reached the number of 300 people by 1885.
The first pastor of the newely founded parish was Maksimilijan Relić – an Uskok from the village Relići. The Episcope Ilija Hranilović paid for everything that was necessary for sermons, and the Bishop Strossmauer gave him the permission to perform sermons in the Saint Roch Cemetery Chapel in Sremska Mitrovica.
The Church initiated the construction work on the temple of the Holy Resurrection on Septembre 24, 1905.
The church has three naves and a narthex, the central nave and two side naves, spacious chancel and choirs, the sanctuary with a tall, finely crafted iconostasis. There are a brown marble altar and an artfully embroidered baldachine in the sanctuary. The windows in the sanctuary and chancel are figural, and the ones in the naves are geometrical.
The church has three altars – the central altar in the sanctuary and two side altars: the Virgin Mary prayer quilt and the altar of St Anthony the Anchorite.
The inner architecture: the interior is original because it was constructed in accordance with the rhythm (metrics) of Shcumann’s sonata.
The devotees and the visitors of this parish are the Greek Catholic Ukrainians, Ruthenians, Zumberaks, Bulgarians, Hungarians, Serbs and the others who accepted this holy ceremony through mixed marriages, and who want to belong to the Holy Apostolic Church.