The Saint and the Prince

St. Nicholas with Stefan's eyes
Detail: St. Nicholas with Stefan's eyes
Detail: The Life & Miracles of Saint Nicholas
Artist: Alexander Boguslawski
St. Nicholas Center Collection

The King of Serbia, Milutin, had a jealous, scheming wife who turned him against his own son, Prince Stefan. Convinced of the prince's treachery, the king ordered him blinded. In great pain, Stefan finally fell asleep in the Church of St. Nicholas. While he slept, the saint appeared to him in a dream, saying, "Do not despair, beloved Stefan, your eyes are in the palm of my hand."

Greatly comforted, when Stefan awoke the pain was relieved and he began a life of prayer. The king, however, was not satisfied. He exiled Prince Stefan to Constantinople, where he was imprisoned in a monastery.

One night, five years later and after a hard day's work, Stefan dozed off during the evening liturgy honoring Saint Nicholas. As he slept, the saint appeared to him a second time, made the sign of the cross over Stefan's face, saying, "Noble prince, do you remember my words, 'your eyes are in the palm of my hand?' I am giving them back to you now." The saint touched Stefan's eyes and then vanished. When Stefan woke up, he could see! However, he kept this a secret, still wearing cloth bandages over his eyes, and pretending to be blind.

After three more years, King Milutin died. Prince Stefan told how Saint Nicholas came and his sight returned. Then Stefan returned to Serbia and became king.1 While he was king, he founded Decani Monastery,2 with a monastery church dedicated to St. Nicholas. He also founded a leprosy hospital. In gratitude to Saint Nicholas King Stefan sent a silver altar and great icon 3 to the Saint Nicholas basilica in Bari, Italy.

Saint Nicholas appeared to King Stefan a third and last time, saying "The Lord is calling you to him, Stefan—be ready to depart this life." Preparing for his death, the king gave his riches to the monastery ahd leprosy hospital. Soon after, his own son led an uprising and had King Stefan killed. He was buried at the Decani Monastery and made a saint by the Serbian Orthodox Church.

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  1. King Stephen Uroš III (known as Stephen Decani) ruled Serbia from 1321-1331. This hagiographical account was written at the Decani Monastery sometime around 1400.
  2. Decani Monastery is still an important spiritual center. More information and pictures of the monastery.
  3. King Stefan and his wife gave this enormous (44.5x73.5 inches) icon of Saint Nicholas with silver oklad to the Basilica di San Nicola, Bari, Italy. It is on the wall in St. Nicholas' crypt shrine.

The vitae of St. Nicholas and His Hagiographical Icons in Russia, Vol. 2, doctoral dissertation by Alexander Boguslawski, University of Kansas, 1980, pp. 126-127.

The Life and Miracles of Saint Nicholas, the Wonderworker, by Count Michael Tolstoy, mid-19th century, Publishing House of the Metropolitanate of Montenegro and the Littoral, children's edition translated from Serbian by Petar V. Sherovich.

More about Great-Martyr King Stefan Decani

Hymn of Praise: King Stefan of Decani

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