With the advance of Ottoman Turks during the 14th C., the Balkans witnessed a huge influx of refugees from all over the East. The most notable of them the monks and hermits, many of whom were highly educated and influential personalities. As recently shown by A. Delikari, Gregorios the Sinaite was the most prominent of those newcomers who, as the forerunner of hesychasm, spread practicing “prayer of the heart” along with composing theological works on contemplative life and organizing new monastic communities. One of his followers was Romylos, a native of Bulgaria. In his angelic life he surpassed all of the hermits throughout the Balkans. Given the high esteem he enjoyed amongst the contemporaries, it is no wonder that shortly after his passing away he received the long hagiography written in Greek on Athos. Although constructed on well known hagiographical topoi, the Vita renders a number of data on his life, not only of his descent and later whereabouts, but on crucial monastic and eremitic practices and on historical persons, thus becoming one of the best sources for the period.
Romylos was highly movable hermit, constantly seeking more demanding ascetic tasks and better ways to accomplish a perfect monastic life. Therefore, he crossed the Balkans in search for ideal dwellings, fleeing the violent world of cities and of various marauders. As told by his biographer, he spent major part of his lifetime living in hermitages of Paroria (on Bulgarian-Byzantine border) and of Mount Athos (nicely analyzed by C. Pavlikianov in his recent article), occasionally moving to Zagora and Albania, only to settle himself at last in the vicinity of the Ravanica monastery in Central Serbia, the royal foundation of Prince Lazar (1371-1389), killed in the Kosovo Battle. The ascetic deeds of Romylos have been referred to in all possible instances, but his cult and his shrine never received a proper attention. Scholarly literature does mention he ended his life in a cell around Ravanica, and that his tomb was placed in the monastery’s narthex. Strong local tradition has it that he lived in a nearby cave. Unfortunately, the cave named after Romylos was destroyed during road construction works in 1950s. Today it is the arcosolium placed in the south-east corner of the narthex that testifies to the cult of the blessed Romylos, and a damaged fresco apparently showing his dormition.
After an analysis there are some new conclusions revealing that the whole complex of frescoes surrounding the arcosolium functions in relation to the hermit’s memoria. One may firstly note several layers from different periods. The immediate scenes above the arcosolium are Raising of Lazarus, in the zone of standing figures, and above Baptism of Christ. The wall paintings from 1387 now cover concave surfaces of the two niches formed in the originally west façade of the church proper, namely the east wall of the narthex. The north one reveals St Vadim and his seven disciples, while the niche recreates their being captives in a cave. The south has two zones, the lower showing St Gerasimos of Jordan and the lion. It is very siginificant regarding its proximity to Romylos’s shrine since the very narrative was prominently displayed in Romylos’ Vita. In the higher zone there is a figure of hitherto unknown prophet writing on a scroll. A detailed insight proves that it can only be Zephaniah. A comparative material renders that the usual accompanying text on his scroll was the one connected to Resurrection. All the scenes around the memoria corroborate each other. The Raising of Lazarus can be connected to the monastery founder, the Prince Lazar as the true instigator of the cult of the blessed Romylos. Position of the scene emphasizes both the important feast day of the church calendar and the allusion to the founder’s faith in his own resurrection and to his close ties with the the blessed hermit. The scene of Christ’s Baptism is also directly connected to the Lazarus Saturday and the composition under, because on that day the baptismal hymn is sung during the liturgy.
The most interesting findings refer to toponomastics of the Ravanica itself, argued already by M. Belovic-Hodge, since ravanica, rav’nica means plains, level-field, as an anchorite topos denoting the most suitable position for a hermit’s dwelling place. Apart from appearing in hymns devoted to Prince Lazar, it can be found in both versions (Greek and Old Serbian) of Vita of Romylos (tÒpon pedinÒn; mhsto ravno), and in earlier hagiographies also, being based on Luke (6, 17-19).