Crkve Sv. Petra i Pavla

Useful Information

Location: Rsovci, Stara Planina National Park.
A4/E80 exit Pirot, 221 across the mountains to Rsovci.
(43.176371, 22.774405)
Open: Last Sun of the month during mass.
Fee: free, donations welcome.
Classification: SubterraneaCave Church SpeleologyKarst cave
Light: bring torch
Dimension: L=8.1 m, W=7.7 m.
Guided tours: self guided
Photography: allowed
Accessibility: no
Address: Crkve Sv. Petra i Pavla, Rsovci.
Саборна црква у Пироту (Тијабарска црква), Саве Немањића бр.4, Пирот.
As far as we know this information was accurate when it was published (see years in brackets), but may have changed since then.
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13th century cave church built.
1981 declared a Historic Monument.
2003 church renovated, bell tower erected, paved trail to the church built and church closed by a door.


Crkve Sv. Petra i Pavla or Црква Светих апостола Петра и Павла (Church of St. Peter and Paul) is a beautiful small cave church close to the village Rsovci on the left side of the Visočica River, 23 km east of Pirot. This was originally a cave with a portal about 4 m high and 4 m wide and an entrance chamber which is slightly bigger. It actually had a church like quality before it was transformed into one. Actually it's more like a chapel, not a church, as the cave is only 7.7 m wide and 8.1 m long. The cave was closed with a massive wall with a door, a window on each side, and a fresco above the door. The inside is almost unchanged and still looks like a natural cave with speleothems. At the far end is an altar, and the floor was leveled and paved. The church is an orthodox church, so it does not have benches for the visitors, but it has an iconostasis, a wooden wall at the far end with numerous icons.

But the most spectacular detail of the church is a small fresco on the northern wall, which shows a bald Jesus. It is also known as the fresco of the Исус Младенац (young Jesus) or Christ the Infant. The fresco is unique in Serbian fresco painting and originates from the middle or second half of the 13th century. At least that's derived from the color and style of the painting. The baldness is unique, it seems to be the only such depiction in the World. The fact that he wears Buddhist robes and is surrounded by an octagonal mandorla or star, makes it even more enigmatic.

During the reign of knez Lazar of Serbia (1373–1389) large numbers of Sinai anchorites came to Serbia. At that time monasteries and churches had to follow a certain episcopal canon, a set of official motives, and this one is definitely not in the canon. So it is a good guess that the hermits from the Middle East brought different aesthetics and probably different topics. The motive might be a depiction of the vision of Saint Peter of Alexandria. This is a weird story of different religious and secular beliefs struggling for power at Alexandria around 300. Saint Peter had a vision of a 12-year-old Christ who gave him tipps for being successfully beheaded and becoming a martyr. There are numerous frescoes of the vision, but the main properties are the young age of Jesus and a torn garment. This is the only bald one.

A copy of the fresco of the Infant Christ was made by the academic painter and copyist Časlav Colić and is kept in the Ponišavlja Pirot museum. The cave church is located near the village of Rsovci, on the right bank of the