Hilandar monastery, on the northern side of Mount Athos, has been the spiritual center and boast of Serbs for nine centuries.
Its history starts in the 10th century, but years later it was abandoned. In 1198 Emperor Alexius III granted it to the Serb princes Stefan Nemanja and his son Rastko, who became monks and acquired the names Simeon and Sava and erected new buildings. During the 14th and the following centuries, the monastery reached its heyday and hoarded wealth and artefacts donated by emperors and individuals.
Among the monasteries of Mount Athos, Hilandar is one of the biggest in acreage and richest in artefacts. Besides the Catholicon (the main church) commemorated on the Presentation of the Theotokos, there are also a lot of chapels (Annunciation of the Theotokos, Saint Tryphon etc.), the Dining hall and wings with cells for the monks and other auxiliary buildings (guesthouse, library etc.).
The monastery has some notable frescoes (in Saint George tower, the Catholicon, the old and new Dining halls et al.) and one of the biggest libraries of Slavic and Greek manuscripts.
The present monastic fraternity has hearty relationships with the Serbian people that supports it significantly, especially after the disasters the monastery faced because of wildfires. So, during the last wildfire in August 2012, the Serbian state send dozens of firefighters to successfully protect the monastery.
Moreover, Hilandar holds a plethora of holy icons dated from the 12th century to the present time, the most notable of which is Theotokos Tricherousa.
Theotokos Tricherousa (Three-handed)
After a miracle of the Theotokos, who cured St. John of Damascus, he decided to become a monk in St. Sabbas the Sanctified monastery in Palestine. With him he brought the icon of Theotokos Tricherousa.
In 1217, St. Sava of Hilandar, son of the King of Serbia Stefan Nemanja, who was later called Simeon, passing by the St. Sabbas Sanctified monastery, he took the icon and carried it to Hilandar, where the icon stayed until 1347. Then, the Serb king Stephen Dusan visited Mount Athos and setting off he took with him the icon of Theotokos Three-handed as a blessing for his homeland. The icon was housed in Studenica monastery.
When in the early 15th century, Serbs saw that they were in danger of Turkish enslavement, they loaded the holy icon on a donkey and turned it loose to go wherever Theotokos willed.
Indeed, in a miraculous manner, the even-tempered quadruped went through the whole Serbia and Macedonia and came to Hilandar monastery in the Mount Athos, where the monks received it with honor and processions. The tradition says that the blessed donkey droped dead as soon as the icon was placed on the sanctuary of the monastery.
To date, this holy icon of Theotokos Tricherousa is considered to be the Abbess of Hilandar and the guardian of Serbs.