The Churches and Monasteries of Dubrovnik


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January 10th 2010
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Religious Buildings in Dubrovnik, Croatia



Visited 16 and 17 October 2009

You probably want to see this presentation as either web pages ( click here ) or as a slide show ( click here )

Before doing that, you probably want to review my overall presentation on Dubrovnik ( click here ).


Below is the text found on those pages:

The Franciscan Monastery


Let's start with the Franciscan Monastery which anchors the west end of Dubrovnik, just inside the Pile gate and extends northward towards the Minceta tower.


Here we see the main drag, the Placa, teeming with chattel disgorged by cruise ships. Even in mid October, this can be a crowded town. We face west with the Franciscan Monastery anchoring the area just inside the Pile Gate.


Here we look west past the Franciscan monastery tower, over the Pile Gate, and towards Ft. Lawrence across the rocky but small west harbor.


This view shows the Pile Gate at mid-right; at center is the monastery. The tower is attached to the large church and the cloister unfolds towards us in this picture. At right the western walls showing a few of the square towers and the pleasant walkway for visitors.


The new monastery was built in 1317 inside the walls. The Franciscan monastery had one of the richest churches in Dubrovnik until the 1667 earthquake destroyed it (and most of the other buildings in town.) What was built after that was pretty simple as in this small ashlar wall. But at the far right we see...



This lovely portal rescued from the pre-earthquake building. When built in 1498, it was the most elaborate in Dubrovnik. The Petrovic brothers (Leonard and Petar) had the best workshop in town when they carved this.



At top God the Father presides over the Pieta below. At left we have St. Jerome with a model of a church (a common Gothic presentation) and John the Baptist at right. While Gothic (check those Frisbee halos!), the fabric folds and facial expressions presage the Renaissance. (Could Mary look more sour?) Check the intricacy of the leaf work, perhaps done by one anonymous member of the Petrovic workshop. (Medieval craftsmen tended to specialize in certain objects and often left the faces for the master to carve.)How much of this building is found art? Were these humble ashlar stones chiseled from those that fell when the trembling of the earth destroyed the building that came before?



That magnificent entrance leads to this "hall church" inside. Instead of the typical 3 naves, the mendicant orders preferred these large rectangular spaces where they could preach to large crowds from pulpits near the center of the congregation (we see one here on the left wall). We look here towards the front.



The main altar appears baroque, especially the twisted (tortile) columns that suggest the Baldacchino placed by Bernini in St. Peter's in Rome a few decades before the earthquake struck here.




The inlaid marble of the side altars steals the focus from the oil paintings of Franciscan saints.



Here some elaborate lacework hides the inlaid marble beneath this Marian altar.



Somehow this 15th century marble pulpit escaped destruction during the great earthquake of 1667.




While missing a few fingers, this is still a pretty good guardian angel with remarkable wing feathers. It guards the Franciscan side altar.



The artistry of other angels is not as high but the thought is interesting...



...and the gilded fig leaf is minimal but adequate in those days of cherubic obesity. Should we put diet cokes in heaven's vending machines?



The ornate baroque organ and choir loft take up the entire rear.



The organ sports religious telamans (telamen?) above the cherubic musicians.



At rear is the church and at lower center is the magnificent Romanesque cloister built in 1360 and which survived undamaged from the 1667 earthquake.



The Franciscan Monastery's garden is the oldest existing garden in Dubrovnik. It dates from the 14th and 15th centuries. The layout is most unusual: most monasteries have a fountain centered on two cross paths.



But instead of being centered on cross paths, Dubrovnik's Franciscan monastery cloister fountain is at the end of a wide path with stone niches on either side. This fountain is the 1438 work of Dubrovnik's master water carrier: Onofrio di Giordano della Cava.



In addition, this garden featured plants from Italy and Sicily. Gardening began to be accepted as a craft in the 13th century. (Thanks to Mladen Obad Šcitaroci for much of the information on this garden.)



Most art work (for which Dubrovnik was well known) was destroyed in the 1667 earthquake. Since this cloister survived that catastrophe, we wonder if the paintings in the lunettes may hold some of the pre earthquake frescoes.



No matter. What's there is generally pretty deteriorated.



One of the best-preserved frescoes in the lunette near the northeast corner of the cloister.



The north walkway leads to a hanging sarcophagus that we will view in a minute.



Arches are narrow, creating the opportunity for many columns and highly individualized capitals to crown them.



Let's look at a few of these capitals which often do not appear to have the kinds of religious iconography one might expect in a religious cloister.



A mammal head, bird wings, and serpentine tail.



Here we have almost Arab-inspired carved vegetation. Dubrovnik sailors knew Arab architecture well as they sailed the length of the Mediterranean.









The Franciscan monastery also housed, for its day, a world famous library including 137 incunables (which is what we call early printed books from Gutenberg through the end of the 15th century. (A bit of explanation for our younger readers: books were what we used to distribute misinformation before the internet so rudely arrived.)



The monastery claims also to have one of the oldest pharmacies (from 1317) still in use in Europe, although it primarily sells lotions to tourists rather than serious pharmaceuticals.



The pharmacy is in the chapter house across from a small museum housing a number of religious artifacts and relics.



High above where the east wall meets the north walkway, hangs this well-preserved sarcophagus...



...which appears to center on the Ascension. On the left may be St. Francis receiving the stigmata.



While the cloister is considered one of the most significant Romanesque structures along the Dalmatian Coast, this window seems quite Gothic.



This door is just off the passageway that leads into the cloister from the Placa, the main drag. The narrow path makes it difficult to appreciate its elaborate carving.

The Church of the Savior



Between the Franciscan Monastery and the Pile Gate rises perhaps the only church to survive Dubrovnik's devastating 1667 earthquake -- The Church of the Saviour.



This Renaissance church was commissioned by the Dubrovnik Senate and completed in 1528 in thanksgiving for the city surviving the 1520 earthquake. Its 3-leaf semi-circular cap bears a strong resemblance to that of a church we would see at the end of our trip in Venice...



...the iconic St. Zaccaria near St. Mark's. St. Zaccaria's acquired this facade a few decades before it was copied here in Dubrovnik (and eventually in many other places throughout the region.) It's the the design of Mauro Codussi who did several of Venice's church facades as well as St. Mark Square's clock tower. These two facades built at roughly the same time suggest how much more affluent Venice was than its rival maritime republic Dubrovnik.



Architect Petar Andrijic of Korcula created this lower budget version of St. Zaccaria's as Dubrovnik was rising in power and entering its golden age. This church, in turn, was imitated elsewhere in Croatia as we would see when we arrived on the island of Hvar. At upper left, tourists climb to the top of the city walls at the Pile Gate.At the center between the rose window and the doorway is...



...this scroll informing the population of the survival of the city.



Below the scroll we find this angel in the tympanum. Her mojo was good as the church survived the 1667 earthquake...



...but not quite good enough as the 1667 disaster leveled nearly every building in the city and pretty well ended Dubrovnik's golden age. Here we see the fading IHS monogram in the carved arch above the door. You Jesuitphiles, don't think it belongs to you, as the order would not be founded until a generation after San Saviour rose to the skies after the earth trembled the first time.



The church was locked but as my Nikon kissed the glass, it captured this curious mixture of church and heaven -- perhaps Salvatore Dali meeting the Renaissance. From the looks of the Vatican II altar, this is still used as a church. Here, however, it is being prepared for a bit of chamber music. The semi-circular apse meets Gothic vaulting not visible in this picture.

St. Blaise Church



Those of you who survived Catholic grade schools probably recall getting your throats blessed by those criss-crossed candles on February 3 -- the feast of St. Blaise, the patron of Dubrovnik.



Built in 1715, St. Blaise church was a Baroque replacement for the Romanesque church badly damaged by the 1667 earthquake and then destroyed in a 1706 fire. The Senate then hired Marino Gropelli to mimic the church of St. Mauritius in his native Venice.



I'm not sure how many of the external sculptures are by Gropelli, who may be best known for the Baroque statues in St. Petersburg's Summer Garden. Let's look at a few details around the central portal.







Above: The baroque explosion of the Corinthian capital







Three statues command the top of the church. At the west corner we see this woman rising above an anchor...



...with St. Blaise at center posing, as is often the case in this town, with a model of his city...



...and this religious figure at the east end with cross and chalice.



Behind St. Blaise rises the church's oblong dome...



...which we see very sparsely decorated for a baroque interior.



The main altar does show typical Baroque elements...



...including the marble altars. Note the small statue of St. Blaise at top center, one of the few icons to survive the fire -- and therefore considered miraculous. He holds a city model considered to be an accurate depiction of Dubrovnik before the earthquake.



The organ pipes here are above the main altar and include gold framed oil paintings.



Quite the inlaid marble altar with delicate facial features and drapery folds!



On the epistle side are the relics of St. Silvan Martyr brought here from Rome in the 19th century. Supposedly this is no effigy but the incorrupt body of the saint, one of dozens so designated (but scientifically unproven) by the Catholic Church. Maybe his eyebrow wax was generously applied.



I'd assume we have a corrupt body behind this baroque marble niche cover.



Here we see the cathedral dome at far left, St. Blaise with its monumental stairway at center, and the Gothic column of Roland at right.

The Jesuit Church of St. Ignatius Loyola



Let's now climb southward up what was once the island's steep slope to the Jesuit church.



We ascend that slope using this monumental staircase built in 1738 by Pietro Passalacqua. Passalacqua later worked on several basilica facades in Rome. While these steps could use a bit of spiffying up, they were extensively repaired after being damaged in 1991 by Serb shelling. Dubrovnik likes tourists to believe that these resemble...



...the Spanish Steps in Rome built about a decade earlier. But that's a huge stretch; while it's clear that Pietro Passalacqua would be familiar with that similar ascent, Dubrovnik's space is much more constricted...



...and have none of the width and colonnaded terraces of Rome's Spanish Steps. The approach here, however, provides the requisite Baroque visual explosion of awe.



The facade is similar to another Roman structure -- the one with which this Church of St. Ignatius shares its name. In those days, many members of the order were architects and deliberately shared plans to create a Jesuit style. That's the case here with this church built between 1699 and 1725.Look closely at the foreground. Although this is one of town's major squares, it is not paved and drainage of the October rains is somewhat challenged. In Venice, this would be a square built over a cistern that would hold the rainwater. With Onofrio's aqueduct, this is unnecessary here.



The portal shows an angel guarding the IHS seal of the Jesuit order between the 2 large Corinthian columns that accent the center of the facade.



This view shows a trace of the thin baroque facade at center -- and the much simpler buttressesed nave and side chapels. To the left is the old university, Collegium Ragusinum.



Built perpendicular to the church, the old Collegium Ragusinum educated Dubrovnik's elite.



It too sports the Jesuit seal over its arched doorway. It is now a high school and a seminary. Students here take four years of Latin and classical Greek. (Is there any other way?)



This clock rises above the Collegium Ragusinum building. About 3 decades after the Jesuit order was disbanded in 1773, Napoleon's troops used the place as a hospital and it had several other lives before Dubrovnik's bishop established the seminary and high school in the building in 1941.



The church is the work of the Jesuit architect Andrea Pozzo. Inside, Dubrovnik's St. Ignatius is clearly inspired by its namesake in Rome, built over 6 decades starting in 1626 and shown above from our last visit in 2007. Compare it to Dubrovnik's...



...main altar ...



...and frescoed apse half-dome over the IHS symbol of the Jesuits.



Here's a side altar in Dubrovnik...



...and at St. Ignatius in Rome.



Around the main altar, we see a series of frescoes by the Sicilian Gaetano Garcia showing scenes from the life of the Jesuit founder, Ignatius of Loyola. Here this former Basque warrior holds the Book of Rules of the Society of Jesus. The four women represent the four continents where the Jesuits had established missions and universities.



Garcia's fresco on the epistle side shows Ignatius accepting Francisco Borgia (who became the third Superior General of the order) into the Society...



...and on the gospel side, Ignatius sends Francis Xavier out to the missions.



This view looks toward the rear of the church and shows one of the niches for the four side altars. At center, under the far balcony is a grotto.



The painting here depicts the death of Francis Xavier on the island of Santiano. By that time, Francis had converted more people than anyone in history except for Paul.



Note at upper left ...



...this Visitation scene.



The pulpit seems rather subdued but fits harmoniously between two side chapels.



To the rear we find this incongruous non-baroque chapel obviously imitating the grotto at Lourdes whose miracle came about 125 years after this church was built. Somehow we don't think that architect Pozzo would care much for this. Built in 1885 and remodeled in 1966, it's one of the oldest Lourdes chapels in the world.

The Dominican Monastery



Like many medieval cities, Dubrovnik was civilized by three major orders. Here the Franciscans held the west end, the Jesuits the south, and the Dominican's started east of the city.



Established in 1225, the Dominican monastery is readily identifiable from its tower. Much of the present complex was completed in the 14th century. Its position near the harbor was at a key point in the town's defenses.



Consequently, parts of the church and monastery were once part of the town's defensive walls, resulting in some rather uninspiring architecture. Eventually the walls were extended to envelope the monastery and we'd assume that decorative doorways and these half-circular stairs were added afterward.



Bonino of Milan added this now beautifully restored Gothic arch to the southern entrance to the church in 1419. The half-round stairs solve the problem of the church being built on a hillside with its worship space high above the street level. It unfolds elegantly beneath the simple small ashlar wall.



A close-up of this door shows St. Dominic in the lunette.



The other side of the complex solves the same problem with a gently rising stairs behind a Gothic railing.



Inside the cloister, we find other elegant doorways.



Since the cloister of the Franciscan monastery is near the gate where the majority of tourists enter, its cloister is often filled with tour guides shepherding their charges. By contrast, the Dominican cloister at the other end of the old town is nearly empty. The beauty of these arches with their trifora openings is enhanced by the quiet.



At left we see the cistern. In the rear rises the bell tower which Checo of Monopoli began in the 16th century; it was not completed until the 18th century.



This is quite an elegant arch to hold up the pulley. As we'd expect in a complex built over many centuries, a variety of architectural styles were employed. However, the place is more late Gothic and early Renaissance than anything else.



Massa di Bartolomeo from Florence did the overall design of the cloister porches in the 15th century. Local builders did the actual work between 1456 and 1483. Unlike the Gothic capitals at the Franciscan monastery at the west end of Dubrovnik, these are fairly uniform -- and renaissance.



Inside, we have a great hall church -- a large worship space designed to bring in huge numbers of the faithful to hear the sermon. In fact, this is one of the largest Gothic buildings on the eastern Adriatic coast. The box of the nave leads to a 3-arched sanctuary that suggests a Gothic cathedral with its nave and side aisles.



Note that the side altars are appendages on the simple wall rather than being deep niches or separate chapels. Note the crucifix separating the sanctuary from the seating area. When built, the center of the action here was at the center of the left wall ...



... the pulpit sporting Mary and several Dominican saints. It's now inaccessible and replaced by the Bose speaker at left.



Here's a close-up of the crucifix and the icons that separate the pentagonal apse from the nave. The monastery is now a museum with an outstanding collection of the Dubrovnik school which flourished in the 15th and 16th centuries. Like the Franciscan monastery, it also has a large collection on early printed books called incunables as well as many illustrated manuscripts.



But not all of the art is from the Renaissance: here we have a modern rendering of screens from the life of Mary starting with the Annunciation at upper left through the Coronation at lower right...



...the windows seem caught somewhere between the high Renaissance and the modern.

Miscellaneous Churches



Besides the large monasteries and churches such as St. Ignatius and St. Blaise, the town is features many smaller churches -- or what must have been chapels. Here a religious lintel now greets gallery shoppers.



The northern end has a high street that parallels the Placa. It's called Prijeko Street and it ends at the tiny church of St. Nicholas.



Built in the 11th century, it's one of the oldest in Dubrovnik but this facade is from the 16th century. Nearby is the 1408 baroque Jewish Synagogue, the oldest Sephardic synagogue still in use today (unfortunately, no pictures were allowed inside). When Ferdinand and Isabel expelled the Jews in 1492, most went to the Ottoman Empire but some came here.



While mostly Roman Catholic, Dubrovnik has its Orthodox worship space as well, situated along one of its rows of T-shirt shops.



Thanks for visiting. See our overall Dubrovnik presentation by clicking here -- or visit all of our travel pages by clicking here.

Please join us in the following slide show to give Dubrovnik Churches and Monasteries the viewing they deserve by clicking here.




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