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St James Cathedral, Sibenik, Croatia - Famous Churches
1201    Dibyendu Banerjee    22/01/2021

St James Cathedral with its three apses and 105 feet (35 m) high dome, located on the Dalmatian coast in the city of Šibenik, in Croatia, is the crowning architectural glory of the country and a unique testimony to the transition from the Gothic to the Renaissance period in church architecture. Regarded as the largest church in the world, built entirely of stone quarried from the nearby islands in the Adriatic Sea, without a brick and wooden support, its architectural beauty reflects a blended style of monumental arts of Northern Italy, Tuscany, and Dalmatia.

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Its unusual frieze decoration, with no less than 70 sculptured faces of men, women, and children, with placid, annoyed, comical, proud, or terrified expressions, also indicates a wonderful fusion of Gothic and Renaissance art.

st james cathedral sibenik croatia

Although the plans to construct the church began in 1298, the construction of the structure was initiated only in 1402. However, the preliminary job to transform the old Romanesque cathedral began in 1431, and as the progress of the work was very slow, the authority appointed Juraj Dalmatinac, who devoted his life to the project until he died in 1473. He enlarged the size of the cathedral with a side nave and apses to give the ground plan the shape of a cross. The apses are decorated remarkably on the outside with various sculptural decorations, including the 71 sculpted heads of peasants, fishermen, soldiers, old men, and teenagers, created with realism. Unfortunately, today some of those heads on the façade have damaged nose, probably due to vandalism.

st james cathedral sibenik croatia
The sculpted heads

Juraj Dalmatinac also designed the baptistery, located next to the southern apse in the form of a quatrefoil, a decorative element consisting of a symmetrical shape to form the outline of four partially overlapping circles. The upper part of the baptistery is covered with lacelike sculptures, and the flat niches are vaulted with corrugated seashells of St James.

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There are two statues of King David and the prophet Simon, on the baldachins, the ceremonial canopy of stone over the doorway, and the vault ribs end in the keystone representing the Father God, surrounded by angels and a dove, the symbol of the Holy Ghost. Dalmatinac also skillfully prepared the building for adding its dome. However, the unusual domed-roof-complex was completed after the death of Juraj Dalmatinac, by Nikola Firentinac, who continued the façade in pure Renaissance style.

st james cathedral sibenik croatia

The western main portal, decorated by Bonino da Milano, the first artisan, with the statues of Christ and the twelve apostles, above which are two Gothic rose windows with Renaissance decorations. The bronze door was added much later, in 1967, by the local sculptor Grga Antunac. Crowned with the coats of arms of two bishops and the procurator of the then church of St Saviour in Šibenik, the long north façade is distinguished by the stunning Lion’s Portal with two flanking columns, decorated with the figures of Adam and Eve standing on two lions. However, the statue of Eve was created with her belly button, while according to the Bible, she cannot have the belly button as she was created from a rib of Adam. The bronze reliefs above them depict the apostles, Peter and Paul, apart from different scenes from the Old Testament.

st james cathedral sibenik croatia
Inside the cathedral

Inside the cathedral, there are four tall columns on which the dome rests. The sacristy, where a priest prepares for a service, is supported by a barrel vault on three free-standing piers. While the side altars are in the Baroque style from the 17th and 18th centuries, there is a wooden crucifix on the right altar, from the 15th century.

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There is the sarcophagus, a decorated stone coffin of Bishop Juraj Sizgoric in the first chapel on the right side, and on the left side is the sarcophagus of Bishop Ivan Stafilic, during whose life the cathedral was completed. The cathedral houses the two graves of two Bishops, Bishop Calegari and Bishop Spingarola, beneath the choir.

st james cathedral sibenik croatia

St James Cathedral in Šibenik, dedicated to Saint James the Greater, has been on the list of UNESCO World Heritage Site since 2000.

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Author Details
Dibyendu Banerjee
Ex student of Scottish Church College. Served a Nationalised Bank for nearly 35 years. Authored novels in Bengali. Translated into Bengali novels/short stories of Leo Tolstoy, Eric Maria Remarque, D.H.Lawrence, Harold Robbins, Guy de Maupassant, Somerset Maugham and others. Also compiled collections of short stories from Africa and Third World. Interested in literature, history, music, sports and international films.
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