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Written Memorial to a "sister and queen" from Koločep

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str. 199-211

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One of the monuments of sculpture and epigraph which originate from the Romanesque era on the Croatian Adriatic is the marble altar rail from the church of St Michael on the island of Koločep. This stylistically characterful item of carving and epigraph -whose gable with its relief depiction of Archangel Michael presents a visual basis of the whole -unites, in its artistic expression and elements of carved inscription, both traditional pre-Romanesque features and innovations characteristic of the artistic and written creativity at the end of the II th century. On the occasion of the exhibition on the early Romanesque church of St Michael and its monuments, there was also present sub iudice a Latin inscription which was carved on the trabeation of the above altar rail. Originally composed of two architraves and a central gable, the trabeation is not preserved in its entirety and so nor has the inscription come down to us in its complete form. For a long time only part of the inscription was known in the literature, from the gable with the relief of St Michael, which was preserved in the parish house in Donje Ćelo. More recently, one smaller fragment which is attached to the gable's right end, was also found during the excavations of the church of St Sergius on the same island. Previously unknown in the literature, the altar rail's entire left architrave with its accompanying gable was also found here which until recently had been built into the court yard wall of a house in Gornje Ćelo as spolia. The introductory part of the inscription is composed as a call to prayer. The word queso gives the expression a somewhat rhetorical intonation and is similar to the introduction to numerous orationes or preces as practised through centuries of Roman liturgy. Protracted in the beginning, without measuring the inscription surface, the text, the important part of which lies in the message carved on the gable, goes on to be more carefully divided with the use of abbreviations and ligatures, in the way that was done when composing texts in the Middle Ages. As in similar inscriptions where fragments are missing, here too dilemmas arise as to what originally existed in the gaps. There is a lacuna between the last letter on the left architrave -which would probably fit in being the first letter of the conjunction vt -and the syntagm which, most likely, begin s with the incomplete preposition pro, a written suspension and continues with the legible text sorore (e)t regina [qJuae edifica[vit ...J. It is most acceptable to fill this lacuna in the spirit of prayer of the text which precedes it; perhaps with the phrase vtfundatis preces which would suitably fill the gap in the inscription not just in meaning but also in length. Such formulations are not unknown in Latin inscriptions, equally in religious, dedicatory and sepulchral texts. In the syntagm .. .pro sorore et ... it seems that the composer resorted to graphemic unification of the two homogenous phonemes lei, in the adjoining words sorore and et. Furthermore, the right side of the gable shows at the break that the verb edificare perhaps finished with a ligature of the last three letters -like edificavit -while according to the visible graphic indications the word ecclesia would then follow. In order to restore the content of the text on the right-hand architrave, which is not preserved, conventional sty1istic and linguistic expressions common in medieval inscriptions have served, as well as specific details connected to the church and the saint to whom it was dedicated. On the basis of the preserved text and the suggested solutions for the lacunae, I propose the following content for the inscription: + Qveso vos om(ne)s q(vi) aspicitis v[tfvndatis preces] p[roJ so rore (e)t regina q(vae) edifica[vit ecclesia(m) in honore(m) s(an)c(t)i Michaelis archangeli}. In translation that would read: I ask all you who read this to [say solemn prayers] for the sister and queen who built [this church in honour of St Michael the Archangel] ! The inscription which emphasizes a message of prayer, of dedicatory tone had, within the space of the church for which it was intended, the characteristics of a sacred nature and therefore was placed in a prominent place on the altar rail in front of the sanctuary. In the early Middle Ages, namely, these altar rails were the place where were emphasised the name and act of the donor or benefactor, the person who normally was responsible for the building or equipping of the church. Obviously, by this inscription, the intention was to inunortalise the memory of some "sister and queen" whose name is not, unfortunately, preserved and perhaps was not even carved. For this act that she performed to please God, helping the construction and equipping of the church of St Michael on Koločep, that person was undoubtedly deserving for Dubrovnik's cIergy and believers to say solemn prayers to God for her. Evidence that the inscription' is contemporary with an event that happened towards the end of the II th century, can be found in a number of details of the architectural and artistic construction of Koločep's church of St Michael, but also in the particular graphic execution of this text in stone. The inscription is stylistically distinct, because it shows features of the new age in the characteristic shape of the letters which occur in written form at the beginning of the Romanesque era during the second half of the II th century. The morphology of the letters, led by a desire for ever stronger artistic effects in the fragmentary decoration of dotted or drawn details and in the rounded lines of graphemes, curved in the middle, has its originals in the then contemporary book production, i.e. in the way of forming letters in the Beneventon cal1igraphic manuscripts. The liturgical books, monastic cartularies and papers which were in those days produced in the church scriptoria of Dalmatia all used Beneventon script. Tiny horizontal lines in rounded initials (Q, S, O) on the Koločep inscription represent a scriptorial style which does not appear in related monuments (the so-called Split-Trogir-Knin group; Split "school") and in fact is unique in the Koločep inscription. Furthermore in Dubrovnik one can even check their handwritten originals on parchments, preserved in a Beneventon liturgical handbook, only recently discovered and published, from the second half of the IIth century which contains the legend and the ritual models of St Nicholas 's feast day. This was generally a time of "osmosis" of different media which is visible both in sculpture and painting but also in the written form, where the composers of inscriptive texts to be carved into stone excelled in transferring letters and accompanying details from manuscript into stone. This is similar to the way in which wall paintings with the likeness of St Michael from the fresco cycle of "Adrio-Byzantine" tradition, which was then painted in the churches of the Elaphiti islands, got their stone copies in relief depictions of the same saint on the above mentioned gable of the altar rail in the Koločep church of St Michael. This text in stone belongs to the group of most developed orthography amongst the inscriptions of the early Middle Ages, that is of the time of the best graphic creations amongst the inscriptions from the second half of the IIlh century within the Croatian, and Adriatic overall, corpus of Latin inscriptions. From King Zvonimir's seat in Knin (St Stephen of Hungary) and Biskupija (St Mary), to the churches of Split (St Peter in Lučac, St Martin, St Julian, Our Lady of the Bell Tower -St Theodor), Trogir (St Barbara) or Kaštel (St Peter of Klobučac), all the way to Koločep in the south (St Michael), there is a range of related monuments of a single cultural horizon. They, each in their own way, display as many similarities in the basic concept of graphical stylisation as differences in the final completion of the details. They hint that they belong to the inscription writing style of the Split epigraphic "scho01", which in the conditions of the reforming papal movement and specific historical circumstances, also spread for a short time during the early Romanesque period to the south, to the Dubrovnik region. All these similarities and connections that exist in the texts, whether in manuscripts or in stone, witness that their composers were the Benedictines, educated in the tradition of the southern Italian, Beneventan scribal circle. But, no matter how stylistically defined, the crucial part of the content in the inscription, hidden in the real meaning of the syntagm of saror et regina, ie. "sister and queen", still represents a puzzle. There exists, namely, in the profession an old dilemma concerning the determination of the identity of the person to whom these words refer. Since the name of this "sister and queen" remains unknown, the solution to her identity changes, of course, depending on the assumptions made. There is no written trace of any kind of explanation although over time opinion became more and more strong amongst experts that it is a question of Queen Jelena from the Hungarian dynasty of Arpadović, the wife of Croatian King Dmitar Zvonimir, as well as the sister of Hungarian King Ladislav from the end of the IIlh century. The possibility of this solution was encouraged by Dubrovnik archaeologist R. Menalo in her verbal presentation of 1984 in which she reported on the results of archaeological excavations of the church of St Sergius on Koločep. Here, namely, was also found a smaller fragment of the gable with inscription which was later added to the whole which we are discussing here. In fact, the expressions similar to the names soror (sister) i regina (queen), used in the inscription, are also found in the historical literary tradition, for example in the old Hungarian annals, the Viennese illustrated chronicles (Chronicon pictum Vindobanense) . Here it is stated that Jelena was "soror regis Ladisiai", and her husband, King Zvonimir (1076-1089) "sororius Geyse", ie. brother-in-law to Duke Gejza, and thus also to the latter's brother Ladislav. This queen, and Hungarian princess, also had the Croatian nickname Lepa, by which she is sometimes mentioned in historical papers for example Helena gloriosissima regina, Lepa regina or regina Lepa. The historical context of this inscription would, however, be c1earer if other written sources were preserved which could shed more light on our knowledge of the history of Dubrovnik at the time of the last Croatian kings and also in the era before one dynasty was replaced by another, Croatian by Hungarian, on the Croatian-Dalmatian throne. Therefore it is hard to envisage the real reasons that led to the creation of this inscription but it is certain that at one moment the Dubrovnik c1ergy made good contacts with the Croatian -Zvonimir's -court, ie. the royal couple who were generous with their benefactions to them, similar to several other examples in his reign. Here are some of the circumstances which perhaps can clarify the historical background to this monument. This was a time when the unity of the clerical organisation in the south of Dalmatia was endangered. It was ridden with arguments between Split and Dubrovnik due to the ambitio~s of the Dubrovnik archbishop to separate from the Split metropolitanate and create his own with jurisdiction over all dioceses of the state of Dioclitia. This was accompanied by the strong aspirations of the ruler of Dioclitia towards Dubrovnik, who supported its bishop in his ambitions. At the same time the idea also arose of creating a metropolitanate of Bar. This situation made things very difficult for papal policy in those, already critical times of the divided Christian West between the supporters of the reformed papacy and its opponents. Croatian King Zvonimir as the Pope's vassal and political ally, on whose territory the Split metropol i tanate was situated was sureJy trying to influence overall politics in Dalmatia and Croatia during his reign including the above situation in the south of Dalmatia. He is obviously trying to help Archbishop Lovre, his "spiritual father" to keep Dubrovnik under the jurisdiction of Split, which would perhaps also influence the spreading of his royal rule over that south Dalmatian city. In these arguments, in which papallegate Peter himself intervened, it would not be surprising if the two aBies and loyal papal subjects, King Zvonimir and Archbishop Lovre, sought support and help from the then most influentiai person in Dubrovnik -the abbot of the Benedictine monastery of St Mary on Lokrum -recognising in this powerful prelate the only real support which could also be the deciding factor in resolving such complicated relations. Possibly the queen's gift also belongs to that time, as encouragement or reward for the abbot for the efforts that he was making or would make. It was, we suppose, visible in the building and artistic work on the church of St Michael on the Dubrovnik island of Koločep on which, as well as on other Elaphiti islands, were situated the monastery's cells and abbot's lands. It can be supposed that for such a donation in the Dubrovnik area, the Benedictines who lived there were even sent a master craftsman from Split's early Romanesque stone masonry circle to the church of St Michael to decorate, in the spirit of the workshop to which he belonged, the altar rail, i.e. to immortalise the deserving donor, Hungarian princess, soror regis Ladislai, Croatian Queen Jelena Lepa (regina Helena) . At the time when Hungary was opening to the Pope and the West, it is easy to assume that through the same lelena's interventions the route was opened for the penetration of the Hungarian group of saintly cults towards the Adriatic. In those days, the reliquaries of St Stephen the King, the founder of the Christian Hungarian kingdom in a similar way might have reached the Benedictines of the Lokrum abbey and after the division of their possessions, they passed into the hands of the Dubrovnik Dominicans where they can be found today. That the supposition of the important role of the Lokrum abbot in the social and political life of the city and the region, and generally the Benedictines as bearers of the reform movement in the Roman church has its overall historical paradi gm, is maybe most obviously stated in one valuable source from that time: the historical letter of 1091 from Jelena's brother, King Ladislav Arpadović of Hungary to Abbot Oderisius of Monte Cassino. It convincingly depicts the way in which Ladislav as a cousin or heir of King Zvonimir had been trying through the Benedictine abbot of Monte Cassino to gain the Pope's approval for his policies towards Croatia. (With Zvonimir the relations between Croatia and Hungary grew stronger especially thanks to Queen Jelena Lepa who had an important role in the forming of the movement of Hungarian supporters in Croatia so that at the very end of the II th and finally at the beginning of the 12th century, the Arpadovićs as a dynasty of Hungarian kings managed to inherit the Croatian-Dalmatian kingdom. This was especially helped by the circumstances which occurred after the death of King Zvonimir who died without an heir in 1089 and afterwards also the death of the last king from the Trpimirović dynasty, Stjepan Il in 1090/91. In resolving the political crisis, the brother of Zvonimir's widow, Queen Jelena Lepa and Zvonimir's brother-in-law, King Ladislav of Hungary was involved, who in 1091 with his army crossed the border of the kingdom on the Drava and in the name of the inheritance rights of his sister submitted to his rule initially only Slavonia, being unable to reach the sea. This was achieved in 1102 by Ladislav's heir, Koloman who was crowned in the Croatian town of Biograd as king of Croatia and Dalmatia, thus formally becoming Zvonimir's heir. A letter which, during his invasion of Croatia, Ladislav sent to Abbot Oderisius of Monte Cassino (1087-1105), actually seeking help in his march to the coast (Šišić 1915, pg. 316), additionally sheds light on the fact how the imposition of power of the Hungarian king over Zvonimir's former kingdom was in good part supported by the senior Latin clergy, the Benedictines and abbots.) And anyway, isn 't the building of the bell tower and the renovation of the chapter house of the Benedictine convent of St Mary in Zadar, a similar sign of gratitude to Abbess Vekenega, for support which was also given later on to King Koloman during his triumphal entry into the city of Zadar in 1105? Translation: Nicholas Philip Saywell

Ključne riječi

Koločep; St. Michael; queen Jelena-Lepa; king Zvonimir

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