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THE CHURCHES OF ST VITUS AT KLIS AND OF ST MARY IN BLIZNA GORNJA A Contribution to the Study of Royal pre-Romanesque Architecture of the 9th Century

Radoslav Bužančić orcid id ; Konzervatorski odjel Ministarstva kulture u Splitu

Puni tekst: hrvatski pdf 7.877 Kb


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Puni tekst: engleski pdf 7.877 Kb


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The remains of churches that have been found and are discussed in the text can reliably be ascribed to the chapel of the long-sought Trpimir residence at Klis and the pre-Romanesque stratum of the church dedicated to the BVM at the cemetery of the village of Blizna Gornja in the Trogir hinterland.
The find of sculpture and texts written on the altar screens show that in both cases these were churches of members of the medieval ruling elite: the church in Blizna Gornja can be connected with the župan of the županija of Drid, and the chapel in Klis directly with the ruler of Croatia.
The existence of a medieval church at Klis is strongly supported by investigations of the walls, which showed that a large number of marble fragments of ecclesiastical stone architectural decoration from the 9th to the 12th century were incorporated into the building of the mosque. Among the fragments there are pilasters, plutei and the trabeation of an altar screen from the early Middle Ages, while the whole of the medieval material is built into the walls of the mosque above its floor level. In the western wall four marble fragments of architraves of an altar screen with parts of an inscription were found, one fragment of a marble architrave of a pluteus and a pilaster with the base of a pillar of the screen. All the fragments of this carving were made of Proconesian marble and were incorporated in such a way that the decorations and inscriptions were not to be seen. The fragments belonged to the septum and contain typical pre-Romanesque interlacing motifs, pretzels, and the parts of an inscription are carved on a ribbon of the trabeation of the altar screen below the characteristic hook decoration. Fragments of the trabeation contain parts of an inscription about a ruler that mentions the royal family, and on an architrave of the altar screen of the church in Klis that has been found, for the first time the title of queen is mentioned.
The parts of the altar screen found with interlacing ornamentation of the 9th century belong to a pilaster with interlacing and an architrave of the pluteus with interlacing ornamentation and four fragments of the architrave of the altar screen with parts of a royal inscription. The fragments contain wording with the royal formula: ORUM FILIU(S)..., MEA DOM(N)A S(C)LAVA REGINA...
Although these are detached pieces, it is very clear that they are part of a single inscription in which the wife of the ruler or king is mentioned. It is clear in this part of the text that the wife of the ruler is called regina, from which it can be concluded that her husband, the subject of the inscription, is a ruler who bears the title of rex. It is important to point out also that she is addressed as domna, and that analogously to this her husband must have been addressed as dominus.
From these titles, the votive inscription of the church in Klis might have belonged to a ruler of the middle of the 9th century, probably to Trpimir himself, the only ruler of that time who is mentioned together with the title of king, probably attained through victory in the war with the nation of the Greeks, as reported by the Saxon Gottschalk. And the fragment of the first part of the inscription contained this very title of the ruler (REX SCLAV)ORUM FILIU(S). This would be supported by the inscription in the Cividale Gospel, where Trpimir is signed as »domno Trepimiro«, and the title of his wife really could have been DOMNA SCLAVA REGINA, as this is read from the wording on the architrave of the altar screen.
As well as the described parts of the septum, during works on the renovation of the Church of St Vitus a slab with a relief was found built flat as a building stone in the annular wall of the tambour. This fragment of early medieval figural sculpture of Proconesian marble shows Christ in Glory. Preserved from the composition featuring the topic Majestas Domini in the Klis relief is the central figure of Christ in a mandorla and an angel on his right hand side. Christ is shown down to the waist, his right hand raised in blessing, while in the left hand he holds a scroll with the Gospels.
The relief from the Klis Church of St Vitus, though modest in its dimensions, might have belonged to the lintel of a portal of an early medieval church, although according to the mortise on the upper part it could equally well be supposed to have been a fragment of some stone furnishing that consisted of pillars and beams. The visual treatment of the relief of the linearly grooved surfaces that suggest folds of clothing, the manner of treatment of the figures with single incision of the features with expressive underlined eyes, the hatched curls of the hair and the particularly characteristic handling of the nose reveal the hand of the skilled mason who made the relief.
As for the origin of the relief of the church in Klis, the finding of the medieval royal church in the foundations of the Church of St Vitus and the confirmation of the existence of a fortified royal court at the site of Klis Fort are sufficient warrant that it originally came from Klis. From this it could well be hypothesised that the relief of Christ from the church in Klis belongs to a separate sculptural unit, directly related to this site.
Extensive archaeological and conservation-restoration excavations in 1999-2000 preceded the thoroughgoing renovation of the Church of St Mary in Blizna Gornja. Against expectations, the pre-Romanesque architecture of a ruler from the 9th century was found in them, belonging through their form among the few specimens of pre-Romanesque churches with external buttresses of semicircular cross-section. Like similar examples, the Church of St Saviour at the source of the Cetina and the church at Lopuška glava, Biskupija, by Knin, the Church of St Mary in Blizna had a forecourt in front of the main elevation. An external staircase led to the first floor, over which there was probably a tower, as in examples of similar churches with a westwork. In the forecourt of the church the lid of a Roman period sarcophagus used as a gravestone was found. The find of the sarcophagus lid and many fragments of stone sculptural decoration of the 9th century in marble and limestone show that the Church of St Mary was richly endowed and equipped. One of the fragments contains the name and title of the donor: ...ANVSIV[panv]S, for which reason it is assumed to have belonged to an altar screen put up by a Croatian magnate, mostly likely a župan.
Numerous fragments of trabeation have been found, the beams of which were marble, while the arched tegurium was made of limestone. Fragments of marble plutei and pilasters of the altar screen, as well as pillars with capitals found around the church belong in their form to the sculptural art of the 9th century.
Fragments found are enough for the reconstruction of the original appearance of the screen and for an understanding of the inscriptions in the field of the lower part of the gable and the architraves. The inscription is a typical intercession, in which the prayer is addressed to Our Lady and to St John the Baptist, asking for their intercession with Christ, for the salvation of his soul, and the following reading can be proposed:
...[pe]R I[nte]RCOESSIONEM BEATE ET GLORIO[se matri]S D[e]I
GE[netricis apud Christum satvatOREm SCTAe Mariae] ET BEATI IO[hannis Baptistae] OP[vs] E[dificavit] pro animae suae[reme]DIO V[otum complevit Prod]ANVS IV[ppanu]S.
According to the inscription on the septum the church would have been dedicated to St Mary like many of the churches of that time in the early of medieval Croatia, in Golubić, Ostrovica, Biskupija, Gradec, Pađeni and Lepuri. But the inscription relates it in a particular way via the intercession of Mary and John to Christ, to whom the intercession is addressed.
The permeation of the contents by the theme of the Madonna’s intercession (i.e. the Deisis), typically Byzantine iconography on the one hand and the Sanctus written in the spirit of the revived Roman liturgy on the screens of churches in Trogir as well as the churches of the Croatian župans in the hinterland and on the islands suggest something of their specific political position in the second half of the 9th century at the border between the tradition of the East and the new influences coming from the West.
The question arises as to who the donor of the church of St Mary in Blizna Gornja was. Only the ending of the name and the beginning of the title in the letters IV[ppanu]S are in existence. From this it can be assumed that the church was put up by a župan, and his name, which ends with the letters...ANUS, might be Stephanus or, more likely, it was part of some Croatian name that is borne in the documents by the župans, like Branus or Prodanus.
According to the results of the most recent research, St Mar in Blizna is a votive church of a Croatian magnate put up in the middle of the 9th century on the remains of an ancient villa that was part of his estate.
Analysis of the architecture confirms this. The oldest archaeological stratum found at the site is the remainder of a wall of the later Roman period, probably from the 6th century, in front of the forecourt of the church. This stratum is insufficiently investigated, but it belonged to a building of much greater size than the pre-Romanesque Church of St Mary.
The early medieval stratum, of the 9th century, lays claim to the foundations of the church, of a simple rectangular ground plan with semicircular buttresses, and the shallowly founded apse on the bedrock might be a building of later time.
A very good state of preservation is exhibited by the walls of the pre-Romanesque building that bound the ground plan, the beginning of the staircase of the atrium, its western and southern doors, while in the interior of the atrium, in front of the façade of the church, a cylindrical sarcophagus lid has been found. The two-storey court, the chapel of the pre-Romanesque church and its undoubtedly funerary purpose in the ground floor part are known in the literature as westwork, and their finding at the site of Blizna Gornja suggests there was a very strong influence from the Carolingian court on the Croatian ruling and aristocratic stratum of the 9th century, to which, along with the actual rulers, it was primarily the župans that belonged. The Church of St Mary on the current graveyard of the village of Blizna Gornja was, then, the church of a magnate, who in his name has the ending anus, most probably Prodan (Prodanus?) or Bran (Branus?) rather than Stjepan (Stephanus), a župan of the županija of Drid of the middle of the 9th century, for at that time along with the titular functions of the Croatian župans their Slavic names were regularly given. This is a typical example of a private church (Eigenkirche), a new legal institution of the Frankish type, put up on the foundations of a renovated Roman period villa, the feudal property of the lord, who used it for ceremonial purposes, as well as a private funeral chapel for him and the members of his immediate family, and hence it was forbidden to bury members of the community at large in its vicinity.
Among the process that took hold of Europe in the post-Carolingian period an important place is occupied by the construction of fortified manors, which from the 9th to the 12th century totally changed the image of early medieval Europe. The Croatian ruler, who was at first directly subject to Aquileia, the Frankish ecclesiastical centre in Friuli, must have been directly impressed by the construction of the fortified estates of the marquisate of Friuli, for it was from here that Frankish missionaries arrived in Croatia. Its connection with Frankish church centre even after the abolition of the marquisate in 828 is shown by the pilgrimages of Croatian dukes and their families to the Benedictine monastery of Cividale during the whole of the 8th century. Einhard’s Annales mentioned Borna’s forts in Dalmatia, into which the duke retreated before the attack of Ljudevit Posavski. Trpimir’s royal residence is mentioned in a deed of gift of his of 852. There is an obvious difference in the name of the ruler’s residence of Trpimir’s time, as mentioned in two texts: one mentions villa nostra, the other curte nostra. The mentioned curtis in the document is called Clusa, which implies the name of the fortress of Klis, which for the whole of its history was in strategic control of the approach to the sea, to ancient Salona and the city of Split. Unlike Klis, which is called a curtis, the name of the villa from the Gottschalk text is not recorded, and it might be to do with some residential complex in the Salona area, or perhaps some place very close to Klis, such as Rižnice, in which Trpimir, wishing to make contrition for his sins, built a monastery and church after the war, at the time of the normalisation of relations with the Romans. The fact is that the concepts of villa and curtis appear at the same time in the mid-9th century in the context of the formation of feuds and manors, although there may be some fundamental difference concealed in them. One and the other may be related to the ruler’s residence. The concept of curtis in this sense can be found afterwards, among many examples of the 11th century, when the king’s curtis of Rogovi on the lower slopes of the hill by Biograd, or the curtes of the imperial protospatar and ban Stjepan Uitula, Nova sella and Butina ues, as well as many others related to the names of their owners, like that of Vlkomir and Preda in Žrnovnica or Tješen on Brač. Still, in the light of the new research, the curte nostra, quae Clusan dicitur mentioned in Trpimir’s deed of gift should be looked at in a completely different context, not only as an estate but also as the residential complex of a feudal ruler.

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