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The Church of St Nicholas at Pula (formerly St Mary)

Ivan Matejčić ; Akademija primijenjenih umjetnosti u Rijeci

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str. 7-40

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Th e church of St Mary at Pula was rededicated to St Nicholas in 1583 when it was handed over for the use of the Greek Orthodox community of refugees from Crete and the Peloponnese. During the seventeenth and eighteenth century, various structures (the bell-tower, the narthex, the sacristy) were added along the eastern and northern sides of the church, several door and window openings were walled in, and the lintel and
jambs of the main portal were replaced; however, the main architectural core has remained well-preserved. It has a single-cell structure of square ground plan with an eastern apse, which is semicircular in shape in the inside but polygonal on the outside. The dimensions of the church are based on a module of ten Byzantine feet (c. 31.25 cm); the church is 20 feet wide and 30 feet long, while a 10 foot square can fit into the apse.
In the interior is a well-preserved triumphal arch. It is composed of a pair of marble columns with capitals which carry a large, central arch. The composite capitals possess an interesting detail: the centres of the capitals on opposing sides were left undecorated and so it can be concluded that these capitals were intended for insertion in a multi-apertured structure which was screened off with a transenna. Such capitals can be seen on large early Byzantine structures, and two similar capitals are placed in the atrium of the Basilica of Euphrasius at Poreč (mid-sixth century). This detail provides evidence about a technique used in the church’s construction, which made extensive use of prefabricated, often even imported elements of architectural decoration. The same type of marble used for the columns of the triumphal arch was
used for the parts of the small trifore window set on the façade. In the scholarly literature to date, this trifore has been considered late medieval, but the carving details are identical to those on the parts of the triumphal arch and altar posts at the church of St Nicholas. The masonry of the wall also points to the fact that it had not been inserted in the sixth-century façade at a later date. In the centre of the apse is a marble block which belonged to an altar base, having four holes which still bear the lower parts of the small posts which originally carried the altar table. The remains of the altar can be seen on the photographs which document the restoration works in 1962. The altar remains were subsequently covered with a new altar structure which was removed during the works in 2000. In 1962, when the filling of the window in the south wall was removed, B. Marušić discovered a part of a marble post with a simple capital which he recognized as belonging to the aforementioned altar.
Based on this data, a reconstruction of the altar has been proposed in a drawing. B. Marušić also discovered two stone transennae in the walled in-windows of the south wall, which were smaller than the original structure of the window opening and for this reason he suggested that they belonged to a later intervention. The transennae were removed and transported to the Archaeological
Museum of Istria for safekeeping. During the 2000 works, fragments of identical transennae were also found in two apse windows, while a complete transenna was discovered in the walled-in window on the north face which was obscured by the addition of the bell-tower. Similar and identical transennae are found on the nearby chapel of Santa Maria Formosa, the remainder of a large basilica which was built in the mid-sixth
century by the archbishop of Ravenna Maximian. In the vicinity of Pula, at least three more examples of similar transennae were found, all of which can be compared to the shape of a wooden window frame from the church of Sant’Apollinare in Classe at Ravenna. A number of arguments suggest that the aforementioned transennae belong to the first phase of the church of St Nicholas.

Ključne riječi

Pula, Istria, early Christian architecture, Byzantine architecture, altar

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