Cathedral complex of the Euphrasius basilica has been the centre of spirituality and faith in Poreč and surrounding area for centuries. Its unique early Christian and Byzantine architecture is the fruit of an exquisite world-class artistic expression. We wish to emphasise the proud of the fact that this sacred complex in our city has remained almost intact since the time of Justinian and has deserved to be included on the UNESCO World Heritage List. Precisely for this reason, the city and the entire region have become an important destination of Croatian tourism.
The inherited value of this cultural monument obliges us to take care of it in the best possible way and to present it gracefully to visitors. Publishing this book which is in front of you is one of the ways of its presentation. Each traveller should take it with them as a lasting memory.
Beautiful documentary and artistic photographs by Gianluca Benedetti contained in this publication clearly show the beauty and atmosphere of this centuries-old Episcopal seat. In the text section there are the most important informations on the history of the edifice and architectural features. The book will surely delight lovers of history and art but also a wider readership.
Poreč is a city situated on the western coast of the Istrian peninsula. It dates back to the ancient times of the Roman Empire which marked it with its edifices. Even today the remains of these buildings draw the attention of the residents and of passers-by. Poreč is proud of its centuries-old presence in this beautiful region and it opens its doors to the people of today who require a break from their hard work.
The beautiful landscape, clean sea, rugged coastline and unspoiled nature are a real invitation to many people to make a short or long stay.
The Euphrasian basilica dating from the sixth century, is the most significant edifice making Poreč recognizable in the world. It is the pride of the people who live here and a meeting place of many people who drop in. Upon the first encounter with the Episcopal complex of the Euphrasian basilica, one is usually left very impressed and astonished. The world community has also recognized this. On 6 December 1997, the United Nations Organisation through – UNESCO – registered the Episcopal complex of the Euphrasian basilica into the World Heritage list on the basis of its state of preservation and beauty.
At the beginning of the twentieth century, bishop Flapp built a ceremonial entrance to the Episcopal complex. In the lunette above the big iron gate there is a mosaic representation of Jesus Christ and a text from the Gospel: “I am the door. If any one enters by me, he will be saved.” (John 10, 9). This is the entrance to a unique area of faith, culture, art and history in this region. Welcome!
Christians came to Poreč already in the first centuries after Christ. In the last decades of the second century, there already existed a Christian community that had its own bishop, Mauro (Maurus). Christians gathered secretly in his house, which became the city’s first church. A decorative fish mosaic was made in the dining room of this house. It was created to be a decoration, but even more so as a symbol
with the inscription of the Greek word ICHTHYS (meaning Jesus Christ, Son of God, Saviour).
Bishop Maurus and all the clergy in Poreč: Eleutherius, Project, Acolyte, Dmitry and Julian along with four laymen, all suffered martyrdom, probably around the middle of the third century (253 – 260) or at least about year 303. Actually, it is not known whether all the above were laymen or members of clergy.
In 313 the Emperor Constantine granted Christians freedom to worship in the Roman Empire and soon the Christians in Poreč expanded the dining room of the residence of the Bishop and Martyr Mauro and thereby opened the first public church. The first basilica was built at this site in the second half of the fourth century (380’s) and the mortal remains of Bishop Mauro and the other martyrs were officially translated from the early Christian cemetery, which was outside the city walls, into the central altar of the basilica and the bishop’s palace.
In 1847 a stone slab was found that bears witness to St. Maurus and to the translation of his relics to the first basilica in the fourth century.
This sacred resting place contains the brilliant body of the martyr Maurus. The original church was restored through his prayers. He was worthily translated here, where he had become a bishop and a martyr. Therefore the honour of this place is doubled.
In the first half of the fifth century, at this site, next to the existing basilica, a larger temple was built, the so-called Pre-Euphrasian basilica. The floor mosaics of the temple area of the pre-Euphrasian Basilica in the former sacristy. Fresco paintings from the fifteenth century are found here on the walls.
Having noticed the poor condition of this basilica, Bishop Euphrasius had it nearly destroyed in the mid-sixth century (543 – 554) and he built a magnificent threenave basilica which we still admire today.
At that time, the entire complex was built – the atrium, the bishop’s palace and the old baptistery was restored as well. A little later, in the second half of the sixth century, the Cella Trichora was built (most likely as a mausoleum of Bishop Euphrasius).
In the construction and decoration of the basilica in Poreč one can notice a major influence of Constantinople, the centre of early-Byzantine culture. The columns of the Basilica were shipped along with their capitals from a quarry on the island of Prokonnesos in the Sea of Marmara near Constantinople.
The arcade that divides the middle and the northern nave is decorated with beautiful ancient Roman stucco. The stucco work of the southern nave was damaged following an earthquake in 1440.
The altar rail was rebuilt without the little columns. They are now located in the atrium.
The central apse of the basilica with its magnificent mosaics captures the attention of all who enter the church. At the top there is Christ with the Apostles. He is sitting as a ruler and holding the scroll of a book in his hand that says, “I am the true Light”. Ego sum lux vera.
The central figure in the semicircle of the apse is the Blessed Virgin Mary depicting her Assumption into Heaven. She is sitting in the glory of heaven, surrounded by angels and is offering God’s and her Son Jesus to the people. The hand of the Heavenly Father from the clouds is crowning the Blessed Virgin Mary. On the right, next to the angel, are the martyrs of Poreč, without any names written in; they are most likely saint Eleutherius, Acolyte and Project. On the left side of the angels there are St. Maurus, the martyr and first bishop of Poreč; Bishop Euphrasius, holding a model of the church and then the Archdeacon Claudius, brother of Bishop Euphrasius with his little son Euphrasius.
In the middle of the arch that rises above the altar there is the Lamb – the symbol of Jesus who sacrificed himself for mankind. On the left and right side in the arch there are virgins and women martyrs that follow the Lamb of God – Jesus.
On the left side of the main apse we can see the Annunciation, in which there is an angel in movement and the confusion of the Blessed Virgin Mary depicted, who is sitting in front of the house of Nazareth that has the form of the basilica in Poreč.
Here is an encounter between heaven and earth, God and man. God is incarnated and becomes a Man.
On the right side of the apse the Visitation of the Blessed Virgin Mary is shown after the Annunciation, when she visited her cousin Elizabeth, who was also pregnant. It is an encounter of two mothers who have accepted the call of God and motherhood.
Behind the bishop’s throne in the main apse there is the heavenly messenger – the Angel, who is holding a symbol of Jesus Christ, the Saviour of the world. On the left (northern) side there is the figure of the priest Zechariah, the father of John the Baptist, to whom the angel appeared and announced the birth of his son.
On the right (southern) side there is the figure of John the Baptist, who was the precursor of Jesus and his messenger.
In the lower part of the main apse next to the marble bishop’s throne on the left and right sides, the apse is decorated with marble incrustation, mother of pearl and glass (some of them originate from ancient pagan temples from the first half of the first century).
The Ciborium – Baldachin of Bishop Oton dating from 1277. The martyrs of Poreč – Sts. Maurus and Acolyte, Sts. Eleutherius and Project – are shown on the mosaic medallions in episcopal robes. They were martyred along with St. Mauro. They were not bishops though, but priests. Two more martyrs from Poreč – Demetrius and Julian are presented as well, who are dressed as laymen. Each of them has a cross in hand. Their relics were found in the church in the bishop’s palace at the beginning of the thirteenth century, when the Bishop of Poreč was Fulkerius. It is most likely that bishop uphrasius, during the construction of the basilica, built this church as well. He had the relics of other martyrs from Poreč laid within it, when the holy relics were translated.
At the location of the small marble altar in which Bishop Euphrasius had the relics of Sts. Mauro and Eleutherius deposited, that was later on relocated to the apse on the right (southern) side of the basilica, a new bigger altar was placed instead of it. In 1452 the Croatian-born bishop Ivan Porečanin ordered an antependium of gilded silver for the altar. The altar was plundered in 1669 and in 1974. Bishop Ivan Porečanin, a great benefactor of the basilica, was buried in the shrine on the left (northern side) of the presbytery.
In the war between Venice and Genoa in 1354, the relics of Sts. Mauro and Eleutherius were taken to Genoa as spoils of war. In 1508 Bishop Tasso received small bone particles of Sts. Mauro and leutherius from Genoa and commissioned that a reliquary be made for them. In 1934 Genoa solemnly returned the relics of the holy martyrs of Poreč. They are no longer kept in the sarcophagus, but in the main altar. On 21 November, for the Feast of St. Mauro, the relics are displayed outside for faithful veneration.
The left (north) apse: Christ crowning Sts. Cosmas and Damian, physicians and martyrs.
The right (south) apse: Christ crowning St. Vital and St. Severus, the holy bishops of Ravenna.
In lapidary there is an altar dating from the sixth century that was located in the central apse. Bishop Euphrasius had the relics of St. Mauro placed in it. The bishop proudly wrote that he was “the shepherd of the church of the Blessed Virgin Mary and of St. Mauro the martyr, who did not refuse the palm of martyrdom for the name of Christ.”
The floor of the basilica used to be covered with mosaics. There were two layers of floor mosaics (the lower floor belongs to the Basilica from the fifth century while the upper one is from the Euphrasian basilica from the sixth century).
In 1247 bishop Pagano of Poreč had a large marble sarcophagus made in which the relics of Sts. Mauro and Eleutherius were kept. In the beginning this sarcophagus was located behind the altar of Sts. Mavro and Eleutherius in the right (southern) nave. Now it is located in the Cella Trichora.
On the right (southern) side of the basilica there is the chapel of Our Lady, which was commissioned by Bishop Peteani during the reconstruction of the basilica 1844 – 1846. It was built at the place of an earlier chapel. The chapel contains a large canvas painting of “The Last Supper” by Jacopo Palma il Giovane. There is a Baroque altar with a statue of the Virgin Mary that was venerated in the Middle Ages and attributed as having miraculous powers.
This chapel was built on the right (southern) side of the chapel of Our Lady after World War I. It contains a marble altar of the Sacred Heart of Jesus. This altar used to be located in the basilica on the right (southern) side. Nowadays choir stalls are located there.
Bishop Ivan Porečanin had choir stalls built in the mid-fifteenth century in floral gothic style. His image was carved in on one side of the seats.
The votive chapel o f the town municipality was built in the second half of the seventeenth century on the right (southern) side of the Basilica, just outside the entrance. It was built as a protection against the plague and was dedicated to the Holy Cross. It is located at the place of the churches of St. Catherine and St. Anthony the Abbot. On the altar there is a Gothic – Renaissance Cross from the fifteenth century.
On the facade of the basilica four martyrs are shown in the mosaic. They were also killed along with St. Mauro. Next to the windows there are seven apocalyptic candlesticks. At the top of the facade there was a mosaic of the Saviour on the globe and the twelve apostles. A mosaic of the ransfiguration of Jesus was made on the rear wall of the basilica, over the roof of the apse. It is now visible only in traces.
Outside the entrance to the basilica there is an atrium which is square in shape. The middle part of the atrium is an open space surrounded by arches. It has three arches on each side. The eastern side of the atrium leads to the basilica and the western side to the baptistery. The central arch of these sides is elevated. The arches are placed onto the columns and capitals (early byzantine decoration).
These arches and capitals were brought from Constantinople, as well as the ones from the basilica. In the 16th and 17th century, during the great epidemics, the atrium and the space surrounding the church were used as a cemetery. The atrium was completely rebuilt in the second half of the nineteenth century. Fragments of stone monuments from different periods of the Episcopal complex are displayed on its walls.
The Baptistery is located in the western part of the Episcopal complex with an entrance facing the Basilica. It was built in the fifth century and Bishop Euphrasius had it restored and decorated in the sixth century. It was largely reconstructed in 1881 and in 1935. The baptistery is an octagonal building with a hexagonal baptismal pool in the middle. It was “surrounded” with a sixteen-sided ambulatory, a sloping roof and three entrances. There was a ciborium above the baptismal font which had a railing. There were ornaments that pointed to the significance of the place. There is also a stone slab that had been placed at the cemetery, during the translation of the relics of St. Mauro to the first basilica in the fourth century.
In the Middle Ages bell towers started to appear next to churches. The bell tower in the Euphrasian basilica was built on the western side of the baptistery in 1522. It is 35 meters high and is a charming “belvedere” or viewing place.
The Bishop’s Palace is an integral part of the Episcopal complex. It is located in the north-western part of the complex. On the first floor there is a large ceremonial hall with a semicircular apse on the northern side. It used to be the audience hall, where the bishop received guests. Next to it, on the left and right side, there were small chapels. The Bishop’s Palace was built in the late fifth or early sixth century.
On the porch, in front of the bishop’s palace there are stone exhibits, capitals, and various fragments of inscriptions in stone from previous basilicas in this area. This is in addition to those exhibits that are located in the atrium. The most important part of the lapidary is kept on the ground floor of the bishop’s palace. There are parts of the original mosaic floor from the fourth and fifth centuries. The symbol of the fish is kept here – symbolizing Christ and Christianity in this area. Next to the fish there is an altar in which the relics of Sts. Mavro and Eleutherius have been stored. There is also a stone throne from the beginning of the ninth century (from the year 800), most likely from the Benedictine abbey of St. Cassius of Predol (in Poreč).
In the premises of the Bishop’s Palace, on the first floor, visitors are offered a look at centuries-old ecclesiastical art from our region. The church has always been the custodian of liturgical places and objects by upkeeping, decorating and arranging them as well. Here you can see objects from various periods: chalices, ciboriums, reliquaries, vestments, altars, altar paintings, statues, extremely valuable crucifixes, furniture and more.
Poreč is a beautiful city. Each stone is part of a rich culture, art, history and religion. In a remarkable way, the Euphrasian basilica comprises all these elements. Its architecture and mosaics are evidence of the distant past and the power of belief in God that encouraged martyrs in their witnessing to the faith. It also inspired the faithful to build and preserve this magnificent jewel – as a gift from God. For the present and the future, we are called to be the custodians of all of this! This is the true light…