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Biskupija Crkvina

Biskupija Crkvina was one of the most significant centres of the medieval Croatian state spanning the 9th and 11th centuries. Nowadays it is a village with still visible remains of the Basilica of the Virgin Mary, a part of the archaeological and architectural complex.

  • AD 850 – 1050

AD 850 – 1050

History

Todays village of Biskupija was named Kosovo till the 18th century and was one of the most significant centers of the medieval Croatian state spanning the 9th and 11th centuries.

Kosovo was located in the County of Knin Fig. 11 and is mentioned as a royal estate (villa regalis). The seat of Croatian Kingdom was here until 1102.

Fig. 11: The medieval County of Knin within the Croatian Principality. Credit: I. Goldstein, Hrvatski rani srednji vijek, Zagreb, 1995

Fig. 11: The medieval County of Knin within the Croatian Principality. Credit: I. Goldstein, Hrvatski rani srednji vijek, Zagreb, 1995

It was one of the earliest seats of the Croatian dukes after the arrival of the Croats in Dalmatia and the foundation of their first state at the beginning of the 9th century. During the first half of the 9th century, the Croatian state expanded its territory to the south and two centers of power emerged – the mentioned one in Kosovo – Knin area, the other in Bijaći in the vicinity of the Dalmatian towns of Trogir and Split. 10 The earliest known church built on the territory of the Croatian state, St Marta in Bijaći, dates by its sculpture to the first half of the 9th century. 11 It goes along with the dating of the earliest sculpture found in Crkvina what brings us to the conclusion that the first churches in the Croatian state were built near the ducal courts. Fig. 12

Fig. 12: Map of Croatian Kingdom from the 10th century. Credit: I. Goldstein, Hrvatski rani srednji vijek, Zagreb, 1995

Fig. 12: Map of Croatian Kingdom from the 10th century. Credit: I. Goldstein, Hrvatski rani srednji vijek, Zagreb, 1995

The period of Duke Branimir’s reign was very opulent and fruitful in the sense of artistic and architectural activities, leaving us numerous sites and church remains and sculptures from the time. There were two recognized sculptural workshops that furnished the churches. 12

During the 9th century four other churches were built in Kosovo, near St Mary‘s. Their exact functions and their inter-relation have not yet been fully discovered. Fig. 13

Fig. 13: St Cecilia’s church in Biskupija near the site of Crkvina. Credit: D. Dujmović

Fig. 13: St Cecilia’s church in Biskupija near the site of Crkvina. Credit: D. Dujmović

In the first half of the 11th century Croatian king Petar Krešimir IV founded a new bishopric near the royal court. 13 The bishop was the courtier of the Croatian king, while his residence was next to the Church of St Mary in Kosovo thus turning St Mary’s into a cathedral.

Archaeology

Due to poor investigations there is almost nothing known about the settlement in Kosovo. It is better known by the sacral architecture and fragments of its stone furniture. Information about Kosovo’s medieval inhabitants is provided by grave finds.

The Church of St Mary in Biskupija/Kosovo was in use from the early 9th century until the 12th century and there were several alterations of the church furniture. The first refurbishment dates to after 850, probably during the reign of Duke Branimir (879-892), regarding the decoration of the altar screen. The 9th century fragments of an ambo and altar screen represent the pinnacle of intertwining ornaments on stone furniture of the basilica. Fig. 14 The next restoration of the church furniture probably took place in the 10th century. In the following changes the motives of palmettes and vines, as well as a human figure appear on the decorations for the first time. To this phase belonged the altar screen gable with praying Madonna, four-sided altar ciborium and the oldest surviving stone crucifix in Croatia. From the rich repertory of sculptures from the last major renovation of the church interior the carved stone screen stands out. The last refurbishment happened in the second half of the 11th century during the rule of King Petar Krešimir IV (1058-1074) and Demetrius Zvonimir (1075-1089). 14

Fig. 14: The 9th century ambo slab; limestone, 32 × 82 × 10 cm; Museum of Croatian Archaeological Monuments. Credit: Z. Alajbeg

Fig. 14: The 9th century ambo slab; limestone, 32 × 82 × 10 cm; Museum of Croatian Archaeological Monuments. Credit: Z. Alajbeg

Along with the basilica of St Mary’s an architectural complex was added, the function and date of which is still being discussed in scholary literature. Some authors date it to the 9th century, and some to the 11th. It has been interpreted as a monastery, the bishop’s residence or a royal court. 15

From the middle of the 9th century a cemetery developed around St Mary‘s. In the first phase the members of the highest social class were buried near the church and in its narthex, which can be concluded from the rich finds of gold and silver jewelry and cavalry spurs discovered in the graves. Unlike the graves from the late 8th and the early 9th centuries, these demonstrate entirely Christianized population. With the spread of Christianity amongst the ordinary population, all other cemeteries in Biskupija were abandoned and the people began to be buried right next to the Church of St Mary. 16
Fig. 15

Fig. 15: The excavated medieval graves by the Church of St Mary. Credit: Z. Alajbeg

Fig. 15: The excavated medieval graves by the Church of St Mary. Credit: Z. Alajbeg

Art and Architecture

St Mary’s Church in Crkvina was a structure with a nave and two aisles separated by piers and tripartite sanctuary in the straight eastern wall. A tripartite westwork was erected around the middle of the 9th century. The interior of the Church was refurbished at least six times up to 11th century, as there are more than 1,300 pieces of sculpture or sculptural fragments from the site. The original church is very similar to the one in Guran in Istria. The westwork, the sanctuary and the grave finds (in and around the church) bare witness to the Carolingian influence. Fig. 16

Fig. 16: St Mary’s church in Crkvina-Biskupija, groundplan. Credit: MHAS documentation

Fig. 16: St Mary’s church in Crkvina-Biskupija, groundplan. Credit: MHAS documentation

The Master of the Koljani’s chancel panel was engaged in the first refurbishment. He made the chancel-screen, the capitals and the ciborium. The capitals are similar to the ones found in the village of Koljani. 17

The 9th century beam fragment of the altar screen with the names of St Mary and St Stephen inscribed in Latin bear witness to the dedication of the church to both saints. Originally from Crkvina, the beam was found at the site of the Church of St Luke in the nearby village of Uzdolje where it was transferred and reused probably as a door lintel in the 11th century. Fig. 17

Fig. 17: The 9th century beam with the names of St Mary and St Stephen; limestone, 54 × 23,5 × 11,3 cm; Museum of Croatian Archaeological Monuments. Credit: Z. Alajbeg

Fig. 17: The 9th century beam with the names of St Mary and St Stephen; limestone, 54 × 23,5 × 11,3 cm; Museum of Croatian Archaeological Monuments. Credit: Z. Alajbeg

‘Borna’s sarcophagus’ was found in the vestibule of St Mary’s in 1891. It was made of a Roman spolia, probably from a beam. The contents of the sarcophagus were discovered intact with a male skeleton found in well-preserved clothes under a silk cloak, with leather footwear and a silk cap which, unfortunately, have not survived to the present day. The gilded and decorated spurs from the sarcophagus are among the best preserved and the most luxurious Carolingian spurs discovered in Croatia. It was dated to the first half of the 9th century. Fig. 18

The perforated window screen with the figures of the Evangelists, the Madonna and a saint and a warrior is also found in St Mary’s; it was probably a part of the last refurbishment of the church in the 11th century. The scenes are paralleled by text inscribed on the edges of the screen. 18

Fig. 18: The perforated window screen; limestone; 90 × 60 cm; Museum of Croatian Archaeological Monuments. Credit: MHAS documentation

Fig. 18: The perforated window screen; limestone; 90 × 60 cm; Museum of Croatian Archaeological Monuments. Credit: MHAS documentation

The 11th century chancel screen gable with the figure of the Madonna in prayer was part of the last refurbishment of St Mary’s. 19 Fig. 19

Fig. 19: The chancel screen gable with the Madonna; limestone; 107 × 103 cm; Museum of Croatian Archaeological Monuments. Credit: Z. Alajbeg

Fig. 19: The chancel screen gable with the Madonna; limestone; 107 × 103 cm; Museum of Croatian Archaeological Monuments. Credit: Z. Alajbeg

The luxurious jewelry and other objects of high artistic values were found in the burials around the Church of St Mary and in the narthex. Fig. 20

Fig. 20: The earings found in the burials around the Church of St Mary in Crkvina-Biskupija; above row: silver; (from left to right) 3,8 × 1,9; 2,7 × 1,7; 3,8 × 1,9 cm; lower row (from left to right) gold, gold, silver, gold; 2,8 × 1,8; 1,6 × 1,1; 2 × 1,8; 2,2 × 3 cm; Museum of Croatian Archaeological Monuments. Credit: Z. Alajbeg

Fig. 20: The earings found in the burials around the Church of St Mary in Crkvina-Biskupija; above row: silver; (from left to right) 3,8 × 1,9; 2,7 × 1,7; 3,8 × 1,9 cm; lower row (from left to right) gold, gold, silver, gold; 2,8 × 1,8; 1,6 × 1,1; 2 × 1,8; 2,2 × 3 cm; Museum of Croatian Archaeological Monuments. Credit: Z. Alajbeg

International Connections

The specific position of the Croatian Kingdom at the boundary of the Western and the Eastern worlds is reflected in the connections and the influences from both cultures.

The plan of the Church of St Mary points to the Western architectural conceptions (in particular that of the Patriarchates of Milan and Aquileia). The westwork and the belfry tower confirm that influence. 20 The finds of weapons and riding gear are of Frankish origin, and examples of the weapons from the 10th and 11th centuries, which were made in Croatia, were developed after the Carolingian models. 21

The 9th century jewelry belongs to Byzantine production and came to the Croatian territory from the towns in Byzantine Dalmatia (Zadar, Trogir, Split); however, the jewelry of the 10th and 11th centuries was also produced by goldsmiths from the Dalmatian towns, although its forms are now specific for the territory of the Croatian Kingdom. 22

Particular connection between Heritage Route sites might be seen for example in the relationship of Biskupija with Prague where was the same development between the 9th and 11th centuries (from the Slavic burials with weapons to the medieval royal capitals). There is also contituity of the religious function of the site as in Kostolany. The finds of Carolingian weapons and riding gear in the Slavic surroundings were found also in Gradičše. The similarities in the natural and the cultural landscape can be seen in Biskupija as well as in Montmajour or Provence in general. Finally, there is a direct connection to Ravenna. John from Ravenna was sent to Split in the 8th century with the mission to re-organize the ecclesiastic life in Dalmatia after the attacks of the Avars and the Slavic colonization of the Dalmatian hinterlands. Eventually he was appointed archbishop of Split.

References

10 Klaić, Nada, Povijest Hrvata u ranom srednjem vijeku, Zagreb, 1971

11 Jurković, Miljenko, ‘Crkve s westwerkom na istočnom Jadranu’, Prilozi povijesti umjetnosti u Dalmaciji, 26, 1987, pp. 61-86

12 Jakšić, Nikola, ‘Croatian art in the second half of the ninth century’, Hortus Artium Medievalium, 3, 1997, pp. 41-54

13 Budak, Neven, Prva stoljeća Hrvatske, Zagreb, 1994

14 Jurčević, Ante, ‘Usporedba skulpture i arhitekture s Crkvine u Gornjim Koljanima i Crkvine u Biskupiji kod Knina’, Starohrvatska prosvjeta, III, 36, 2009, pp. 55-84

15 Gunjača, Stjepan, Review of the excavations in Biskupija near Knin in 1950, Yearbook of the Yugoslav Academy of Arts and Sciences 57, Zagreb, 1953, pp. 9-49
Jakšić, Nikola, ‘O katedralama kninske biskupije’, Radovi Filozofskog fakulteta u Zadru 27 (14), 1988, pp. 113-133
Milošević, Ante, ‘Dvori hrvatskih vladara na Crkvini u Biskupiji kraj Knina’, in Zbornik Tomislava Maroasovica, Split, 2002

16 Petrinec, Maja, Gräberfelder aus dem 8. bis zu 11. Jahrhundert im Gebiet des frühmittelalterlichen kroatischen Staates, Split, 2009

17 Jakšić, Nikola, The first fine centuries of Croatian art, catalogue of the exhibition, Zagreb, 2006

18 Jurković, Miljenko, From Nin to Knin, catalogue of the exhibition, Zagreb, 1992

19 Jakšić, Nikola, The first fine centuries of Croatian art, catalogue of the exhibition, Zagreb, 2006
The arch strip bears the inscription: SALVE (RE)G(INA) S(ALVE) VIRGO.

20 Jurković, Miljenko, ‘Crkve s westwerkom na istočnom Jadranu’, Prilozi povijesti umjetnosti u Dalmaciji, 26, 1987, pp. 61-86

21 Jurčević, Ante, ‘Nalazi ranokarolinškog oružja i konjaničke opreme u doba formiranjaHrvatske Kneževine’, Starohrvatska prosvjeta III, 38, 2011, pp. 111-147

22 Petrinec, Maja, ‘Metal objects of byzantine origine in medieval graves from Croatia’, in Grotowski, Piotr Ł. and Skrzyniarz, Sławomir (ed.), Towards rewriting? New approaches to byzantine archaeology. Proceedings of the Symposium on byzantine art and archaeology, Cracow, September 2008, Series Byzantina, VIII, 2010, pp. 197-212

Continue to: AD 1050 – Modern Era

History Archaeology Art and Architecture International Connections

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