Monday, January 13, 2014


In the old town section of Zagreb is a very old Catholic parish church, St. Mark's Church, originally built in the 13th century and rebuilt and added to several times since then, making for an interesting patchwork of Gothic and Romanesque architecture, with significant 19th century additions of the roof and bell tower.

The best part of the church is its fanciful tile roof, which makes it look like it belongs in a fairy tale. On the left is the coat of arms used for the Kingdom of Croatia, Slavonia, and Dalmatia from 1848-1852, and on the right is the coat of arms of Zagreb:

The Gothic doorway is considered the most valuable part of the church. Dating to the late 14th century, it was created by Prague artisans and contains fifteen figures in eleven stacked niches, an unusual composition.

A walk around the perimeter reveals the changes the building has gone through over the years.

The front entrance isn't quite as fun as that side entry, but it's still pretty:
 The niches are filled with saints:

 This one, holding a disc with the image of a lion on it, must be St. Mark:

The bell tower was built in 1871, a date weirdly emblazoned in turquoise-colored numerals on the roof. It's a mighty tall tower, and I expected Rapunzel to toss her long braid out of that top window at any moment:

Yup, definitely a fairy tale church:
 When we first got to St. Mark's, it was all locked up. We came back several times, somewhat puzzled as to why such an icon would be closed to tourists. We finally learned that it opened at 5:00. We were excited to see if the inside matched the outside, and when we finally got through the door, we were quite disappointed because it was really dark. In fact, for a while we thought someone had forgotten to turn on the lights.
There was almost no lighting other than the natural light coming in through the windows, which made it hard to see the three famous sculptures inside by--who else?--the renowned 20th century Croatian sculptor Ivan Mestrovic. He created the crucifix above the high altar:
 . . . a playful Mary and the Christ Child on one side:

 . . . and a quiet, heartrending Pieta on the other:

I would have loved to have been able to see these three famous sculptures in better light.

On the other hand, the relative darkness made the stained glass windows really shine:

The baptismal font shows John baptizing Jesus:
 . . . and the altar shows the church's namesake, St. Mark, with his symbol, a lion:

Every now and then, some dim lights came on to illuminate the murals painted in the arches. The lights were on for about 30 seconds, and then they were off again for several minutes. Even with the light, it was difficult to see the paintings well or take adequate pictures. Here is Jesus raising Lazarus from the dead:
. . . and the Sermon on the Mount:
Overall, it was a gloomy little church that didn't live up to its glorious exterior. We were there on a pretty dreary day, which probably didn't help matters. It would benefit from some more illumination, but no doubt the lack of artificial lighting is part of the preservation plan. I guess it also gives us tourists a better feel for what a church service in the 14th century might have been like.

The square in which St. Mark's Church is located adds to the general fairy tale feel of this old church. Important Croatian government buildings, including the Parliament, the seat of government, and the constitutional court, form a protective perimeter around the church.

The official seat of the government of Croatia
It was fun to see the European Union flag hanging with the Croatian flag on almost all the buildings in the square. Croatia became an official member of the EU on July 1, 2013, just a few weeks after we were there.
Croatian Parliament
There were several guys in black suits and sunglasses standing around who looked like secret service men, along with plenty of posh black cars dropping off important-looking passengers.
There is just nothing quite like European hauteur. It's always fun for us plebeians to hang around the upper crust for a bit.

Coming up: Atelier Mestrovic


  1. What a unique church. It's always interesting to study the outside, then go inside and see if the interior lives up to your expectations. The works by Mestrovic are interesting as always.

  2. The tiled roof is probably my favorite church roof anywhere. Comparatively, the inside paled by comparison.

  3. I wonder if they saved the lights for mass, or something? That's happened to us a few times, but it's kind of sad we can't put a coin in a slot somewhere to illuminate the chapels or the nave, like the do in Italy (plus the church could make some money!).