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  Not only does its beauty make it the greatest and most valuable object in Šibenik's architectural heritage but it is the characteristic and outstanding solutions to the technical and structural problems of construction that make it a unique monument of European sacral architecture, enlisted in UNESCO's world heritage in 2001.  
     
   

It was built on the city's south side were Romanic church of St Jacob had earlier stood. The cathedral construction began in the Venetian Gothic style, and was completed in the Toscano Renaissance style.

The idea of building a grand cathedral originated in 1298 when Šibenik was given its own diocese and the status of a municipality. The actual decision to build it and take preparatory action was reached in 1402. However, the construction did not begin until 1431 and with minor disruptions lasted until 1536. In the first ten years of construction, the Italian gothic masters Francesco di Giacomo, Lorenzo Pincino and Pier Paolo Bussato participated, together with the domestic master stonecutters Andrija Budčić and Grubiš Šlafčić (longitudinal walls, gothic parts of the façade and both portals).

In the year 1441 Great City Council elected Juraj Matvejev Dalmatinac, at the time living and getting his education in arts in Venice , to be the main architect of the cathedral. He managed temple construction until the end of his life (1475). With his exquisite ideas and methods this grandiose artist of the late (flowery) gothic period changed the original conception of the church. He enlarged it with a side nave and apses, put up basic constructive elements for the building of the dome, introduced new construction schemes and enriched the temple with sculptural decorations.

Managing the construction of the cathedral, Juraj gathered a whole group/range of associates who, under the influence of his highly artistic craftsmanship, perfected their skills and spread his artistic expression. After the master's death, Nikola Firentinac (1477-1505) took over the cathedral's construction. Sticking to Juraj's constructional procedure he continued the building in pure renaissance style and built the top parts of the cathedral: the dome, the sculpture of St Mihovil, Jakov and Marko (St. Micheal, Jacob and Mark), the roof complex and the upper part of the façade. Within the cathedral, on the side naves, he built triforias (parallel galleries) and worked on the presbytery and sanctuary completion. Following Firentinac's death in 1505, the construction continued under Venetian constructors Bartolomeo and Giacomo of Mestra and master Mestičević, a craftsman from Zadar.

 
     
     
   The triple nave basilica  
     
      
  The Cathedral of St. Jakov (St. Jacob) in Šibenik is a triple nave basilica with three apses and a cupola (height of interior is 32 m). It was consecrated in 1555.glave

 The church's posterior part ends in three apses and rectangular sacristy placed in a semi-barrelled area that fits into the backside street connecting the square and the coast. This part, along with the walls, vaults and cupola were constructed in a simple manner, was first used by Juraj Dalmatinac, where the entire unit of precisely cut stones are fit together, a method used in the masonry craft. Under his leadership, both side naves, the sanctuary, the apse ornamented with a wreath of 74 heads (considered to be a portrait of the eminent citizens of Šibenik) and the sacristy were erected. On the left semipillon of the northern apse Master Juraj set the subtly formed sculptures of two naked, chubby boys bearing a text of praise to the current bishop of Sibenik and to the town's prince. The bottom part of it had the following carved in: "Hoc opus cuvarum fecit magister Georgius Mathei Dalmaticus" (roughly translated: "this work of apses was done by master Juraj Matvejev Dalmatinac")

 
     
   The Northern façade  
     
 

The northern side wall, with its gothic windows, is divided by pillars. Above them, all along the northern façade, stretches a corniche of "blind" gothic arcs leaning onto the tiny consoles with human and animal heads. The portal on the facade is decorated with frames consisting of short pillars. It is additionally emphasised by its outside frame composed of lions, sculptures of Adam and Eve (a work by Italian sculptor Bonino of Milan) and the figures of St. Peter and James in canopy (by Juraj Dalmatinac).

 
     
     
   The roof and the dome  
     
 

The most amazing parts of the temple are its roof and the dome. Like all the other parts of the church, it was made from stone exclusively, using the same techniques Juraj Dalmatinac used while building the apses and the sacristy. The roof of the central and lateral nave form a semicircular vault visible from the inside as well as from the outside. On the crossing of the central and the lateral nave emerges a rectangular base bearing an octagonal tambour with sixteen windows. The final part of a slightly pointed dome rises above it. The gable of the main façade was built in the form of a trefoil, as one of the oldest in Europe and naturally continued as part of the triple nave structure of the church, in harmony with the shape and size of the arcs. Such form of the final part of the western facade is adherent to a semicircular vault of the central nave and the two side  naves shaped as quarter-circles. This is what indeed distinguishes the cathedral's facade from the similar ones in Dalmatia for where this frontal part constitutes simply a cover for the two-eaves basilical roof. The lower, gothic part of the facade is dominated by the main portal. Its inside frame is richly decorated with picturesquely shaped foliage, double belt of short pillars enveloping the figures of the twelve apostles, surmounted by Christ's bust at the top part of the arch. All the elements of this portal were made by the workshop of Bonino of Milan while Juraj Dalmatinac created the big baldachins, forming the outside frame of the entrance.

 
     
 

 

 
   The interior of the cathedral  
     
 

It is diagonally divided into the anterior part, for the worshippers/ church going people, and the posterior with the presbytery, two small open galleries and shrines. The gothic arcades divide the area for the common people into three naves. The central one stands out with its awe-inspiring height and its semicircular stone roof. Nikola Firentinac set two rows of galleries above the arcades of the side naves. The slightly elevated posterior area, with its architectural fragmentation, its diverse shapes and intensive lighting, dominates the entire interior of the cathedral. The unity of the two parts, the front and the back, creates remarkable moods, capable of deeply moving a visitor.

 
   

 

 
   Baptismal font  
     
   

The font deserves special attention. Master Juraj placed it on the ground level in the southern apse. It is a small, round space with niches meeting within the columns. The artist set statues of prophets in canopy on their leafy capitols and he roofed it over with a mildly bent arc, divided by stripes into four parts.


The riches of sculptural ornamentation, dominated by human figure, is the most impressive feature of the font. Besides the four sculptures of prophets (two preserved), the ceiling is also decorated by angelic figures, cherubs' heads and the head of God-Father. A trio of chubby, naked boys captured in motion is set next to the supporting carrier of the baptismal font basin, in the central part of the area.

Several tombs of former Šibenik's bishops are in the cathedral. Juraj Šižgorić was buried in a stone sarcophagus right of the main entrance. On its lid one can see a figure of a bishop, work of Juraj Dalmatinac. The sarcophagus of bishop Ivan Stafilić is on the left side. On the right side of the semi-circled staircase one can see the tomb of Callegari of Venice (bishop of Šibenik, 1676-1722). On the left is that of bishop Spingarola (1573 – 1589) decorated by the figure of a lying prelate (by Antun Nugulović).

 

 

Photos by Damir Fabijanić – the Cathedral of Šibenik

www.sibenik.hr