St. Mark's Church

St. Mark's Church is one of the oldest buildings in Zagreb, located on St.Mark's Square and easily recognizable by its colourful roof. The church is protected by the Republic of Croatia as a cultural heritage.

The history of St. Mark's Church

When Gradec was proclaimed a free royal city in 1242. by king Bela the IVth, it wasn't required that it should have its own parish, so the Church of St.Margaret in Ilica kept is function as parish church. It was in 1261. that the parish of St.Mark was established.

Basic structure of Upper Town was built during the 13th century, but due to many city fires and earthquakes the whole city was build from scratch several times, so it is hard to tell how it originally looked. The church of St.Mark was probably built during mid-13th century, as the holiday of St.Mark in 1256. is mentioned, and by medieval tradition, it needed to be placed in near vicinity to the church. Croatian-Hungarian king Bela the IVth allowed for fairs to be held on the square and in front of the church. In front of the church a pillar of shame existed, where people were tied and punished by court orders. On the same spot, Ambroz Matija Gubec, leader of the peasant rebellion was "crowned" with a scorching iron crown.

There is a possibility that an even older church existed on the same spot, because a graveyard dating between 11th and 16th century was found.

Gothic style renovation

During the 14th and 15th century, the existing church was renovated in gothic style. In the 13th century a central apse was built, laterthe northern and southern apsse were added and in 1492. a sacristy. The door of the sacristy from the 15th century is preserved and held in the Zagreb City Museum.

Southern portal, the representative one, dates from the period of gothic renovation. This richest looking gothic portal in Croatia consists of 15 sculptures (11 stone gothic sculptures and 4 wooden baroque sculptures) in 11 niches. Sculptures presented Virgin Mary with the Child, Christ, St.Mark and the apostles. Construction of portal is usually attributed to the Parlera workshop in Czech or at least it is influenced by them.

Burn, rebuild, repeat...

Church of St.Mark was often badly damaged by earthquakes and city fires, especially its bell tower. The oldest known earthquake happened in 1502. when the bell tower collapsed. Restoration of the bell tower and roof repairs were finished in the late 1580's.

In the city fire in 1645. wooden part of the roof burned and bell tower was partially damaged. Restoration of the church started very soon after the fire, but the restoration of the bell tower didn't happened until 1659. That year stonemason Dionizije Philippi was contracted, in the next year a builder Antonio Macetti, who was inherited by his son Bartol and a builder Silvestar Donati. When the work ended, a fire broke out again in 1674. and a half of the bell tower collapsed, badly damaging the rest of the church. In the 1680's the church's façade was renovated while rebuilding of the bell tower started in 1690's by Bartol Macetti and ended in the 1700's. In 1725. an arch-shaped dome was placed on the tower. It was probably the same year when the roof was tiled over.

Another fire broke out in 1707., the roof and main altar burned down, and again the bells and clock were badly damaged. There is a sign on the first floor of the tower mentioning year 1775., so it is possible that additional work was done.

The church interior was redone several times during the 17th and 18th century when it got a stone pulpit, place for choir, tiling, several altars and other furniture. Parts of some altars from 18th century are exhibited in the Zagreb City Museum and the only fully preserved altar, the altar of St.Paul's convert is kept in the Croatian Historical Museum. The crypts were first mentioned in 1700. and burials of priests and important citizens were held there until fist part of 19th century.

Demolition initiatives

The Church of St.Mark was in danger to be demolished several times during the history. First mention of demolishing the church dates to 1771. so a bigger and larger church could be built on the same spot. By the end of 18th century several new initiatives for demolishing the church appeared, and there was similar attempts in the 19th century. Last proposal for demolition was in 1860's, but it was decided that church should be renovated.

"Schmidt-Bollé" restoration: colourful roof

Restoration of St.Mark's Church that gave it today's neo-gothic look started in 1876. and was the most complete historical restoration ever done in Croatia at that time. It was started by Friedrich Schmidt and continued by Herman Bollé. Neo-gothic appearance is mainly a product of Schmidt's idea, while the interior was probably done completely by Bollé.

The project from 1875. didn't contain plans for the churche's colourful roof which was tiled in motives of Kingdom Croatia, Slavonia and Dalmatia, and City of Zagreb coat of arms in 1878. You may notice that the background of the City of Zagreb coat of arms is red, while the official background is blue. Blue background got official status in 19th century, and red was most often used during 18th century.

Visual arts between two world wars

During the period between the two world wars it is important to mention that that's the time when the church interior was embellished by works of important Croatian artists.

Jozo Kljakovic painted interior with biblical and Croatian historical motives in three phases.

In the beginning, Ljubo Babic was painting the walls, but he wasn't satisfied with his work so he destroyed all of it. Luckily, he contributed to the church with his oil on canvases with biblical motives.

Ivan Mestrovic, famous sculptor, contributed with his works in stone and bronze.

Organs (musical instrument)

The tradition of playing organs in St.Mark's church dates back to 1359. when an organist named Nikola was mentioned in old scripts, which is the first mention of organs and organist in Croatia.

Organs that were in the church until 2010. dated back to 1890. when mechanical instrument was placed by Ferdo Dugan. In 1936. August Faullend-Heferer, places a newer, modern instrument, made by Dugan's plans. The amount of modifications made by Faullend-Heferer is so significant that organs are considered brand new, especially when taking in consideration that most materials from 1890. were removed. New organs are known as Faullend opus 247 from 1936.

As the time passed, the amount of work needed to repair the organs was too great and it was decided that organs should be entirely replaced with the new ones. Old housing was to be kept and workshop Eisenbarth from Passau was contracted to build new organs.

Most organ parts were made by hand, which was an extremely complicated task, as the whole instrument was to be built in the workshop, dismantled, transported and built up in the church over again.

All photos: Marko Vrdoljak for Zagreb Tourist Board & Convention Bureau

Address & contact details

Street: Trg Sv. Marka 5

Postcode: 10000

City: Zagreb

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