The Cathedral of St James in Šibenik, Croatia

An outstanding building in which Gothic and Renaissance forms have been successfully blended

By UNESCO World Heritage

The Cathedral and Renaissance Šibenik (2000) by The Cathedral of St James in ŠibenikUNESCO World Heritage

The Cathedral of St. James in Šibenik is one of the most significant and beautiful architectural achievements in Croatia and was included on the UNESCO World Heritage List in 2000. It was built over a span of more than 100 years, during the 15th and 16th centuries.

Cupola and transept with sculptures (2000) by The Cathedral of St James in ŠibenikUNESCO World Heritage

What is unique about it, is that it is a structure built entirely from stone. The most important builders of the cathedral were Georgius Mathei Dalmaticus, Niccolò di Giovanni Fiorentino and Francesco di Giacomo. The fact that the Cathedral of St. James was built by Northern Italian, Dalmatian and Tuscan artists is a witness that Šibenik was an intellectual and spiritual center ready to accept different artistic sensibilities, from the Renaissance to the Gothic spirit.

On the Dalmatian coast (2000) by The Cathedral of St James in ŠibenikUNESCO World Heritage

The Criteria under which the Cathedral in Sibenik was inscribed reflects the outstanding and unique relationship between Renaissance and Gothic architecture.
The structural characteristics of the Cathedral of St James in Šibenik make it a unique and outstanding building in which Gothic and Renaissance forms have been successfully blended (Criterion (i)).

The Cathedral - three nave basilica (2000) by The Cathedral of St James in ŠibenikUNESCO World Heritage

The Cathedral is the fruitful outcome of considerable interchanges of influences between the three culturally different regions of Northern Italy, Dalmatia, and Tuscany in the 15th and 16th centuries. These interchanges created the conditions for unique and outstanding solutions to the technical and structural problems of constructing the cathedral vaulting and dome (Criterion (ii)).
The Cathedral of St James is a unique testimony to the transition from the Gothic to the Renaissance period in church architecture (Criterion (iv)).

The Cathedral (2000) by The Cathedral of St James in ŠibenikUNESCO World Heritage

The Cathedral of St. James is an expression of the deepest human spirituality, inclined toward the transcendental. Due to the extratemporal artistic values and cultural significance, the cathedral is still today a source of inspiration for many writers, poets, artists and scientists. The Cathedral of St James is the fruitful outcome of considerable interchanges of influences between the three culturally different regions of Northern Italy, Dalmatia, and Tuscany in the 15th and 16th centuries. These interchanges created the conditions for unique and outstanding solutions to the technical and structural problems of constructing the cathedral vaulting and dome.

Juraj Dalmatinac (2000) by The Cathedral of St James in ŠibenikUNESCO World Heritage

The Cathedral of St James is a testimony of the transition from the Gothic to the Renaissance period in church architecture. It is an outstanding example in which Gothic and Renaissance forms have been successfully blended. A great master of Gothic expression open to the Renaissance principles of form, Juraj Dalmatinac, was the founder of the combined Gothic-Renaissance style in Dalmatia. It was Juraj Dalmatinac, who brought significant changes to the original project and a new spirit to the cathedral construction.

The Baptistery (2000) by The Cathedral of St James in ŠibenikUNESCO World Heritage

The exceptional ingenuity of Juraj Dalmatinac`s project is most evident in his solution for the baptistery. The steep terrain beneath the southern side of the apse made the accessibility to the baptistery extremely difficult. Therefore, in constructing the baptistery, and later on the sacristy, Master Juraj applied an original assembly system in which large stone slabs and blocks were brought together in such a way that the edge of one slab entered into a groove in the second slab, conquering the steep terrain.
During the Dalmatinac period, Šibenik became a significant artistic center on the eastern Adriatic coast, with numerous architects, sculptors and stonemasons working there. Juraj passed away in 1473 or 1475, without seeing his life`s work completed.

The Cathedral and Nikola Firentinac (2000) by The Cathedral of St James in ŠibenikUNESCO World Heritage

In 1477, a ten-year contract with Nikola Firentinac was signed and the third phase of the cathedral's construction began. Firentinac was the greatest artistic master in Dalmatia in the second half of the 15th century. He applied the same construction system as before and by the assembling of great stone slabs, the main apses were vaulted.

The Cathedral and Rector`s Palace (2000) by The Cathedral of St James in ŠibenikUNESCO World Heritage

The Šibenik Cathedral is a vaulted three-nave basilica with a transept that does not follow the width of the structure. The dome rises at the crossing of the main and transept naves and a three-apse sanctuary. The base of the cathedral is 38.5 m long, 14 m wide and its highest point at the top is 32m.

The Cathedral - facade (2000) by The Cathedral of St James in ŠibenikUNESCO World Heritage

Due to the cathedral’s unique stone construction and volume, in both form and size, the outside and inside are synchronized, carrying the same spirit. The facade of the cathedral has the shape of a trefoil gable with a semi-circular ending to the central section and quarter-circles at the ends.

The Cathedral - main portal (2000) by The Cathedral of St James in ŠibenikUNESCO World Heritage

The powerful pilasters stress the three sections of the façade, while the wreaths divide it into three horizontal zones. The facade stresses the main, western portal of the Last Judgment, with a richly embellished doorway and a pointed Gothic arch.

Main portal (2000) by The Cathedral of St James in ŠibenikUNESCO World Heritage

The portal was the work of Bonino of Milan. In the interior belt of the doorway, constructed with motifs of dense, furled leaves, are four angels blowing trumpets with the image of Christ above the door.

main portal rosette (2000) by The Cathedral of St James in ŠibenikUNESCO World Heritage

There are two large, pointed, arched Gothic windows on both sides of the main portal that light up the side naves. The large rosette, which dominates the central section of the facade and is the work of Ivan Meštrović, the most prominent modern Croatian sculptor, unites late Gothic elegance with Renaissance style.

Lion's portal (2000) by The Cathedral of St James in ŠibenikUNESCO World Heritage

The northern wall of the cathedral, which faces the main city square, is richly indented, both in its architecture and sculpture. Along with the seven simple Gothic windows and their hanging arches carved by Busato, the northern wall is dominated by a side portal (the Lion`s Portal). The main portal includes components created by Bonino of Milan.

The Cathedral - ornaments (2000) by The Cathedral of St James in ŠibenikUNESCO World Heritage

Bonino created the lions on the foliated pedestals, each of which sits on a thin octagonal column with flower ornaments. The columns also have figures of Adam and Eve, the work of Bonino. Above these, under the baldachins, Juraj Dalmatinac later added sculptures of the apostle St. James, patron saint of the Šibenik cathedral, and St. Peter.

71 sculptured faces (2000) by The Cathedral of St James in ŠibenikUNESCO World Heritage

The apse section of the cathedral is well known in the history of Croatian and European Renaissance art for its frieze of 71 human and three lion heads, realistically carved in life size by Juraj Dalmatinac.

The Cathedral - heads from the apse (2000) by The Cathedral of St James in ŠibenikUNESCO World Heritage

This is in fact a stone gallery of psychological portraits and human images, arising from the spirit of early Renaissance humanism.

Heads from the apse (2000) by The Cathedral of St James in ŠibenikUNESCO World Heritage

Nowadays, the frieze of heads in the apses and northern wall are interpreted as a rare display of the iconographic theme in stone sculpture of the 15th century.

The Cathedral - St. Michael (2000) by The Cathedral of St James in ŠibenikUNESCO World Heritage

Unlike the lower zone of the cathedral, which is rich in sculptures and primarily late Gothic ornaments, the upper section of the sanctuary was created in a simple Renaissance style.

St. Michael (2000) by The Cathedral of St James in ŠibenikUNESCO World Heritage

The sculptures are positioned at the peaks of the transept arms: St. Michael is turned toward the main square and St. Mark toward the sea at the end of the main nave, while the figures of the Annunciation, the Archangel Gabriel and Mary, are situated at the south arm of the transept.

The Cathedral - the interior (2000) by The Cathedral of St James in ŠibenikUNESCO World Heritage

The interior of the cathedral, with its lofty arcades separating the naves, its highly raised and separated sanctuary and its powerful stone vaults with the dome as the main source of light, demonstrates exceptional harmony and a distinctive feeling of light.

The interior (2000) by The Cathedral of St James in ŠibenikUNESCO World Heritage

On the interior wall of the facade, right from the entrance through the main portal, is the sarcophagus of Bishop Juraj Šižgorić. The bishop's image on the lid of the sarcophagus is the work of Juraj Dalmatinac and expresses the individual personal traits of the bishop's strong personality.

The Cathedral - Baptistery (2000) by The Cathedral of St James in ŠibenikUNESCO World Heritage

The pearl of Croatian sacral art, the baptistery was designed and created by Juraj Dalmatinac. The entire upper part of the baptistery is covered by his lace-like sculptures, which combine a decorative late Gothic style with the new Renaissance forms, inspired by antiquity. The baptismal font, the center of the entire composition built from reddish breccias from Rab, is supported by three putti angels made by Dalmatinac in natural, relaxed poses, leaning against each other.

Fusion of Gothic and Renaissance art (2000) by The Cathedral of St James in ŠibenikUNESCO World Heritage

For many reasons, the cathedral is unique not only in Croatian architecture, but also in European architecture: it is built entirely of stone, no other material was used; it has a daring structure of stone slabs and ribs with no binding material; it is also distinctive among Renaissance churches for its trefoil front facade; and finally, it is unique for the harmony of its architecture and the row of 71 realistic sculpted portraits around the apses.

A walk around the Cathedral.

Credits: Story

This exhibit was created by the Šibenik Tourist Board: www.sibenik-tourism.hr/en/

More on The Cathedral of St James in Šibenik and World Heritage: whc.unesco.org/en/list/963

Photos: Šibenik Tourist Board

Credits: All media
The story featured may in some cases have been created by an independent third party and may not always represent the views of the institutions, listed below, who have supplied the content.
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