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Dubrovnik City Walls

Franciscian Monastery

Location: Stradun; west side

Built: started in 1337

Style: Romanesque-Gothic style

Architects: Mihoje Brajkov from Bar; Leonard and Petar Petrović

Remarkable for:

  • Cluster
  • Old Farmacy
  • Pieta
  • Library of incunabulas, old manuscripts, etc.
  • Paintings by Franjo Matijin, Angelo Bizaman, Lovro Dubričević, Francesco Palmerini

Currently serves as: Monastery and Farmacy

 

Close to the western side of the city walls, the Franciscan Male Braće Monastery stretches from Stradun up to the tall tower of Minčeta. The mendicant order, the most democratic among the clergy, arrived in Dubrovnik as far back as 1230 in order to spread the Catholic faith. They settled in Pile (location of today’s Hilton Imperial), from where they relocated to today’s site in the year 1317. Their sacral building complex, built over the centuries, is of inestimable cultural and historical value. The western parts of the monastery show traces of Romanesque and Gothic architecture, as well as the recently exposed decorative paintings dating back to the 14th century. The imposing Romanesque cloister, built by Mihoje Brajkov from Bar in the first half of the 14thcentury, is embellished with a double row of slender columns with various capitals depicting flora and fauna. The northern part of the complex holds a small, three-sided Gothic inner cloister with a sundial on the northern wall. 

The monastery’s large church, known since ancient times as Dubrovnik’s most beautiful sacral building, was destroyed in the fire following the great earthquake of 1667. The present church is in baroque style, with the exception of the imposing Gothic portal on the south side, which has been preserved until today. It was created in 1498-9 by the Dubrovnik sculptors Leonardo and Petar Petrović , who placed an imposing Pieta in the centre of the Gothic trefoil, surrounded by saints (St. John, St. Jerome and our Lord at the top). There is a harmonious bell tower on the south-eastern side of the church dating back to 1424, with Romanesque and Gothic styles and a cupola at the top.

The Mala Braća Monastery had an important role in the educational and cultural life of the city. The monastery, throughout its long existence in Dubrovnik, collected and maintained a rich library and a church archive, including a valuable inventory of artwork. The famous library is located on the first floor of the western wing, where the shelves overflow with books and where the walls are decorated with portraits of famous Dubrovnik personalities. This library holds over 1,200 old manuscripts, 137 incunabulas, and it also houses a large number of ecclesiastical chorals, musical scores by Dubrovnik composers, manuscripts by local authors, as well as 20,000 various other works. During the 1991 aggression on Croatia and Dubrovnik, the monastery and the church with its bell tower were heavily damaged. The library suffered the worst damage. Fortunately, the valuable treasures of this library were saved in time. The monastery and library were recently renovated.

It is significant that the Franciscans established a pharmacy as early as the year 1317, among the first in Europe, and that they had educated pharmacists who helped not only sick friars, but the Dubrovnik populace as well. This is certainty the oldest pharmacy that has been in continuous service for almost 700 years, as it still is today. The preserved medical inventory, dates back to the 16th-18thcenturies. Ceramic and glass vessels, metal tools and mortar were obtained mostly from renovated workshops throughout Italy, so they have cultural and historical as well as artistic value. They are exhibited on their original late-18th century shelves in the “capitulum” of the monastery. An artwork collection is exhibited in this imposing area, where 14th-15th century elements are smoothly combined with 16thcentury Renaissance. These areas are connected by a monumental Romanesque – Gothic portal to the main cloister, which leads to a hall with seven former chapels that create a secret atmosphere with their joined central “capitulum” and dimmed lighting. The monastery’s ecclesiastical treasures are exhibited here. Liturgical silver objects, such as the reliquary of the head of St. Ursula from the 14th-15thcentury, or a few Gothic chalices of local workmanship, as well as reliquaries plated in silver in the shape of a leg or arm from the same period. There are also old, ornate ecclesiastical garments, local jewellery that was given to the monastery by worshippers, silver and wooden crucifixes that are hundreds of years old, as well as liturgical books, incunabulas and manuscripts, and music manuscripts. Perhaps the most priceless is the collection of paintings by old masters and the sculptures that were gathered in this oasis of peace and solitude over past centuries. 

The work of local sculptors dating back to Gothic times is harboured here: the relief portraying the figures of St. John the Baptist and Nicholas, part of the monastery’s ornaments, as well as the statue of the Virgin Mary and Child, which adorned the top of the fountain in the cloister, along with numerous Romanesque and Gothic stone-carved fragments. Among the paintings, there are two panels dating to the 16th century, one depicting a scene from the life of St. Anthony of Padua, which was painted by the Dubrovnik painter Franjo Matijin in 1534. The Venetian painter Angelo Bizaman created the other painting in 1518 and it used to be positioned on the altar of the Holy Ghost. There are more valuable paintings, such as St. Blaise by the Dubrovnik master Lovro Dubričević from the 15th century, Italian-Cretan and Byzantine icons from the 16th to 18th centuries. Two prominent Renaissance paintings are Ecce Homo from the end of the 15th century, and the early baroque Our Lady and Child and St. John by G.A. Sogliani, the Assumption of Our Lady by Bissoni from 1605, and the New Ring by the Dubrovnik painter Vlaho Bukovac dating back to 1892, which completes the collection. 

A large wooden cupboard, a polyptych, whose painted doors show the Resurrection of Christ, lies in the vestry (between the church and the “capitulum”), the work of the famous painter Pier Francesco Palmerini during his stay in Dubrovnik. These are enough reasons for you to visit this ancient ambiance and to tour the small, but valuable collection of this continuously active Christian brotherhood. 

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