Šibenik Cathedral

Cathedral of Saint James
Katedrala sv. Jakova (Croatian)

The Cathedral Dome
Basic information
Location Šibenik, Croatia
Geographic coordinates 43°44′8.38″N 15°53′20.93″E / 43.7356611°N 15.8891472°E / 43.7356611; 15.8891472Coordinates: 43°44′8.38″N 15°53′20.93″E / 43.7356611°N 15.8891472°E / 43.7356611; 15.8891472
Affiliation Roman Catholic
Province Diocese of Šibenik
Ecclesiastical or organizational status Cathedral
Architectural description
Architectural type Church
Architectural style Renaissance
Groundbreaking 1431
Completed 1536
Official name: The Cathedral of St James in Šibenik
Type Cultural
Criteria i, ii, iv
Designated 2000 (24th Session)
Reference no. 963
Region Europe and North America
Official name: Katedrala sv. Jakova

The Cathedral of St. James (Croatian: Katedrala sv. Jakova) in Šibenik, Croatia is a triple-nave basilica with three apses and a dome (32 m high inside) in the city of Šibenik, Croatia. It is the church of the Catholic Church in Croatia, and the see of the Šibenik diocese. It is also the most important architectural monument of the Renaissance in the entire country. Since 2000, the Cathedral has been on the UNESCO World Heritage List.

It is often mistakenly known as "St Jacob's", because Croatian, like many other languages, uses the same name for both "James" and "Jacob". It is dedicated to Saint James the Greater.


First masters

The building of the church was initiated in 1402, though plans on its construction had already begun in 1298, when Šibenik became a municipality. The actual work to transform the older Romanesque cathedral began in 1431. Built entirely of stone (limestone from a nearby stone quarry and marble from the island of Brač), it was completed in three phases, from 1433 to 1441, when the Grand City Council entrusted the work to local and Italian masters Francesco di Giacomo, Lorenzo Pincino, Pier Paolo Bussato, Bonino da Milano, and Giorgio da Sebenico (Juraj Dalmatinac) and to Croatian ones Andrija Budčić and Grubiš Šlafčić.

Giorgio da Sebenico

the Baptistery

Initially, it was conceived as a simple church. With tremendous skill, Giorgio da Sebenico combined architectural and decorative elements to create a unified entity. He constructed the western main portal, the northern portal (The Lion Gate) and the first chapel. The western main portal was decorated by the Bonino da Milano, fist master mason, with statues of Christ and the twelve apostles. The bronze door was created in 1967 by the Šibenik sculptor Grga Antunac.

The Lion Gate

The motif of the northern portal, called the Lion Gate, are Adam and Eve standing on two lions, which is also seen at the Trogir Cathedral, but here Adam and Eve are on columns over the lions. These statues, together with St. Jacob and St. Peter, are the work of Juraj Dalmatinac, as he is called in Croatia. The statue of Eve draws the attention of onlookers as she has a belly button, while, according to the Bible, she was conceived from a rib of Adam.The bronze doors were made in 1967 by the Šibenik sculptor Grga Antunac.

The two Renaissance putti at the northern end of the cathedral bear an inscription of the consecration in 1443 of the cathedral. Under their feet is his only remaining signature: "Hoc opus cuvarum fecit magister Georgius Matthei Dalmaticus". He also designed the baptistery in the 1440s. He built it next to the southern apse in the form of a quatrefoil. The upper part is covered with lacelike sculptures, the first Renaissance sculptural work in Croatia. The flat niches are vaulted with corrugated seashells of St. James. On the baldachins between them hold two statues: King David and the prophet Simon. The vault ribs end in the keystone representing the Father God, surrounded by angels and the dove (symbol of the Holy Ghost). The baptismal font, made from reddish breccias, is supported by three angels.

Niccolò di Giovanni Fiorentino

Portal - detail

Between 1475 and 1505 the work was overseen by Tuscan master Niccolò di Giovanni Fiorentino (Nicola Firentinac), from the Donatello school of sculpture who developed as a sculptor and builder in Dalmatia. He continued the building in the Tuscan Renaissance style, completing the extensive galleries, building the vault in the central nave, the outer sculptures of St. Michael, St. James and St. Mark. The drawing of this sculpture of St. Michael became also the coat of arms of the city of Šibenik, because in the 12th century the justiciar of Monte Sant'Angelo, who was from Siponto, was sent by Pope Alexander III as a notifier to Šibenik. According to the Longobard writer Pavlo Đakon from the year 642, Croats have many ships under the city of Siponto. St. James, because James and John were with their father by the seashore when Jesus called them. Another St. John was bishop of Trogir. Šibenik and Trogir as sovereign city-states had with each other treaties of alliance, but the duke was annoyed, after which he was driven out of Trogir. The barrel roof is made from a line of enormous stone slabs and considered a marvel of construction at the time,[1] and the upper façade. He also built the triforias (parallel galleries) and worked on the presbytery and sanctuary.

Dome of the cathedral and sculpture of St. Michael

Although the dome of Šibenik Cathedral was built after the dome in Florence, Niccolò di Giovanni Fiorentino used an octagonal drum in its construction, before Bramante and Michelangelo, in its original function as the transition from the square base to the circular dome.[2] The execution of the cupola is considered one of the best achievements of Renaissance architecture.

Artistic trinity

This gate as a side entrance forms an artistic trinity with the abbey of San Leonardo di Siponto. Furthermore, the angels on the ceiling of Hagia Sophia are on the ceiling of the cathedral of San Marco in Venice, where are the horses of the Hippodrome of Constantinople, and on the ceiling of the Trogir cathedral, too. Over the Lion Gate of the Šibenik cathedral are the coat of arms of two bishops and of the procurator of the church of Saint Saviour in Šibenik. The church of Saint Saviour in Šibenik became part of the barrack in the 18th century. The coat of arms of this procurator shows two bars. The drawing on the ceiling over the Imperial Gate of the Hagia Sophia in Constantinople shows two bars, too. This forms an artistic trinity between the church of St.Saviour in Šibenik, the city of Šibenik and the Hagia Sophia. The crest of this coat of arms shows a lion holding a sun. This forms an artistic trinity between the church of St.Saviour in Šibenik, the San Marco cathedral in Venice with its lion of San Marco, and the abbey of San Leonardo di Siponto, which ceiling is designed according the astronomical midday. This procurator was elected by the great assembly of the people of the city of Šibenik, which financed this building. The title of a procurator carried immense prestige. In Venice there was just one procurator, the Procurator of San Marco. In the period between 1441 and 1473 the building work was directed by Giorgio, who was invited to come from Venice as the investors were not satisfied with the beginning of the work. His first contract in 1441 was concluded for a period of 6 years to build just a simple church, but another contract of 10 years followed the first one in 1446.

Pentacle on the baptismal font of the Šibenik Cathedral.

Such a master of his art was difficult to find even then. However, until the cathedral was finished, there were a large number of procurators in Šibenik such as the Procurator of the factory of Santa Maria. The Pope in Rome was asked to meet the procurators in Šibenik, but it is not known if they met personally. In 1451, the bishops of Venice became Patriarchs of Venice. Most of the procurators in Šibenik remained anonymous. Their portraits are outside on the wall of the cathedral. Some of these heads on the facade have a damaged nose, probably due to vandalism. Indeed, until Justinian II this was the expression to discredit the reputation of someone, and so it was necessary that this individuals remained anonymous. They considered that too little for the money spent, so Giorgio altered the plan: he enlarged the cathedral with a side nave and apses, so that the ground plan of the cathedral was in the shape of a cross, and prepared it for the dome, built the presbytery, sanctuary and his masterpiece, the baptistery.

Combination of artistic trinities.

Giorgio combined the mentioned artistic trinities of the 6 mentioned locations in the ground plan. St. Saviour as the apses, the city of Šibenik as the Lion Gate vis-a-vis of the abbey of San Leonardo di Siponto, Saint John (Trogir cathedral) as the central nave what is also symbolized by an eagle as the John the Evangelist's symbol outside on the wall over the main entrance, the San Marco cathedral in Venice as one side nave and the Hagia Sophia in Constantinople as the other side nave.

Two Renaissance putti

The extension of the line from the main entrance to the apse shows towards Jerusalem, but as an orthodromic distance curve shows towards the obelisk of the Karnak Temple, from where are the sphinxes in the Diocletian's Palace in Split. The description of the Karnak temple by an unknown "Venetian" was brought to Venice in 1589 and is now in the Biblioteca Nazionale Centrale di Firenze. The apses are decorated on the outside with various sculptural decorations, including 74 small Renaissance portraits immortalising important contemporaries and figures who had for some reason particularly impressed the architect or that deemed to tight to help foot the bill for the cathedral's construction.[3] The extension of the line from the main entrance to the Lion Gate shows towards the Split Cathedral. Giorgio worked probably on the cathedral up to his death in 1475 and certainly until 1473.[2]

Inside the Cathedral

View of the High altar

Inside the cathedral there are four large, evenly matched columns on which the dome rests. The builder decorated the capitals and came to arrangements with the nobles who were to finance the building of chapels, on condition that they would be free to choose their own builders.In the first chapel on the right-side, there is the sarcophagus of the bishop, humanist and writer Juraj Šižgorić (1420-1509) which is the work of Andrija Aleši based on a design by Juraj Dalmatinac. Aleši also created the statue of St. Elijah which stands behind the bishop's throne.[2] On the left-hand side is the sarcophagus of Bishop Ivan Štafilič, during whose life the cathedral was completed. Beneath the choir there are the graves of two bishops, which reliefs: on the right Bishop Calegari and on the left, Bishop Spingarola. The latter is the work of the local artist Antun Nogulovič.

Opposite the famous Altar of the Holy Cross (Sveti Križ) made by Juraj Čulinovič (Giorgio Schiavone) is buried (1433 or 1446-1505). On the altar there is a painting by Felipe Zaniberti. Amongst other altars to the left of the entrance is the Altar of the Holy Three Kings with a painting by Bernardo Rizzardi, according to the ground plan of Juraj Dalmatinac (see above). The fragments of the mosaic of the Holy Three Kings in St. Mark's Basilica in Venice are now in the Museo Marciano in Venice. The sides of the altar are decorated with reliefs of two angels holding the scroll of Nikola Firentinac, set into shell-shaped niches. The Cathedral Treasury includes works by the Renaissance master Horacije Fortezza of Šibenik (1530-1596), an exceptional goldsmith and miniaturist.

After Fiorentino died in 1505, the construction was finally completed in 1536 by two other craftsmen, Bartolmeo of Mestra and his son Jacob, completely following Nicholas' instructions. The cathedral officially became consecrated in 1555 after a multitude of Venetian and local craftsmen had worked on it, in Gothic style. Most of the restoration was done between 1850 and 1860 and subsequently between 1992 and 1997.[2]

The dome of the church was heavily damaged by the JNA-supported Serb forces during the shelling of Šibenik in September 1991. Within years it was quickly repaired with no damage visible. It is interesting to note that this cathedral has no bell-tower. A tower on the adjoining city walls served this purpose.


  1. Jonathan Bousfield, The Rough Guide to Croatia, pg. 278, Rough Guides (2003), ISBN 1-84353-084-8
  2. 1 2 3 4 Naklada Naprijed, The Croatian Adriatic Tourist Guide, pgs. 198/200, Zagreb (1999), ISBN 953-178-097-8
  3. Robin McKelvie, Jenny McKelvie, Croatia: Globetrotter Travel Guide, pg. 103, New Holland Publishers Ltd (2006), ISBN 1-84537-062-7
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