Our Lady of the Croatian Baptismal Covenant is especially revered by Croatian veterans, and she is the patroness of the Military Diocese
Our Lady’s Pralik – The Banner of Christian and National Unity (see Note 1.)
August 14, 2018
That the Croats are a Marian-oriented people is confirmed by many facts from a long history, and one of them is the veneration of the oldest image of the Mother of God in Croatian art, which dates from the 11th century. The oldest image of Mary was elevated as “Croatian Our Lady of Pilgrimage” and the holy image was transformed into a monument and became the symbol of Our Lady of the Great Croatian Baptismal Covenant 41 years ago. As part of the great jubilee of the celebration of thirteen centuries of Christianity among the Croats the monument travelled around our homeland and in a visible way connected all the Marian shrines, all the jubilees, the whole church life of the people at that time. This monument symbolises the entire Marian spirit of Croatian history, from which in a way all later Marian depictions derive.
The gable of the altar partition
“When the guardian of our ancient heritage and the founder of Croatian national archaeology, the Franciscan Lujo Marun found the stone Romanesque gable of the altar partition from the cathedral of St. Marija in diocese near Knin, at the Crkvina site on May 14, 1892, he had no idea that his discovery would become the main symbol of the Marian renewal and national consciousness of the Croatian people. This original Romanesque period stone gable of the altar partition from the cathedral in Knin is the beginning and an archetype of the croatian sacral art, which testifies that we were and remain an integral part of the Christian family”, said academic painter and Franciscan Ante Branko Periša. He also pointed out that there are many stone fragments from the Pre-romanesque and Romanesque periods found within the archaeological remains in Croatia which are important for the study of the national history and sacred art.
Ante Jurčević, senior curator at the Museum of Croatian Archaeological Monuments in Split, agrees with him, whose collection includes the original gable, which has been reconstructed from three fragments. Under the catalogue number 1101 in the collection, there is a gable 65 cm high, 102 cm wide and 11 cm thick which has been preserved. “The basilica from which the gable originates was dedicated to St. Stephen and St. Mary and it is one of the oldest Marian shrines in Croatia, since an inscription was found with the title of the church from the 9th century, and the basilica was the cathedral church of the Croatian bishop from 1042. The gable, together with other parts of the altar partition in our museum, was erected around 1070-1080. Another, older depiction of the Mother of God carved on the window grille and the oldest crucifix originates from this locality.
In honour of this shrine, Ivan Meštrović built the votive church of Our Lady in the immediate vicinity in 1938, popularly known as the Church of the Croatian Baptismal Covenant, and during the consecration of the church in September 1938, Blessed Cardinal Alojzije Stepinac gave a significant prophetic speech which was published in the ‘Novo Doba’ newspaper “, senior curator Jurčević told Glas Koncila.
Our Lady of Intercession
Our Lady of the Great Croatian Baptismal Covenant is depicted in a prayer position, as Mary of Intercession, Father Periša explains as he gives a detailed interpretation of the figure “as Our Lady Intercessor – Maria Orans (latin orans, praying), arms raised on her chest, palms facing the faithful. Made according to the Byzantine Marian tradition, this bodily posture signifies surrender into the hands of God. Thus Our Lady is depicted in the gable image as the Mother of God – Theotokos, Mater Dei, because in a meditative way she establishes a sensitive relationship with the faithful. There are similar examples in Eastern iconography in the technique of tempera on wood, but our image is carved in stone relief. “
An unknown Croatian author made a flat relief using shallow incisions. Our Lady’s cloak shifted over her left shoulder so that the folds of her dress, which ran over her head and around her neck, descended obliquely down her body. He marked the figure of Our Lady with two crosses, one on the forehead and the other in a triangular end above the head, and a circle of light or a halo around her head. Avoiding the empty space (horror vacui), the horror of a void, the figure of Our Lady was bordered by a wide double decorative frame, and a Greek cross with four identical arms, the crux immissa (Latin cross), was inserted into the void in the upper triangle.
»By copying the sacred image into a sculptural relief, the author did not forget to add, according to the iconographic rules of the time, a small cross on the dress that wraps around Our Lady’s forehead. Thus, he completed the archetype with two crosses, one on the forehead, out of need, and the other in a triangle, out of necessity. Our Lady’s figure is framed by two different plaited ornaments, which appear so often on Croatian soil that we can call them Croatian pleter or Croatian interlace. The outer part of the border, on the left and the right side of the triangular gable, was decorated by the author with stylized hooks, or nines, which he placed in an opposite way than was usual in the Romanesque period style, which obviously made the frame more vivid. He decorated the inner part of the border with stylized palm tree ornaments or, as it is commonly said, palmettes, “said Father Periša.
The originality of the Our Lady’s Pralik (the oldest figure of Our Lady or archetype)
In the lower part of the triangular gable, which ends in the shape of an arch or an empty lunette, the author has carved an adapted abbreviated Latin inscription: SALV (e) (re)G(ina) S(alve) V(i)RGO – Hail Queen, Hail Virgin, which was partially damaged over time. It could be concluded from the inscription, says the interlocutor of Father Periša that the archetype depicts the Annunciation to The Blessed Virgin Mary in which Our Lady surrenders herself into God’s hands.
Our Lady’s archetype has a special value and uniqueness, as the painter Father Periša testifies: “The archetype is unique and special because it is the only one from that period that depicts the figure of the Mother of God in Croatian sacral art. And that is why we called it the image before all other images, a “Pralik” – archetype, that is, the first and original image of Marian iconography on Croatian soil. According to Romanesque decorations, it dates from the second half of the 11th century. Its author is an unknown Croatian sculptor, who used local stone, which is proof that it was not made in a Byzantine stonemason’s workshop”. At that time, Byzantine sacred art, as experts say, had a strong influence on Mediterranean and Croatian culture. However, the originality of the archetype in comparison with other Christian nations is especially emphasised by the fact that the Croatian sculptor, using the law of the frame of a triangular gable on the surface of the shallow relief, carved a real icon, a sacred image.
How demanding was it to make such a work of art, we ask the interlocutor, who replies that at that time it was difficult to carve a triangular stone block with girders, between which is a semicircular empty lunette, and place it on two pillars together with architraves and plutei as an altar partition between the apse and the nave.
“As a stonemason’s art, all parts of the sculptural iconostasis, so to speak, had to be incorporated into a harmonious whole, and the relief ornaments and the figure of Our Lady as a sacred image on the altar gable had to visibly dominate the space below the triumphal arch, separating the apse from the nave.”, says Father Periša.
Faithful Croatian Advocate
Apart from being the oldest figure of Our Lady in Croatian art, the figure of Our Lady has become the symbol of the manifestation “Thirteen Centuries of Christianity in Croats” and of the awakening of national consciousness. It all started at the solemn end of Jelena’s year, September 12, 1976, when more than a hundred thousand Croatian pilgrims gathered on Our Lady’s Island in Solin, when Cardinal Franjo Šeper blessed Our Lady’s Pralik at a celebration commemorating the 1000th anniversary of the great Croatian queen Jelena.
The editors of Glas Koncila newspaper, who in their writings attached great importance to the image of Our Lady of the Great Covenant, made a special effort to make a work of art a “fuel” for the awakening of the faithful. »Since from the beginning She was the ‘Mother of our Church and our people in the centuries when we were born as a people and as a Church’ Our Lady of the Croatian Baptismal Covenant, as we called the oldest Marian image in Croatian sacral art, the Mother of God became a faithful Croatian Advocate because from the 8th century to the present day She has preserved our national Christian roots through thirteen centuries. In order for the dream to become state-building, Our Lady helped again her faithful people. It was with Our Lady of Biskupija that the spiritual renewal called ‘Thirteen Centuries of Christianity among Croats’ began. The celebration first began in Solin, on Our Lady’s Island on September 12, 1976, continued on September 17, 1978 on the historical soil in Biskupija near Knin and on September 2, 1979 in Nin near Zadar, and ended in Marija Bistrica on September 9. 1984. Thus, the Church in Croatia in a great way showed religious and national unity through the Pilgrimage of Our Lady’s Pralik which visited all parts of our beautiful homeland. In Our Lady’s Pralik, from the 11th century until today, therefore, lives the pious spirit of the Croatian faithful, which was a renewing force in the fateful years of the national being and spirit. We have similar examples in other Christian nations, which chose Our Lady as the leader, as evidenced by the national Marian shrines, but only Croats chose pralik, ie the oldest figure of Our Lady in fine arts, to be the banner of Christian and national unity “, said Father Periša.
Pralik also in the bishop’s coat of arms
As Glas Koncila newspaper in the 1970s wrote, in addition to the original, replicas were made with donations from believers from all over the nation, castings in silver and gold as a visible sign of the entire Croatian Catholic history. The Marian promoter, Father Kruno Vukušić, cast six figures of Our Lady of the Great Croatian Baptismal Covenant and presented them to the faithful for worship: the home for Croatian pilgrims in Rome, the monastery of St. Francis in Imotski, the shrine of Our Lady in Biskupija near Knin, the seat church of St. Stošija in Zadar, the Croatian Catholic Mission in Stuttgart and the Military Ordinariate of the Republic of Croatia when the Military Ordinariate was established in Zagreb in 1997. Our Lady of the Croatian Baptismal Covenant became the patron saint of Croatian veterans and the Military Diocese. For the faithful, on the other hand, small, metal copies of Our Lady’s Pralik were made and can still be found on the walls of houses.
In the 1970s and 1980s, Our Lady’s Pralik travelled in magnificent processions of bishops, priests and believers throughout Croatia, and this pralik was mentioned in the bishop’s message in which they encouraged the people to continue and expand the jubilee “Thirteen Centuries of Christianity in Croats”. In a document issued at the end of 1976, they wrote: “Bishops believe that the significant transfer of this figure from diocese to diocese, from parish to parish, could usefully mark and encourage the connection of the entire Church in the Croatian people with the great messages of Solin.”
It is also interesting that the Bishop of Šibenik, Dr. Antun Tamarut, when he was appointed bishop in 1986, put the oldest sign of our Marian devotion in his episcopal coat of arms, in the year of the tenth anniversary of the veneration of this figure. Our Lady’s Pralik also received an anthem written by Živko Kustić, which mentions all the old and newer Croatian Marian shrines:
»Spomen slave pokraj Knina,
velik zavjet sred Solina,
znak pobjede iznad Nina,
za Hrvate moli Sina.
Zvonimir ti pralik diže,
Jelena Ti crkvu gradi,
ta baština do nas stiže,
preuzeše zavjet mladi.
Od Trsata do Aljmaša,
Ti si Majko snago naša.
Od Poreča do Škrpjela,
svetišta su Tvoja bijela.
Olovo, Sinj i Tekije,
svud nas Tvoja ljubav grije,
Brijeg Široki i Kondžilo,
štitilo je tvoje krilo.
Bistrica kraj Zagreb grada,
naše sloge nova nada,
Ti si sunce usred tmina,
za Hrvate moli Sina.«
»Memorial of glory near Knin,
great vow in the middle of Solin,
a sign of victory over Nin,
for the Croats She prays to the Son.
Zvonimir is raising Your pralik,
Jelena you build a church,
that heritage reaches us,
took the vow youth.
From Trsat to Aljmaš,
You are the Mother of our strength.
From Poreč to Škrpjelo,
Your shrines are white.
Olovo, Sinj and Tekija,
Your love warms us everywhere,
Brijeg Široki and Kondžilo,
protected by Your wing.
Bistrica near Zagreb city,
our harmony is a new hope,
You are the sun in the midst of darkness,
pray the Son for the Croats. ”
- Article Published originally in Croatian by Ivan Tašev -14. kolovoza 2018. (Glas Koncila)