porec-croatia

Basilica of Euphrasius – Porec, Croatia

This 6th-century church, a Byzantine masterpiece, is decorated with splendid mosaics on a gold background. The Basilica of Euphrasius was constructed for Bishop Euphrasius between 539 and 553 by enlarging the 4th-century Oratory of St. Maurus, one of the earliest Christian religious sites in the world. Over the centuries, the building has undergone several alterations. Some of the original floor mosaics have survived — they were discovered during restoration work in the 19th century.

ST. MAURUS AND BISHOP EUPHRASIUS

Little is known about the lives of St. Maurus, the first bishop of Porec, and Bishop Euphrasius. In the 4th century, St. Maurus built an oratory used by early Christians for secret worship. Legend says that he endured a martyr’s death during the Roman Emperor Diocletian’s persecution of Christians. In the 6th century, his body was transferred from a cemetery near the basilica to the Votive Chapel. The influential Bishop Euphrasius sought the best craftsmen for the construction of his basilica and created one of the greatest architectural complexes of the period.

BYZANTINE MOSAIC TECHNIQUE

The art of mosaic, especially in churches, peaked during the Byzantine period. Small, colored glass pieces were inlaid onto the walls, while hard-wearing natural stones and marbles were encrusted into the floors. In the 6th century, mosaicists began to use gold and silver glass tesserae in their designs to reflect the maximum amount of light. Most mosaics depicted biblical scenes or saints, but a few also included images of the builders. Bishop Euphrasius commissioned marvelous Byzantine designs for his basilica. The most impressive is that of the Virgin and Child in the apse, flanked by images of St. Maurus and Euphrasius (apse mosaics).

THE INTERIOR

The Basilica of Euphrasius is entered through the atrium, which contains traces of the Byzantine mosaics that were restored in the 19th century. Nearby is the baptistry, built with a wooden roof in the 5th century and remodeled during the construction of Euphrasius’s basilica. Christian converts were baptized in the central font until the 15th century. Inside the basilica, beautiful mosaics, made partly from semi-precious stones and mother-of-pearl, are still visible, especially in the apse and the ciborium. Several fires and earthquakes over the centuries have altered the shape of the building, the southern wall of the central nave was destroyed in the 15th century and later rebuilt with Gothic windows. On the western side of the basilica is the Holy Cross Chapel, adorned with a 15th-century polyptych by the Venetian artist Antonio Vivarini.

Floor Mosaic

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The remains of a mosaic floor from the 4th century oratory can be seen in the church’s garden.

Sacristy and Votive Chapel

Past the sacristy’s left wall is a triple-apsed chapel wi1tl a mosaic floor from the 6th century . The remains of saints Maurus and Eleuterius lie here.

Ciborium

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Dominating the presbytery is a beautiful 13th-century ciborium, or canopy, supported by four marble columns. It is decorated with mosaics.

Apse Mosaics

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Mosaics from the 6th century cover the apse. On the triumphal arch are Christ and the Apostles; on the vault, the Virgin enthroned with Child and two Angels; to the left are St. Maurus, Bishop Euphrasius with a model of the basilica, and Deacon Claud with his son.

Bishop’s Palace

A triple-aisled building dating from the 6th century, this now houses several paintings by Antonio da Bassano, a polyptych by Antonio Vivarini, and a painting by Palma il Giovane.

Baptistry

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This octagonal building dates from the 6th century. In the center is a baptismal font and there are also fragments of mosaic. To the rear rises a 16th-century bell tower.

Interior of the Basilica

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The entrance leads to a large church with a central nave and two side aisles. The 18 marble columns are topped by Byzantine and Romanesque capitals carved with depictions of animals. All bear the monogram of Euphrasius.

Atrium

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This has a roughly square portico with two columns on each side. Tombstones and a variety of archeological finds dating from Ill e medieval period are displayed in this area.

THE POREC MUSEUM

Near the Basilica of Euphrasius is the regional museum, which was opened in 1884. It contains more than 2,000 exhibits, including mosaics from as early as the 3rd century, as well as crosses, altarpieces, and choir stalls.

KEY DATES

539-53: The Basilica of Euphrasius is built on the site of the Oratory of St. Maurus.
1277: A great marble ciborium is built, ordered by Otto, Bishop of Porec.
1800s: Restoration work on the basilica repairscenturies of damage.
1997: The Basilica of Euphrasius is inscribed on UNESCO’s World Heritage List.

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