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The Franciscan Monastery on Badija

The Franciscan monastery of Mary’s Assumption is situated on the Island of Badija near Korčula. The complex includes the monastery proper, the Church of Our Lady of Mercy with the cloister and the Chapel of the Holy Cross. In 1394 the Noble Council of Korčula donated the island to the vicariate of the Franciscans from Bosnia. The monastery they had built became a religious, cultural and educational centre. After World War II the then authorities closed the school, and in 1952 passed a decision on expropriation. Sacral buildings fell into disrepair, while residential quarters were used for various purposes.

In 2003 the Croatian Government returned the island to its owners, the Franciscan Province of St. Jerome from Zadar. With a contract dated 23 August 2005 the Province of St. Jerome leased the monastery and the island of Badija to the Herzegovinian Franciscan Province for a period of 99 years.

The wish of all Franciscans is to reconstruct Badija and make it a centre of culture and spirituality again without neglecting the needs of tourists visiting the island. It was with this aim in mind that the Association for the Reconstruction and Preservation of Cultural and Historical Heritage of the Island of Badija was founded.
In the past period archaeological investigations, conservation studies and the projects for the reconstruction of the monastery have been done. The roof has been changed, and the works inside the monastery building are going to start soon. Along with the reconstruction of the buildings, it is necessary to work on the preservation and development of the natural beauties of the island.

The reconstruction and revitalisation of Badija has a great importance not only for the Franciscans who have built this magnificent complex. The history of Badija, the beauty of its buildings and the nature surrounding them along with future spiritual and recreative programmes will make Badija a unique cultural, spiritual and tourist centre.

About Badija

I. Location
The monastery complex is situated on the Island of Badija, Municipality of Korčula, in the Dubrovnik/Neretva County, the Republic of Croatia. Badija is a small island located in the eastern part of the Pelješac Channel, between the Island of Korčula and the Peninsula of Pelješac near the town of Korčula. Badija is the largest and the most beautiful island of the Korčula archipelago, and is situated about one mile to the east and some 20 minutes of sailing by boat from the town of Korčula. Its surface area is about 1 km2 and is covered with dense evergreen underbrush, pine woods, cypresses and olives.

II. Historical Review

Historical Review of the Korčula Region

The history of these islands is conditioned by their position since they are situated in a channel through which the maritime traffic passes from Dubrovnik towards Split in the north. This area was exposed to different interwoven cultural influences both to those from the Italian Peninsula and to those from the Balkans. In spite of its relative isolation Badija was inhabited by the Franciscans as early as from the Middle Ages and its life has depended on the town of Korčula for centuries.

Korčula was the seat of the church parish under the jurisdiction of the bishop of Ston or Hvar. Finally, in 1300 an independent diocese was established, which gave an impetus to the construction of the town and strengthened its role in various aspects of life in the eastern Adriatic. In this context Badija was mentioned for the first time, situated at half a mile south of the town of Korčula, protected by the island of the same name.

Historical Review of the Island of Badija

Archaeological excavations on Badija confirm that the island was inhabited in the Neolithic and in the Roman times, while in the archives it has been mentioned since the late Middle Ages. Its ancient name was Scogleum Sancti Petri, but there is no trace of an original church from the pre-Romanesque time. The historical name of the island suggests that it belonged to the Benedictines, but no trace thereof can be found in their known sources although some chronicles mention a hospice from the 12th century.

From the middle of the 14th century there was a hermitic shrine of Our Lady of Mercy there, so that even today Badija is named only as the Island. In 1394 the Noble Council of Korčula donated this spiritual centre and the island itself to the vicariate of the Franciscans from Bosnia, and as early as the next year the custody of Dubrovnik stated that the monastery belonged to the Franciscan order. It obviously served as a centre for missionaries, chief bearers of Christianity on the way of conversion of the pagan hinterland. There is no material evidence about that period on Badija, but in 1392 the distinguished architect Jean D'Antoinne from Vienne in the south of France working on Korčula, left the friars a considerable quantity of building material for the construction of the monastery. Since that time this monastery has taken a leading place among at least ten other Franciscan monasteries founded on the coast from Split to Dubrovnik by the 15th century.

The History of the Monastery and the Description of the Location

The monastery complex with its big church of Our Lady of Mercy, dormitory, capitol, cloister, and refectory was formed late in the 15th century and early in the 16th century. It was built in the spirit of the Renaissance, and under a clear influence of the architects from Korčula.  
The harmony of the Gothic-Renaissance style presents an excellent work of Korčula builders, and stone-masons, and belongs to the most beautiful ones in Dalmatia. In the interior the monastery is connected with the refectory, and from the east it was entered into from the capitol located on the ground-floor of the wing connecting the main building with the church. In the north the cloister leans against the church whose front faces the west where a small churchyard used to be.

Some twenty stone tablets densely spaced date back to the 15th century although the church was consecrated as late as in 1533. Probably some smaller church had stood there before, while today’s sacral building is the largest in the area next to the cathedral in the town of Korčula.
It is a simple typical Franciscan church with a large nave of a rectangular ground-plan and a deep apse. The main space is domed over by a high barrel-shaped vault curved in a Gothic arch, while the presbytery is a cross-ribbed structure. The nave vault is laterally reinforced by pilasters mutually connected by a horizontal cornice. The light enters through the large windows from the south and the east, and a large rosette from the west. The front has a harmoniously composed portal with a Renaissance decoration. Above the rectangular entrance there is a lunette with a statute of Our Lady sitting and holding the Child in her lap, while the sides are adorned by the figures of St Francis and St Dominic.

The horizontal cornice separates the upper attic in which two angels carry a wreath with a medallion filled with large Gothic letters IHS. All other ornamental motifs are of a stricter classicist stylistics worked more skilfully than the figural sculpture. They and the vast niche for the holy-water font and the frame of the luxurious rosette high up on the front were chiselled by home masters from the workshops of Korčula imitating the most competent members of the Andrijić family. The masters from the same circle later made all doorframes inside the church, the most beautiful being the one leading to the sacristy. In the Gothic design the lunette is filled by a picturesque relief presenting Our Lady with the Son between St Francis and St Nicholas, and two angels on the sides. The whole decoration is stylistically in harmony with the doorframe leading to the cloister, which dates from the end of the 15th century. The sacristy in the northern and the bell-tower in the southern corner of the nave are shaped in the style of the Dubrovnik/Korčula Renaissance of the 16th century and the Franciscan tradition.

The church has been richly furnished since the end of the 15th century, for the archival documents speak of the dedication of the friars, the donations of the Korčula locals and the activity of various artists. Of all church decorations, fully preserved has remained only an icon of the Mother of God from the late 14th century, which is kept in the cathedral in Korčula. The wooden choir seats for the high partition of the nave dating from the end of the 16th century were made by master Simon from Cavtat. It was dismantled for restoration together with two, somewhat better crafted wooden altars of late Renaissance or manneristic style, which were leant against the sides of the front part of the nave. What is artistically most attractive in it is the main altar made in 1722 by master V. Montin from Bossana on the model of A. Tirali from Venice in the imitation of the main altar of the Venetian church San Giorgio Maggiorre. The composition of the four evangelists holding the globe was developed in the high baroque style, enriched with the figures of two more saints on the altar wings. An even more important example of the Baroque in Dalmatia is the big chapel on the northern side of the church built in 1762 according to the design of the great architect G. Masari from Venice. With its monumental size it towers above the church itself and has been completely preserved with a beautiful marble altar on which there used to be a large wooden cross. It was the sculpture of Christ on the cross with the figures of Mary, John and Magdalene fashioned by the Gothic artist J. Petrović in 1456, which was very important for the procession in boats around the island organised in His honour.

The chapel is one of the most significant works in the baroque style on the eastern Adriatic coast, evidencing the general importance of the monastery on Badija in the development of the Franciscan culture. A very rich monastery library, a multitude of the works of art and of other historic/cultural objects are now stored in various monasteries of the Franciscan Province of St Jerome and confirm this importance. In the museum of the Korčula Cathedral there are also several objects on exhibition that bear witness to the multi-layered history of Badija. Since the 19th century Badija has been an educational centre not only for the religious but also for laymen. At the same time it was an important religious centre of the broader area especially when in 1865 the Confraternity of the Holy Cross was founded. But before that the monastery had survived several stormy historical moments. It was damaged in numerous attacks of pirates who set it even on fire in 1571; they also attacked on several occasions during the Venetian dominance.

After the fall of Venice in 1797, at the time of Napoleon a hospital was housed in the monastery; during the blockade by the British and Russians these intended to turn it into a lazaretto. Finally, from the second decade of the 19th century the life started running under the Austrian rule. Although the number of the religious considerably decreased, many alterations of the structural complex were carried out in an effort to find a way of its further maintenance in the seclusion outside the town area. The linking of school institutions contributed to a considerable increase of residential buildings, which ended in 1930 by erecting a separate hall for theatre performances and gymnasium from the eastern side. The wing for dormitories extending from the church towards the north, economic plants and the housing for the people working there on the maintenance were also enlarged. Behind the monastery complex there was a landscaped garden typical of rustic and monastery gardens of the southern Adriatic, in sizes consistent to the size of the complex.

During World War II and afterwards an orphanage was housed in the monastery. When the school institutions were closed under the pretext that they were located near the new naval shipyard in Korčula, in 1952 the political administration in Zagreb passed a decision on expropriation. Barracks for training the navy, then in 1956 a juvenile institution were located on the island. Sacral buildings were totally neglected including the small St Catharine Church from the 15th century on the eastern tip of the island.
A few years later the whole Badija was turned over to the Municipality of Korčula, which ceded it by a 30-year contract to the Physical Education and Recreation Union of Yugoslavia. In the new circumstances the interior alterations devastated the original picture especially in the refectory downstairs and the rooms upstairs due to the increase of rooms and the removal of the representative staircase. The environment also suffered major changes due to the construction of sport grounds, public beaches and the destruction of the garden.
The monastery Badija is a rare example of monastery architecture from the 14th century and the example of an exceptional historical evolution till the 18th century. The reconstruction of such great cultural traces from the past would make possible its new use for social and humanitarian projects, which was its original purpose anyway.