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.
The first Italian 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 masons and the Italian masters: Francesco di Giaccomo, Lorenzo Puncio, Antonio di Pier Paolo, Bussato, Bonino di Jacopo da Milano, Andrija Budičič, Grubiša Slavičič and Giorgio da Sebenico (Giorgio Orsini or Juraj Dalmatinac).
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 motif of 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. 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 was just one procurator, the Procurator of San Marco. In the period between 1444 and 1477 the building work was directed by Juraj, 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 he probably traveled a lot before he started to work.
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 e.g. the procurator of the factory of Santa Maria etc.. The Pope in Rome was asked to meet the procurators in Šibenik. It is not known if they meet 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 a work of vandalism. Until Justinian II was this 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 Juraj 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.
Juraj 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. 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. The extension of the line from the main entrance to the Lion Gate shows towards the Split Cathedral. Giorgio Orsini worked on the cathedral up to his death in 1475.
Between 1475 and 1505 the work was overseen by Tuscan master Nikola Firentinac (Niccolò Fiorentino) (? - Šibenik 1505), a foreigner 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, and the upper façade. He also built the triforias (parallel galleries) and worked on the presbytery and sanctuary.
Although the dome of Šibenik Cathedral was built after the dome in Florence, Nikola Firentinac used an octogonal drum in its construction, before Bramante and Michelangelo, in its original function as the transition from the square base to the circular dome. The execution of the cupola was one of the supreme achievements of Renaissance architecture.
Inside the Cathedral
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. 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 Schiavoni) 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.
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.