The cathedral of Ljubljana stands in the middle of the old town, surrounded by houses in all directions, which makes it very difficult to get a nice shot with the camera. On the other hand, in the 13th century, when its predecessor was built in this place, nobody ever could dream about photography ...
In 1262 that church was mentioned as a Romanesque basilica, with nave and two side aisles, built by fishermen in honour of their Saint - Nicholas. In the following century Ljubljana became a bishopric and the church was enlarged. Another enlargement was done in the 15th century.
After this the church had no less than ten side altars and a so called "upper church", which was a gallery, that was connected with the episcopal palace, situated nextdoors. In the second half of the 17th century, the Dean of the Cathedral, Janez Anton Dolničar, was the main agitator for the plan to build a new church. It wasn't really a good time to do so, as many other churches in Ljubljana were enlarged or reconstructed. This made building material rare, as well as it made the masons' wages rise. Furthermore there were difficulties in finding an architect. Finally the plans for the new church were drawn by the famous Roman architect Andrea Pozzo. They were executed by Francesco Bombasi and Pietro Ianni, but first all tombs and epitaphs were secured by Carlo Martinuzzi.
In 1701 the old church was demolished and the works on the new one began. A church with the cupola over the crossing of nave and transept was a whole new concept for Ljubljana.
There was not enough money though, to build the cupola, therefore a wooden truss with iron rods was fastened to the roof truss. It would take until 1841 before the cupola of today came into place.
In 1705 the two steeples were raised and on May 8th, 1707 the church was consecrated.
Inspired by the illusionistic frescoes of Andrea Pozzo in the Jesuit Church in Vienna, Dolničar wanted the famous architect and painter also to do the paintings inside this church. But Pozzo was contracted in Vienna for quite some years ahead. Second in line was another Italian painter from Laino, near Como, Giulio Quaglio. Dolničar had great expectations: The bodies should show a plastic appearance, so that it would look like they were breathing. An interested viewer should be able to discover details eventually, but not at the first glance. Apart from that the paintings should be well coloured, imaginative and full of invention.
Quaglio succeeded in satisfying his employer.
We were lucky to visit the church just before the monks of the nearby monastery were to have a song performance - and so the chancel was lit up, which made an impressive change to the greater part of the church.
The altar-piece was painted by Matej Langus, who also painted the new cupola, when it finally came into place. The painting is flanked by the statues of St. Peter and St. Paul. Today's altar was built in 1774, by unknown artists from Graz and Ljubljana. The chancel stalls stand in a half circle and have place for the bishop and twelve canons. The backsides consist of gilded wooden reliefs, showing the martyrdom of the apostles. The bishop's seat shows Christ.
On the side walls of the chancel there are paintings of Quaglio, which show the miracles of St. Nicholas. In one of those pictures Quaglio painted himself, among the people receiving bread from the Saint. "I have received bread enough from St. Nicholas" he said.
In the short ends, leading from the Rotunda beneath the cupola (one cannot really call it a transept), there are two altars. The one on the picture to the left is called the Corpus-Christi Altar. The most eye-catching object is the silver tabernacle, which partly is gold plated. The altar picture is also painted by Matej Langus. It shows the adoration of the Magi. The frescoes in the ceiling show the country's belonging to the Habsburg-monarchy, as they show well known legends about two of the Emperors, Rudolph and Maximilian.
The second end is dedicated to the Madonna from Brezje. The painting above the altar is from Quaglio and shows Christ in Limbo. Underneath is a painting of Madonna and Child by Riko Debenjak (in the style of the Madonna from Brezje). The marvellous wooden frame is also most impressive; it is a work of a wood-carver from Kamnik.
All three altars have the same conception, with a rounded upper part of the painting and statues at the side of it.
In the Rotunda there are statues of four early bishops of Ljubljana. They were made by another Pozzo, Angelo, in 1713. Bishop Franz Karl von Kaunitz ordered them. Right opposite to the entrance a few steps lead up to the Holy-Cross Chapel. This gives a rather unusual impression, but has nevertheless an interesting effect. It is an old Gothic cross, that was renovated by Jože Plečnik, as was the rest of the chapel. The figure of Christ is one of the most important sculptures from the Middle Ages, that are preserved in Slovenia.
To the left of the chapel's entrance there is the pulpit. The sound-cover of it is at the same time a small balcony, which grants access to the small organ above. The whole combination was created by Janez Pergman in 1710. It is a unique piece of art.
The church has a big organ as well, as usual placed at the rear. It was made and installed by J. Milavec in 1912.
Apart from the Holy-Cross Chapel there are also six side chapels.
They are dedicated respectively to St. Trinity, St. Andrew, St. George, St. Saviour, St. Barbara and St. Mary Magdalene. The latter one can be seen in the picture to the left. The chapels are placed at either side of the nave, to the left of the side-entry.
Also here the altars each have a statue at either side. In the case of Mary Magdalene St. Martin stands to the left and St. Augustine to the right. Furthermore the walls and the ceiling of each chapel are decorated with frescoes all over, showing scenes from the Saintsī lives.
In the chapel of the St. Saviour there are naturally frescoes depicting scenes from Christ's life, such as the meeting with the Samarian woman at the well, the raising of Lazarus from the dead, Christ on the Mount of Olives and in the desert, facing his temptations. Finally on the ceiling one can see his ascension into heaven. Under this chapel there are also tombs with the remains of three rather recent bishops of Ljubljana, the last one being buried as late as in 1980.
Before we leave, we lift the eyes to the ceiling of the nave and admire the painting there. It shows the transfiguration of St. Nicholas in the middle and around it there are paintings symbolizing the persecution of Christians under the Emperors Nero and Diocletian.
A complete renovation of the interior was made in 1859 and a minor one to celebrate the cathedral's bicentenary. In 1948 repairs were made and the windows renewed and in 1961 the outer walls were painted. Around 1970 the altar was altered and brought closer to the congregation.
The conception of the church and its inner decorations are the most illustrious example of a Slovenian baroque building.

Copyright Bernhard Kauntz, Wolvertem 2013

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last update: 11.2.2013 by