St. Vitus’ Cathedral
St. Vitus’ Cathedral is the only Baroque rotunda of monumental proportions built on Croatian soil. The construction of this church, designed by the Jesuit architect G. Briano, began in 1638. It was made on the model of the famous Venetian church of Santa Maria della Salute.
The location selected for the construction of the St. Vitus’ church was an elevated area at the heart of the then still medieval urban tissue. Initially, there was a small church of the same name, dedicated to the city’s patron saint. The Jesuits, as the creators of the project, primarily decided to use the cult of the Miraculous Crucifix from the small church, which, according to popular legend, started bleeding when a certain Petar Lončarić threw a stone at it after exploding with rage over a gambling loss. The early Gothic crucifix is incorporated into the Baroque main altar of the new church, which, in the spirit of storytelling piety inherent to miraculous relics, also houses Lončarić’s stone and a small bronze hand.
The investment in building a new St. Vitus’ church exceeded the capacities of the local community; thus, with interruptions, it took a whole century to build it, and judging by the facade surfaces that are not covered in stone slabs, it has never been completed. The design underwent a substantial change in 1725, when the new constructor, B. Martinuzzi, added a gallery to the church. A local legend explains that this happened because the Jesuits did not want the monastic novitiate to mix with the masses during the mixed liturgy, especially with the beautiful girls of Rijeka.
Inside, the church is a true baroque “Gesamtkunstwerk”, a synthesis of the arts. The authors of the lush, luxurious Baroque works of the interior, the altar and the pulpit are masters who arrived from Gorizia and Friuli: S. Petruzzi, P. Lazzarini, L. Pacassi and A. Michelazzi, of which the latter became naturalized in Rijeka. The author of the altarpiece St. Joseph with the Child Jesus is a Ljubljana painter originally from Lotarignia, V. Metzinger. An unknown Baroque master painted the reredo of St. Ignazio Loyola. The only elements from the 19th century are Benevenuti’s statue of Our Lady of Sorrows on the altar bearing the same name and Simonetti’s painting of the Assumption of Mary. The church was consecrated in 1742 and is only a remnant of an ensemble that included the buildings of the Jesuit seminary and college, destroyed between the two world wars.
The portal of the Jesuit college was preserved because it was relocated to the clergymen’s house, which was built adjacent to the back wall of the St. Vitus’ church. Next to the main entrance of the St. Vitus’ church, the people of Rijeka embedded a cannonball with a humorous inscription in Latin, which in translation reads as follows: “This fruit was sent to us by England when it wanted to oust the Gauls from here.” The inscription refers to a Napoleonic Wars episode that took place in Rijeka in 1813. As the inscription is a chronogram, you will see this year by reading the capital letters as Roman numerals. The St. Vitus church became a cathedral between the two world wars.
By appointment, you can see a collection of paintings, goldsmiths’ works, mass vestments, rare books, prints and other religious works of art that are displayed in the gallery of the cathedral. Be sure to visit it since you will also find a portrait of St. Francis Xavier, the patron saint of tourists.