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Our lady of the Stone Gate

Croatia facts and history in brief

Do you know the story about Our lady of the Stone Gate in Zagreb?

Written by Marko Vrdoljak

Gates of stone.
The main entry into today's Upper City, a mysterious passage into history and legend, gates that lead through time into the timeless peace of old Zagreb.
Step through the «Porta lapidea», the only preserved city gates of the medieval settlement Gradec, today's Upper City and you might catch a glimpse of the past.
These for Zagreb important gates, were created and preserved by chance and by unusual circumstance connected to the history of Croats.
Namely, by the directive of the Hungarian King Bela IV, and for protection from Mongol attacks in the year 1241 high fortifications were built with towers around today's Upper City into which controlled entry was possible then only through the small gates Dverce from the south-west side or through the Stone Gate from the eastern side of the newly erected ramparts.
The gates are, after a long period, expanded and renewed during the times of the greatest Turkish threat in the 16th century along with works on the repair and maintenance of the fortifications.
During this period a bridge is erected over the defensive moat just before the fortifications for whose roof work the city authorities purchase oak.
The rooms in the building that line the city gates in this time serve as storage areas, and it is there that the first stores are opened in the 17th century.
One of them is today a candle store.
The history and hostile forces of the wars of those days caused many fires which in 1645, 1674, 1706 and 1731 ravaged Gradec, and in which the Stone Gate suffered several times.
In connection with the last fire a legend developed.
Namely, in an apartment on the first floor of the building above the Stone Gate Mrs. Modlar and her neighbours, just following the fire, in ashes on the floor found a depiction of the Virgin Mother Mary with the child Jesus portrayed as the Queen of Angels. (The author and dating of this painting is to this day unknown, although it is considered to be the valuable work of a local master from the 16th or 17th century).
Even though the frame of the painting was burned during the fire the painting remained entirely undamaged which was almost unbelievable considering that all the wooden parts of the building had been entirely destroyed by fire.
This was a miracle, concluded the finders, and from that day the painting was attributed with miraculous powers.
The widow Modlar raised an altar under the vault of the Stone Gate with the miraculous painting over which an inscription was placed: «Aid in all distress and against fires».
The altar was opened to the public, and the painting could even be touched until 1778 when the city government erected an artistically forged iron fence by the locksmith Ivan Juraj Chorth, which is today considered the most beautiful and largest example of baroque smithery in northern Croatia.
In the great baroque renewal of 1760 the Stone Gate is further expanded, the vault is again painted and the building is roofed with clay tiles.
The rooms above the Stone Gate are converted by the city authorities to residences and rented.
In 1776 these rooms are refurnished as classrooms for an elementary school and then in the second half of the 19th century they are granted to a girls school.
In a public bidding, which was then a usual method of commerce, the apartment above the Gate is rented to Mrs. Barbara Lenar, and only some twenty days later the city decides to tear down the Stone Gate. One of the city's merchants, Mr. Daniel Jaksic, suggests then that he bear all the expenses of the demolition and rebuilding and draws up new plans for the Stone Gate as a combination of a traffic route, a commercial building and a small chapel.
For unknown reasons the signing of a contract and approval of the new plans, between Mr. Jaksic and the City, did not go through.
The Stone Gate was then preserved from all intervention.
In the budget of the City of Zagreb for the year 1878 the idea of the Stone Gate's demolition resurfaced but was again not put into action as many citizens reacted to it with disapproval.
But, as every age has its crazy coachmen and drivers, so it was in distant 1880 that an impatient coachman overturned his coach right in the Stone Gate provoking a meeting of the city representatives which, prompted by this unseeming event for the otherwise peaceful Zagreb, decide to demolish the Stone Gate and build a safer road in its place.
By a twist of fate the Stone Gate was again spared because at the time when construction was to have begun the city treasury, from which the works were to have been funded, was empty.
So that the city government could in some way show its authority it barred passage to all coachmen and installed transverse bars.
Not long afterwards, in 1907, the City authorities again debated the demolition of the building and Stone Gate with the argument that the Gate served no purpose, as they had been only a passage for the past two centuries.
The society «Braca hrvatskog zmaja» ("Brothers of the Croatian Dragon") then assumed possession of the old building and gate from the city administration and established three today significant cultural-educational and scientific institutions:
The City Library, the Historical Archive of Zagreb and the Museum of the City of Zagreb.
The "Painting of the Blessed Virgin Mary under the Stone Gate" is there today and he tiles with inscriptions of gratitude attached to the wall about it are a witness to the power of human will, trust and faith.
On the occasion of the 200th anniversary of the miraculous preservation of the painting in 1931, St. Mary and Christ on the painting receive, as an expression of gratitude from the city, a golden crown with gems that now make up an integral part of the painting.
In 1991 the Archbishop of Zagreb proclaimed the Mother of God of the Stone Gate to be a special protector of Zagreb and the whole of Croatia.
Therefore, whether you are a citizen of Zagreb or not, take a stroll to the Stone Gate and feel the peace and tranquillity of lighted candles in the semi-darkness, make a wish and continue your journey knowing that someone is protecting you.

Hui Chin and I visited Croatia during our European travels in 2005.

We have enjoyed our stay in the country, but were very disappointed with the train services.

Before our departure from new Zealand, we purchased a rather expensive Regional Eurail Pass with added days to cover any delays or staying longer in any place than we have planned for.

Croatia, - at least between places we intended to visit - have very poor train services.

We arrived from Austria, through Slovenia to Rijeka, and although Rijeka connected by rail to Pula, our next stop, the train service is very slow and sporadic.

To go from Pula to Zadar or Split, or Dubrovnik, we either had to go through Zagreb with the consequent delay or use the bus services, which we did have to use throughout.

The roads are very good, so are the bus services, but it meant extra expenses for us, with already paid for rail passes.

With the good roads Croatia is catering for the neighbouring countries drivers, not for the like of us, with limited budgets, who can't afford a car or hired car in every country we like to visit.

Hui Chin and I was wondering around the Old Town, between showers and admittedly we did get as far as the Stone Gate in reading our Guide.

So as an ignorant antipodean, I went and asked a friendly Nun standing by the door of a little room beside the altar of Our Lady of the Stone Gate, 'what's going down here'.

The friendly Nun told us a very, very similar story to the one above.

You can click on these photos for an enlargement.


Stone Gate Stone Gate Stone Gate Stone Gate

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