Thursday, July 11, 2013

Churches in Kotor, Montenegro

Religion in Montenegro
Most of the population of Montenegro belongs to the Orthodox Church (72.1%). The vast majority of the Orthodox belong to the Serbian Orthodox Church, but in 2009 29.36% belonged to the Montenegrin Orthodox Church which is not recognized by the other Orthodox churches. The Montenegrin Orthodox Church is an outgrowth of Montenegro's political efforts to break away from Serbia, which actually occurred in 2006. As of 2011, Catholics are 3.4% of the population of Montenegro and are mostly found in the area of the Bay of Kotor, where there are many ethnic Croats. Up until the beginning of the 20th century, Catholics were a majority around the Bay of Kotor. Muslims are 19.1% of the population. For such a small town, Kotor has an amazing number of churches. This post covers a number of the more significant ones, but there are many we missed.

Bay of Kotor
The Bay of Kotor is often described as the southernmost fjord in Europe, but it is actually a ria, a submerged river valley.
Kotor Bay viewed from St. John's Castle above Kotor.
Kotor is a small town on a triangular piece of land in the inner extension of the Bay of Kotor. Fortifications surround the medieval town, and together with the natural surroundings, it has been named a (well deserved) UNESCO World Heritage Site. On one side of the town is the River Skurda which originates in the mountains behind. In back of the town is the beautiful Mountain of St. John, and in front, with a small land border, is the water of the Adriatic Sea. Surrounding the town is a tall and thick wall which extends quite high onto the mountain, with the Castle of St. John at the very top. The current fortifications are from a time of Venetian rule in the 15th century, but fortifications existed many centuries before that. It was settled at least by 168 B.C. and was known by the Romans as Acruvium. The Emperor Justinian built a fortress above it in 535 A.D. after expelling the Ostragoths. It was plundered by the Saracens in 840. It was part of the Venetian Republic from 1420 to 1797, except for a short period of Ottoman rule from 1538 to 1571. It was nearly destroyed by earthquake in both 1563 and 1667 and during World War I it was one of three main bases of the Austro-Hungarian Navy. Finally, on April 15, 1979 another major earthquake destroyed half of Kotor's old town.
Skurda River, Kotor fortress walls and St. John's Castle and Church of Our Lady of  Health visible on St. John's Mountain behind.
St. John's Castle - looking out toward Kotor Bay
Triangular area of Kotor walled town (to the right) as seen from St. John's Castle.
St. Tryphon's Cathedral
The Catholic Cathedral of St. Tryphon is one of two cathedrals in Montenegro. The Romanesque cathedral was built in 1166 and damaged and rebuilt following an earthquake in 1667. The Romanesque bell towers were replaced with Baroque ones. It is the seat of the Croatian Catholic Bishopric of Kotor which covers the entire bay.
The front of St. Tryphon Cathedral
The rose window
St. Tryphon, the patron saint, was taken to Nicaea in 250 A.D. during the Christian persecutions by the Roman Emperor Decius where he was beheaded. He is also the patron saint of gardeners and winegrowers. Some of the works of art of Kotor's craftsmen are kept inside. 
The main altar.
The life of St. Tryphon depicted in stone above the altar.
Close-up of St. Tryphon above the altar.
Painting of St. Tryphon - he holds the sword that beheaded him. 
A wonderful stone cross. Is that the fortress of Kotor in her arms? Who is she standing on? 
I love this funky, kind of cartoonish, rendition of God the Father. Wonderful eyes and outstretched arms. 
Gold and silver relief of saints behind the altar.
Wonderful stone work from the old church?
More beautiful stonework from the old church?
Old baptismal font?

St. Nicholas Church
St. Nicholas, a Serbian Orthodox Church, is of much more recent origin, built in 1909. However, its size, shape and domes make it the most prominent building in town when looking down from the upper fortress walls. The Serbian flag hangs down over the facade.
The dome of St. Nicholas from outside the walls. The Castle of St. John is directly above it on the mountain.
Looking down on St. Nicholas from the fortress walls. The River Skurda is behind it and the Franciscan Monastery of St. Clair is to the left of it. 
The domes of St. Nicholas with the Bay of Kotor in the background. 
The front of St. Nicholas from St. Luke's Square.
St. Nicholas below a cross and the Serbian flag.
God the Father at the top of the iconostasis.
The trinity, just below God the Father on the iconostasis.
St. Nicholas?

The front of the church.
The fortress wall at the back of the church.
Relief on the fortress wall at the back of the church.
Franciscan Monastery of St. Clara
The Franciscan church of St. Clara was originally built in the 14th century and then reconstructed several times, the last time in the 17th century. The beautiful Baroque altar is the work of Venetian sculptor Francesco Cabianca in 1708. 
View of St. Clara's from the upper fortress walls. The remains of an old Dominican Monastery are to the right of it. 
Entrance to St. Clara's.
Beautiful Baroque interior.
The Baroque altar.
St. Luke's Church
St. Luke's was built in 1195 as a Catholic church. It is the only building in town that did not suffer significant damage during the earthquake in 1667. In the 17th century, the Catholics turned it over to the Orthodox church, but retained the right to have one altar for their own use. The iconostasis was built by Dimitrije Daskal, founder of the Boka Kotorska Rafailovic iconographic school in the 17th century. The dead were buried beneath the floor until the 1830s and the floor consists of tombstones. 
St. Luke's Church
St. Luke's Church
The 17th century iconostasis. There are both Catholic and Orthodox altars.
Close-up of the cross at the top of the iconostasis.
John the Baptist's head held by an angel - in the iconostasis.
From the iconostasis.
The priest goes behind the iconsostasis. Tombstones visible on the floor. 
Iconostasis or perhaps confessional in a side room.
Iconostasis or confessional in side room.

Jesus pulling Adam and Eve from Hades.
Vestage of fresco on a side wall. 
St. Mary's Church
St. Mary's Church was built in 1221. It has remains of frescoes from the end of the 14th century.
St. Mary's Church
A beautiful bronze side door.
Some panels from the bronze door, including scenes of boats sailing by the fortress walls.
The main altar and remains of frescoes.
More fresco remains.
Fountain outside the church.
Panel from the fountain.
St. Michael's Church
St. Michael's Church was built at the end of the 14th century. We never did get inside, but caught a look through the front door as they were doing a concert.
St. Michael's Church
Reliefs on the front of St. Michael's.
Relief on a wall next to St. Michael's.
Church of Our Lady of Health
The Church of Our Lady of Health, or Our Lady of Remedy, was built halfway up St. John's Mountain as a votive church in the 15th century after a number of plagues. It is probably the most photographed church in Kotor as views of the Bay of Kotor from it are incredible. 
Church of Our Lady of Health viewed from the lower city.
The famous view of Our Lady and the Bay of Kotor that fills many postcards.
The side of Our Lady as you approach it.
View of the entrance.
View of the tower and the harbor below.


  1. I had no idea there was an earthquake in 1979 that did so much damage. There was already so much here, and the city was so well-taken care of. It is hard to imagine that kind of destruction. As far as spectacular views, the fortress can't be beat.

  2. Wonderful! I was in Kotor last year. Your blog & photos helped me to identify churches that I had photographed. Many thanks!