Wednesday, January 1, 2014

Name of Mary Church - Novi Sad, Serbia

I fell in love with the "Name of Mary Church" located in Novi Sad, Serbia even though we did not have a chance to go inside it (it was closed).  Locally it is known as St. Mary Cathedral, or the Catholic cathedral, although the actual Roman Catholic cathedral (seat of the Bishop of the Diocese of Subotica) is located in Subotica, about 64 miles away. Serbia is an overwhelmingly Orthodox country: Catholics are only 5% of the population, but most of the the Catholics are concentrated in Vojvodina which has three of the four dioceses in Serbia. 

Novi Sad is the second most populous city in Serbia, with a metropolitan area population of 342,000. It is the administrative seat of the province of Vojvodina and is located on the Danube River. Catholics are a greater percentage of the population of Novi Sad than Serbia as a whole, 9.2%, but the Orthodox are still 86.3% of the population. 

The church is dedicated to the "Feast of the Holy Name of Mary," or more simply, "Holy Name of Mary," which is celebrated on September 12th each year. Mary is Miryam in Hebrew, Mariam in Aramaic, the language she actually spoke, and other names or meanings ascribed to her include "Bitter Sea," "Myrrh of the Sea," "The Light Giver" and "Star of the Sea." It is not obvious to me why she is associated with water - does that have to do with water in the womb? The feast day commemorates all of the privileges given to the Virgin Mary and all of the graces received due to her intercession and mediation. I have very little background in Catholicism and I find it fascinating as I learn more about the various feast days. The fact that the church is named after the Feast of the Holy Name of Mary, and not simply Mary herself, is intriguing to me. There is also a "Feast of the Holy Name of Jesus" with a feast day of January 3rd and I assume there is probably a church somewhere in  the world named after the "Feast of the Holy Name of Jesus." It would be fun to be in Novi Sad on September 12th, the feast day, and see the activities that go on there on that particularly sacred day. I bet it would be the Mother of all Feasts of the Feast of the Holy Name of Mary!
Name of Mary Church in Novi Sad.
Presumably the opening for a rose window inside. The individual yellow bricks are visible.
The steeple dominates the skyline.
A view from the side reveals the beautiful colored tile roof.
The church is built in Trg Slobode (Liberty) Square on the foundation of a church damaged during the Revolution of 1848. The church was thereafter restored improperly and the building subsequently torn down in 1891 and rebuilt by October 1894. It is a three nave building with Gothic arches, yellow facing bricks, an altar of wood from Tyrol, stained glass from Budapest, and roof tiles made from Zsolnay ceramics. But as I indicated earlier, the inside was not available to us or what grabbed me. 

For me, what gives the church its character is the setting. The church is slender, Jack and the beanstalk tall as it reaches for the sky and aesthetically beautiful while (middle finger) dominating the open square. How does a 9% church get away with that in an 86% city? Domination of a skyline by a small minority does not happen without some sort of a fight - and this is the Balkans. Then realize that across Trg Slobode Square, facing the church, facing each other, is the Novi Sad City Hall, run by the 86%.  Then throw in another detail and it gets more interesting: between the two buildings is a wonderful bronze sculpture of Svetozar Miletic (1826-1901) who was a former mayor of Novi Sad and a political leader of the Serbs (read that Orthodox) in Vojvodina. Miletic has his back to City Hall, his territory, and faces the Catholic church. It looks like classic David vs. Goliath (the Israelites vs. the Philistines). And David (Svetozar) is aiming at Goliath (church), but he has no slingshot, his thumb and fingers connect to make a circle, raised above his head. If Miletic had on basketball shorts he would look like he's shooting a free throw with the church being the basketball stand and basket. Or if he was holding a Molotov cocktail, well, you get the picture.
Miletic faces the church.
Miletic with his back to City Hall. 
If he had a ball and different clothing, he would like like he's shooting a basketball.
He does appear to be aiming.
Mestrovic does a great job with hands: see his sculptures of John the Baptist and Gregory of Nin in Split
But then I realize that the sculpture of Miletic is by Ivan Mestrovic, a famous Croatian (Catholic) sculptor, and the opposition symbolism does not seem to work as well. Mestrovic was unhappy with Tito and communist rule and left Yugoslavia (when Croatia and Serbia were part of the same country) for the U.S. So is this face-off instead a nod toward inclusiveness, the fingers in a circle an "okay" sign? A sign that the 86% can allow the 9% to live in and flourish in an 86% community? 

The setting probably has nothing to do with any of that and my knowledge of the history (religious, political and otherwise) does not even scratch the surface. But the juxtaposition of these elements does seem to have some meaning and I've enjoyed imagining what that meaning, or meanings might be.


  1. I love your speculations. Mestrovic seemed to love hands in particular, and in both the other sculptures you mentioned, they are a focal point. I have to think he had something in mind when he shaped Miletic's hand.

  2. Very interesting statue. I think he looks like he has just throw a dart.

    1. I agree that he does look like he's throwing a dart. It would be fun to know what Mestrovic was thinking. I wonder if he left his thoughts on the matter somewhere?