ARCHITECT, Byzantine
(active about 540 in Poreč)

Interior view

c. 540
Euphrasian Basilica, Poreč

The most renowned building in Poreč is the 6th-century cathedral, known as the Basilica of Bishop Euphrasius. Excavations undertaken in the 1930s helped to unravel its complicated history and revealed portions of earlier structures. The earliest building was probably a primitive shrine designed to contain the body of St Maurus, a 3rd-century bishop who suffered martyrdom. After the Edict of Milan (313), a small basilica was built and then enlarged about a century later. About 540 Bishop Euphrasius erected the present church using earlier walling, together with an octagonal baptistery and, to the west of the church, a bishop's palace equipped with a large audience hall.

Euphrasius's cathedral invites comparison with the churches of Sant'Apollinare in Classe and Sant'Apollinare Nuovo in Ravenna. It is preceded by an atrium, the reused marble columns of which are surmounted by Byzantine basket-shaped capitals. Originally the west façade of the basilica was completely covered in mosaic, but only the lower part now remains. The lintel above the central doors bears the monogram of Ephrasius.

In the gracefully proportioned interior two arched colonnades of 11 columns each divide the nave from the aisles. At the east end a large and boldly decorated semicircular apse contains a marble synthronon and a ciborium (dated 1277) with reused marble columns and decorated with Venetian mosaics. This is flanked by apsidal chambers (now concealed) on the north and south. The sophisticated splendour of the decoration of the interior, which suggests influences from Constantinople, contrasts sharply with the crude stonework of the local masons. The column shafts of Proconnesian marble are topped by various types of capital—composite, pyramidal or in two zones with protomes (animal forms) - that were probably imported from Constantinople and that support heavy impost blocks.

On the soffits of the arches on the north side there remains stucco decoration of an elaborately moulded geometric pattern interspersed with birds and flowers, and in the apse a stucco cornice of acanthus leaves separates the inlaid porphyry, alabaster, glass and mother-of-pearl of the lower wall from the mosaics above. These mosaics are comparable in quality with those at Ravenna. Above the sturdy arch of the apse a band of (much restored) mosaic depicts Christ in Majesty, youthful but triumphant, flanked by the stylized figures of the Apostles. The soffit of the arch contains 12 medallions of female saints. On the middle section of the apse wall, above the cornice, are the figures of St John the Baptist and St Zacharias, flanked by the Annunciation and the Visitation.

In the semi-dome above is the Virgin and Child Enthroned: the Virgin, in a dark mantle, sits on an elaborately decorated throne, while on her knee Christ—shown as a boy of about 10, his head ringed by a halo decorated with a cross—raises his hand in blessing, and the hand of God, clasping a jewelled wreath, reaches down from above. At each side stands an archangel and, beyond them, the figures of patron saints, including St Maurus, and local worthies, among them Bishop Euphrasius holding a model of his church. This image (pre-dating the mosaic in Sant'Apollinare Nuovo, Ravenna) appears to be the earliest instance of the Virgin and Child occupying the position of majesty previously assigned to the Christ Pantokrator, and it may reflect doctrinal developments after the Council of Ephesos (431) officially defined the Virgin as Theotokos ('Mother of God').

The photo shows the view of the nave towards the apse.

© Web Gallery of Art, created by Emil Krén and Daniel Marx.