Monday, September 8, 2014

Aid in all distress in Zagreb

Mother of God of the Stone Gate
Watercolour, crayon and marker
©2014 Charlene Brown

Fearing yet another Mongol invasion in the middle of the 13th century, citizens built defensive walls and towers around the highest part of present-day Zagreb. Of the four original gates, only the Stone Gate, consisting of a vaulted corridor that makes a right-angle turn through a gatehouse, has been preserved. 

According to legend, a great fire in 1731 destroyed most of the gatehouse and all of its contents, except for a painting of the Virgin and Child. When it was reconstructed in 1760, the painting, believed by then to possess supernatural powers, was given a place of honour, with an inscription, ‘Aid in all distress and against fires.’ The altar was opened to the public, and the painting could even be touched – until 1778 when an artistically-forged Baroque iron enclosure was built to protect it from the steady stream of grateful citizens.

At various times, the demolition of the gate was considered, given that it ‘no longer served any purpose’ but those who believed the painting inside the gate was in fact serving a vital purpose always prevented it. 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 (and foreign travellers too, according to some tourist guides). She is there today, surrounded by tiles with inscriptions of gratitude.