Thursday, 31 July 2014

croatia week: zadar or nunc dimittis

The city of Zadar has many fine churches with equally rich treasuries but one of the more curious is a reliquary of Saint Simeon (Sveti Šimun).

The structure and its dedications are a hagiography of a saint—not to be confused with Simeon the apostle, better known by his regnal name as first pope of Peter, or the hermit who lived for thirty-seven years on top of a high pillar or among pillars of ruined temples and his admirers were convinced he flew up there and from one to another, or the slap-sick patron of puppeteers and jesters, Simeon the Fool, blinding someone to show that he could be cured—who was the individual presiding over the ritual Presentation of Jesus at the Temple (Candlemas). Ancient of days and world-weary, Simeon was granted a peaceful death afterwards, as that was the saint's meaning in life. Nunc dimittis—now you are dismissed. The holy remains of Saint Simeon, tradition holds, wound up in Croatia in the year 1204 when a Venetian merchant was transporting the loot back from Constantinople and was shipwrecked here on the Dalmatian coast.
While repairing his ship, the merchant re-interred the body in a stone coffin in a graveyard for safekeeping. In the meantime, the merchant fell ill and came under the care of a some hospitable monks, whose churchyard he had covertly used as a hiding place. The monks had a prophetic dream that led them to the fresh grave and upon discovering the saint’s body and the wonders it worked, never allowed the treasure to leave. About two centuries later Elizabeth of Bosnia (Queen of Hungary and Croatia) attended mass where the relic was kept and a finger from the saint's mummified, incorruptible body.
It is hard to say why the queen was so possessed to do this capricious thing, but historically, she seemed like a real nasty character—ambitious and having her rivals' children killed, sort of a wicked step-mother figure who ruled as regent after the deaths of her well-wed husbands.
 The story goes that Elizabeth hid the finger in her dress and it immediately started to decompose with squirming maggots and all the rigours of fourteen hundred years of deadness. Elizabeth ran shrieking down the aisle of the church and had to confess what she had done. Mortified, Elizabeth commissioned the finest sarcophagus to seal in the saint's remains (with reliefs depicting his miracles and curiously her attempted theft) and a fine church of his own in Zadar. Just afterwards, Venice loss its claim to its lands in Dalmatia.