With the renovation of the Minorite Monastery and Church, the city of Maribor has gained a modern event complex in a setting which will eventually become a modern cultural centre in the most historically important section of the mediaeval city. The Municipality of Maribor, along with the owners of nearby historically important buildings, plan to develop this part of the historic city for tourism. The mediaeval river port district of lent on the banks of the drava river is to become a high-quality public space for visitors keen to explore the city’s cultural heritage or for those looking for quiet relaxation.
Maribor is the largest city in the eastern part of Slovenia. In its mediaeval city centre, situated between the Slovenske gorice hills and the drava river, many cultural and historical treasures can be found.
One of the oldest and most important is the building complex of the mediaeval Minorite Monastery with the Church of St. Mary’s assumption.
The Church of St. Mary’s assumption in Maribor, better known to the public as the Minorite Church, is the constituent part of the former Minorite Monastery, founded in the 13th century. The monastery complex is located in the district of Lent. In the immediate vicinity of the monastery stood the mediaeval bridge across the drava river, attracting travellers from near and far. Archaeological research revealed that this location, convenient for crossing the wide river, was settled as early as in prehistoric and Roman times.
Renovation of the Monastery Complex and Discovering Its Past
As part of the renovation of buildings, archaeological surveys were carried out in order to ascertain how the monastery was built and rebuilt over the course of time. The surveys revealed that a Noblemen’s Mansion, the oldest known mediaeval building in Maribor, originally stood at the site of the present-day monastery in the 11th century. Its purpose was probably to oversee the river port and river crossing on the route that led from Trieste and the northern adriatic via Maribor toward Graz and Vienna.
According to the surveys, the church was constructed in the Romanesque style as far back as in the 12th century, before the minorite order settled in this area.
Due to the convenient location along a popular route and the presence of a church, which served as the religious centre for the population of the wider area, a market town developed there. After a re that severely damaged the church in the 13th century, the parish seat was relocated to the present-day parish church in Slomšek Square.
The church was extensively rebuilt in the Gothic style, with a long choir and a majestic main portal in the north wall, almost 6 metres high and 3.5 metres wide. After a comprehensive renovation, the archaeological remains of the choir and the portal are now presented to the public.
The church, which is depicted in the Gothic style on Vischer’s copperplate engraving from 1681, was again thoroughly rebuilt in the beginning of the 18th century – this time in the Baroque style, which remains the predominant characteristic of the building’s appearance to date. During the Baroque-style renovation, the long Gothic choir was taken down and a new presbytery was built in the western part of the church. At that time, a tall bell tower was erected and the en- tire building was given a Baroque appearance with painted pilasters on the façade and new vaulted ceilings in the interior. around 1770, under the leadership of Maribor Baroque architect Janez Nepomuk Fuchs, the church was further decorated with a pilastered, late-Baroque main façade as well as stuccowork and paintings in the presbytery, which were contributed by painter Joseph M. Göbler.
Ruins Discovered During the Excavation
During the renovation, the great cultural and historical importance of the Minorite Church for the city was taken into account. Therefore, it was decided that all the construction phases of the church through its history would be presented to the public.
Presentation of historical construction remains in the interior of the church that were excavated up to 3 metres below present-day ground level represented a great challenge. For this purpose, a new basement level was built, containing archaeological remains presented in the original location of their discovery. Apart from the in situ presentation of archaeological remains, the basement area is intended for the exhibition of cultural and historical development of the church and the monastery as one of the most important historical building complexes of mediaeval Maribor. The oldest feature in the history of the church construction is represented by four round foundations that once supported matroneum pillars in the initial, Romanesque phase of the church.
Due to the desire for balanced presentation of archaeological remains in the basement area, only selected discovered remains, assessed as the most expressive ones, were presented in situ.
The Oldest Church Becomes a Modern Event Venue
In setting-up the underground area, they wanted to demonstrate that every historical renovation inevitably led to at least partial destruction of elements of the church. Therefore, all discovered archaeological remains are presented as “non-reconstructed”; i.e. they remain ruins, which evoke visitors’ awareness of the transience of human creations through the process of their decomposition. This perception, gained in the gently illuminated underground area with the ruins of a crypt, becomes particularly intense in contrast with the brilliant whiteness of the renovated Baroque nave interior that represents the central event venue of the building. Since the latest renovation the church is used for a variety of cultural events, from classical music and contemporary choir concerts to puppet theatre plays, dance performances, lectures and various exhibitions, appropriate for for an audience of approximately 300 people.