Polish history present in Zadar, Croatia

Polish history present in Zadar, Croatia


How did it happen that a bas-relief with the image of the Polish queen and saint, Jadwiga of Poland, in the form of a little girl, can still be found in the Croatian city of Zadar? Dr Maria WĄCHAŁA-SKINDZIER writes about the history of this interesting and one of the most valuable Polish artefacts.

Zadar is a city famous for its many historical monuments, including those from the times of early Christianity and the Roman Empire. Picturesquely situated on the Adriatic, it is considered the pearl of Dalmatia. There is no shortage of Poles among the many tourists who visit this place. But perhaps not many of them know the story of the monument to the Polish queen that stands here – the bas-relief of St Jadwiga of Poland.

Queen Jadwiga’s mother, Elizabeth of Bosnia (1339/40-1387), was the daughter of Stefan II Kotromanić (? – 1353), the Ban of Bosnia, and Elizabeth (c. 1315/23, d. after 1347) of the Kujava line of the Piast dynasty (ban was the term used for Bosnian duke from the Middle Ages until the early 20th century). At a young age, she found herself at the Hungarian court, one of the most prestigious in Europe. She was known for her magnificent beauty. Her origins and connections made her the best candidate to be the wife of the widowed Louis the Great (1326-1382), known in Poland as Louis of Hungary. Because of the bride and groom’s consanguinity through the Kuyavian line of the Piasts, the marriage had to be approved by the Pope. The marriage was consummated in 1354, and after the death of Casimir the Great in 1370, Louis of Hungary succeeded to the Polish throne. However, his wife, Elizabeth of Bosnia, who was Queen of Hungary, was not crowned with Louis on the Polish throne.

The territorial ambitions of the Andegavens went much further. They made armed attempts to take Dalmatia, including the Adriatic coast, from Venetian rule, which eventually led to a peace treaty between Venice and Louis of Hungary in 1358. Zadar, along with a strip of the Dalmatian coast, fell to the Andegavens. Unsurprisingly, the royal family often stayed there, trying to consolidate their influence in the region. Legend has it that an incident involving Elizabeth occurred during one of her visits to Zadar. She is said to have stolen a fragment of a relic – the finger of St Simeon from the local church of the same name. Perhaps she was possessed by a desire to possess this part of the saint’s body because of its power to intercede for the procreation of children. Like any queen, Elizabeth wished to have a son. Unfortunately, the act resulted in ill health – nausea and remorse. To make amends, Elizabeth decided to finance a magnificent sarcophagus, which can still be seen today in the Church of St Simeon in Zadar.

The sarcophagus is a masterpiece of 14th-century goldsmithing. It weighs a quarter of a tonne and was made by Francis of Milan between 1377 and 1380. The sarcophagus, nearly two metres long, is made of cedar wood and lined with silver and silver-plated plates. The richly decorated metal plates contain images of Saint Simeon, legends related to the history of his relics and miracles, as well as scenes from the life of the Angevin dynasty that founded the sarcophagus. One of the images shows Elizabeth of Bosnia with her three daughters. The sarcophagus contains a representation of the founder kneeling with her three daughters: Catherine, who died in infancy, Mary, later Queen of Hungary, and Jadwiga, later Queen of Poland.

Although the monument to the Polish Queen is not large, it is a very valuable Polonica, as it is one of only two surviving images of our saintly Queen from her lifetime. The other is the majestic seal of Queen Jadwiga, affixed to the foundation charter of the village of Lisów in 1385, now kept in the National Archives in Krakow.

Another scene on the sarcophagus depicts the entry of King Louis of Hungary into Zadar, and another the death of King Stefan Kotromanić, Elisabeth’s father. The majestic sarcophagus represents the heritage and power of the Andegavens in Adriatic and Central Europe.

The relics of St Simeon, the prophet who saw the Messiah in Jesus at the Temple, were found in Zadar a century before an ornate sarcophagus was made for them. According to legend, the saint’s remains, which had been in Constantinople since the 6th century, were taken there by the Venetians in the early years of the 13th century. This was probably during one of the Crusades. Due to a storm, the ship with the relics arrived near Zadar and the remains remained there – in fact, Zadar was under Venetian rule from that time on (from 1202).


Finally, it is worth mentioning that Zadar is home to another treasure linked to Croatian culture, Poland and the Andegavian dynasty. In the treasury of the Benedictine Monastery, opposite the Church of St. Donatus and the Roman Forum, you can see the exhibition 'Gold and Silver of Zadar’. On display is the crown of Elizabeth of Bosnia from the second half of the 14th century. It is an exhibition full of dignity and mysticism, and the presence of a masterpiece of goldsmith’s art and material heritage connected with the mother of our illustrious queen only adds to the mystery and allows one to appreciate the power and influence of Polish rulers. If you are considering a holiday, it is, therefore, worth considering a trip to picturesque Zadar, not only for its beautiful beaches and azure blue sea but also for a dose of native history.

Church of St. Donatus in Zadar./https://en.wikipedia.org/