In one of the most impressive locations on the Adriatic, on a hill that dominates the bay of Komiža, in the 13th century, the Benedictines from the island of Biševo, erected a fortified monastery with the church of St. Nicholas
According to the old tradition, the Benedictines came here from the island of Biševo, where they could no longer defend themselves from the pirate attacks, so they built a fortified monastery above Komiža. The Benedictines leave the monastery in the 15th century, while the upgrades lasted until the 18th century, as in the meantime the church became the parish and the cemetary church of Komiža. Today, the locals call this church Muster (probably derived from Latin monasterium = monastery).
In this unique five-nave church, the oldest part is the Romanesque church, today the northern nave with a semicircular shrine. The cloister and residential buildings probably existed on its south side, at the site of today’s church. This early monastery was fortified, of which two towers remained preserved – the more prominent, on the southern part of the 13th century set, which still stands as one of the oldest in Dalmatia – and a smaller one, on which the church bell tower was erected in the 18th century.
During the second half of the 15th century, fear of the Turks and their ships intensified on the islands, the reason why the church revenues were mainly spent on the maintenance of fortifications. Around 1571, the Turks attacked Komiža when the monastery was destroyed. The new fortification was erected in 1645, when a spacious bastion was built on the north side of the church, with four prominent peaks, and with bronze cannons standing there still until the end of the 18th century.
Wooden and marble altars stand out in the interior of the five-nave church, created by connecting side chapels. The wooden altars in the churches in Komiža, especially the large altar in Muster, represent the best woodwork in our country. The altar of Bethlehem, located in the northern part of the church, carved in 1692 and with style insignia, is assumed to be the second oldest preserved figural representation of the manger in Croatia.
Particularly preserved are the tombstones with the inscriptions and coats of arms of individual families, dating from the 14th to the 18th century.The choir features an organ from 1895. In addition to its great significance throughout history, Muster is known for another exceptional rite – the Quarantore (Kvarantore).
Every year, just before the Feast of St. Nicholas, the patron saint of seafarers, children and fishermen, an old and unusable wooden boat, hauled by hand from Komiža, is set on a bonfire in front of the church. On the St. Nicholas Day, the boat is set ablaze – and with the ashes left behind, new ships are consecrated and blessed. This ritual, which sacrifices the old ship for the blessing of those that are still sailing, emphasizes once again the genuine connection between the inhabitants of Komiža and the sea.
Likewise, on Palm Sunday, which is a week before Easter, in this fortified church begins the ritual of Kvarantore.
Kvarantore is a Catholic practice of prayer and adoration that lasts for 40 hours (the name is derived from the Italian words quaranta=forty and ore=hours). The rite itself is the act of exhibiting the Most Blessed Sacrament. It begins on Palm Sunday, one week before Easter, and ends on Tuesday night, when after the evening Mass, there is a closing ceremony.
It is not known when they were introduced, but probably in the 18th century – the decoration of the altars in Komiža still takes place today, without changes. Komiža is the only place in our diocese where the classical way of decorating altars for the Kvarantore has been almost completely maintained. On the agreed day of the week before Palm Sunday, a group of men and women set up decorations on the main altar according to the usual arrangement. Along with the red cloth, which is a typical feature of Baroque decoration, the walls of the shrine, the arch above the entrance to the shrine, the wooden structure for candlesticks and the parts of altar, where a large number of candlesticks, a throne, angels and a crown are placed, are covered. During the common hour of worship, more than 120 candles burn in a space filled with numerous flowers.
It is a unique and sublime experience to attend solemn ceremonies for the duration of the Kvarantore, because of all the decorations and the mystical light coming from the lit candles.
The Kvarantore in Komiža are a testimony of man’s endeavor to get closer to God, through prayer, and adoration, but also working unto His Glory. If the trip causes you to come to Dalmatia at pre-Easter time, be sure to come to the island of Vis, in Komiža. Throughout the Holy Week, apart from the Kvarantore, you can attend ceremonial mass celebrations, and experience some of the rare historical ceremonies that still take place in this region.
Location: From Komiža harbour, you can reach St. Nicholas Church in an easy, 15 minutes’ walk.