St. Martin’s Chapel in Stari Brod

Andelko Pedišić

Head, Division for Branch Departments I, Croatian Conservation Institute

Croatian Conservation Institute

Nike Grškovica 23 10000 Zagreb Croatia

Stari Brod, Croatia

EU Prize for Cultural Heritage / Europa Nostra Award 2017

Recapturing the Beauty of a Hidden Gem


The wooden chapel of St. Martin in Stari Brod is a rare example of traditional, vernacular architecture with a preserved Baroque interior. As a gathering place for worship and a powerful symbol of the villagers"s survival, it has played an important part in the everyday life of villagers for centuries.

/Archival records first mention the chapel in 1699. Originally, it was a single-nave chapel with a polygonal sanctuary and a small atrium with a bell tower on top. Its present form originated when the atrium was incorporated to form a vestibule in 1736. It was built using traditional construction techniques with oak planks over stone-and-brick foundations and interlocked without the use of brackets (the so-called dovetail joint). The chapel stands out because of its interior design: all the walls, the ceiling over the nave, and the sanctuary vault are lined with vividly painted wainscoting consisting of 88 wooden panels framed with decorative laths. The panels depict motifs of intertwined symmetrical ribbons with hanging acanthus leaves, rose flowers, tulips, carnations, peonies, and grape vines, painted in vivid colours in the mid-18th century.

The main altar with the altarpiece depicting St. Martin was installed in 1743. By the end of the 20th century, the chapel was rather neglected and had a dilapidated roof. As the roof covering was damaged, the interior was exposed to rainfall, which caused severe damage to the wooden support and paintwork. The roof covering was replaced with beavertail tiles instead of shingles which led to static displacements and deformations of the building material, and caused further damage to the wainscoting panels. The main altar was removed from the chapel in 1991 during war-time evacuations.

Renovation of the chapel of St. Martin started with an architectural survey of the existing condition and conservation research of the painted wainscoting. The wainscoting was then dismantled and the reconstruction of the chapel, which lasted from 2007 to 2012, ensued. During the reconstruction, the entire chapel was disassembled to repair the foundations and replace the damaged or rotted parts. The damaged parts of the roof construction were also repaired and the beavertail tiles replaced with oak shingles, modelled after the original covering. Necessary restoration of the dismantled elements of the wainscoting, which involved mechanical removal of dirt from the back of the panels, gamma-ray disinsection, fixing of blistering portions of the polychromy to the support, consolidation of the support, joining and fixating the panels, and reconstruction and retouching of the painted layer, was carried out. After the conservation was completed, the wainscoting panels were returned to the chapel.

/The Baroque altar of St. Martin was put on display at the 1994 exhibition Sveti trag [Holy Trail], after which it was stored in the Croatian Conservation Instituters"s depot in Ludbreg. Despite the removal of the altar in 1991 and the painted wainscoting in 2002, the chapel continued to be used for funerals and on the Feast Day of St. Martin. It was closed only during construction repairs when it was dismantled. With the renovation completed, the restored wainscoting mounted, and the main altar installed, not only was its physical and visual integrity recovered, but a symbolic and spiritual component important to the local community was reinstated as the chapel was returned to its original function.
The conservation of the chapel was primarily focused on the physical preservation of the building in its original location. Wherever possible, all usable parts of the original oak material were preserved, and all reconstructions and replacements of deteriorated material were executed in accordance with the original material (oak).

The chapelrs"s ceiling consists of wooden joists holding the boarding, while the roof was constructed in the same way as in traditional folk houses, using oak shingles for cover. St. Martinrs"s Chapel in Stari Brod is a traditional wooden folk building, made using organic binding techniques to connect construction elements, with an irregular layout, a floor that slopes gently towards the east, and a south wall that leans towards the south. The Baroque painted wooden panelling in the interior was made to measure and adapted to all construction irregularities of the chapel. In order to strengthen the connection between the wall planks, the chapel had to be fully disassembled and then reassembled. During the reassembly of the chapel, it was particularly important to respect the original construction plan, since any deviation from the original condition would be reflected in the installation of the painted wooden panelling.

Before the final installation of the painted wooden panelling in the chapel, a new architectural survey was made, taking into account the previous position of the painted panels. Based on that survey, a new construction plan, imitating the original organic irregularities of the interior, was made. The compounds of the painted panels were placed in their original positions and inclines, thus restoring the original interior appearance of the chapel. Equal attention was given to the preservation and conservation of original materials and painted layers on the interior wooden panelling and the altar, as well as the preservation of their physical integrity through the use of restoration materials that are reversible and compatible with original materials, while conservation and restoration interventions were limited exclusively to the damaged parts of original materials. The restoration of the aesthetic dimension of the chapel was primarily focused on the requirement to retain its symbolic value, a very important factor for its users. With maximum preservation of the original material, areas that needed reconstruction of missing structural and formal elements were selectively chosen, faithfully transferring the original architectural and artistic intentions.
The result of the project is the preservation of the chapel and its physical integrity in its original location, restoring its function (an important factor for its users), preservation and conservation of all original materials, and achieving an easier understanding of its historical structure. Presenting the finished work was aimed at educating the users on the chapelrs"s value and raising awareness of the local community about its role in the preservation of inherited cultural property, a crucial social element reflecting the success of the overall conservation process.

As a rare surviving example of Baroque wooden architecture, albeit important for art history, its true value lies in the symbolism of survival of a community that gathers around it, in spite of all the wars and floods it was exposed to over the course of history. On the other hand, the comprehensiveness and complexity of the conservation carried out, while applying the principle of renovation in accordance with professional guidelines, represent a model of how to approach the renovation and presentation of similar cultural monuments.
All the aforementioned components constitute the reason why the renovation of St. Martinrs"s Chapel in Stari Brod earned the European Union Prize for Cultural Heritage / Europa Nostra Award in the category of conservation, presented in May 2017.


Browse by year

Browse by category

Browse by country

View all