The Church of St. George in Pag

Year: 1994-1995
Location: Pag, Croatia
Investor: City of Pag
Area: –
Photographer: Damir Fabijanić
Project type: Restoration, Interior, Realized

Pag is one of a group of amoeba-shaped Adriatic islands located off the west coast of Croatia. The island’s landscape is formed by the actions of the sun, sea, and salty wind. Its main municipal centre is the town of Pag, built during the mid-fifteenth century. The town’s plan and its architecture testify to the Venetian desire for order over elemental caprice.

The renaissance church next to the north gate of the city is dedicated to St. George, the town’s patron saint. Built of pale stone, it is a grave and simple building with a single nave, a chancel placed in a square apse, and an adjoining bell tower with Venetian arches. The austere facade is broken by two mouldings that continue around the bell tower. The upper portion of the wall ends with a trefoil gable. The stylistic confusions seen in the architectural composition as well as a pleasing primitive quality suggest that classical influences were filtered through regional preferences. Unused for decades, the church had fallen into disrepair by the end of the 1980s. Nenad Fabijanić’s architectural practice was commissioned to restore the building to its former dignity. It was intended that the building occasionally be used for religious purposes but otherwise serve as a sacred monument.

The scope of work included reconstruction of a badly dilapidated wooden altar frame, stonework renovation, and re-erection of the wall parallel to the north church wall. The latter, designed to accommodate the round-arched openings on the north wall and on the base of the bell tower, creates a narrow passage north of the church. Plainly defined by the surrounding stone, the passage holds a stark enclosure for an anonymous tomb. Inside, the nave walls were stained with colour (sfumato) to suggest fading layers of fresco superimposed over time, and the altar of St. Mark was reconstructed. Because the original painting of the saint had been lost, its heavy baroque frame now holds a modern substitute by Ivo Šebalj: a thin silver cross against a red diagonal representing the spear of St. George. During work on the walls, the architects discovered a third window in the north wall and reinstated it. Like the two existing ones, this window also has a pointed arch. The deep recesses diffuse the Mediterranean light, illuminating the interior. At night, glass candles suspended from the ceiling beams shed dim light over the sfumato walls, their shapes echoing the people in procession below.