The Southern Early Christian Cemeterial Basilica from the 4th – 5th Century

Situated outside of the city walls of Late Roman Pula, there were two rather large Early Christian graveyards with central cemeterial basilicas. To the northeast, between the town gate and the amphitheater, in the vicinity of the spot where the Roman roads leading to Poreč and Nesactium branch off, stood the St. John of the Nymphaeum church (1). The other, southeastern cemetery (2) was located on Vela Poljana (Prà Grande), together with its memorial church, 300 meters to the east of the so-called Porta Aurea with the Arch of the Sergii (3) – along the Roman roads leading to Medulin and Pomer.

Situated on Vela Poljana was a large ancient necropolis (so-called Campus Martius) with Roman sepulchral monuments, urns, skeleton graves and sarcophagi, all of which was corroborated by discoveries and archaeological excavations conducted in the course of the 20th century. On such pagan graveyards it was customary to erect a cemeterial church in the area associated with the actual grave or a symbolic memory of an Early Christian martyr, in order to pay homage to the saint cult. In this manner, a memorial church dedicated to some local Early Christian martyr, cleric or bishop was erected here in the second half of the 4th or in the 5th century. The sarcophagi fragments that were discovered strewn around, corroborate the usual gradual expansion of the Early Christian cemetery.

This church was forgotten and ravaged in the course of time, which means that its ground plan remains unknown. The cemeterial church was in all probability oriented in a regular manner (east – west) and decorated with multi-colored floor mosaics that also contained a field with the votive inscription of the donor. In accordance with ancient tradition, the geometrical decorations featured braids and rosettes that discreetly form crossed patterns – the same decorative motifs found in the oldest church (domus ecclesia) of Early Christian Poreč. This Pula graveyard expanded mainly in the direction of a northeasterly elevation during the Middle Ages, where the monastery of St. Mihovil is located, and further to the southeast, towards the St. John of Trstika church.

Željko Ujčić – Head of the Medieval Collection of the Archaeological Museum of Istria

Typo3 site by Ulisys d.o.o. , 2010.