As Napoleon came through the Republic of Venice in 1796, many of the holiest of Church treasures were removed from Churches and Basilicas and hid away for safe keeping.
According to the legend, the fathers of the Church of San Lorenzo in Venice entrusted their relics to a local Venetian artist named Gaetano Gresler. He hid them for a while and then put them into a boat and sailed them all to the Istrian Peninsula of Northern Croatia.
Although Napoleon was defeated in 1814, it wasn’t until 1818 when Gresler brought the treasure trove to the small 18th century Venetian style Church of St Blaise (Sveti Blaž). His idea to wait was not that unusual. Napoleon was reinstated for a few months in 1815. Even when Napoleon was sent back to Elba for the second time, there were many who were certain he would escape again.
Church of St Blaise (Sveti Blaž) is the crowning achievement of the small village of Vodnjan (Dignano in Italian). The bell tower of St Blaise is actually modeled after the bell tower in Piazza San Marco of Venice. The church itself is a pretty amazing story, financed by the townspeople who raised 13,000 gold coins for the construction. It is a darkly lit and unassuming interior. Behind the altar, a local guardian welcomes guests and escorts them to the great treasures of the Church; the largest collection of ancient Sacral Art in Croatia and the chamber of the mummies, relics of the holy. All in all, there are 290 relics here, religious body parts of over 250 different Saints.
It’s a mummy bonanza of magical power filled with holy corpses that refused to decompose. For those looking for the truly famous, there is the torso of the 3rd century St Sebastian, without the arrows in his chest, but complete with the leathered remains of arteries and veins, looking like a mixture of polished wood and molded leather. For those seeking the more famous, there is a fragment of the veil of the Holy Virgin, a piece of the True Cross and a few thorns from the crown of thorns. Even though Santa Barbara’s Feast Day was removed from the Catholic Calendar due to doubts of her existence, you will nonetheless be directed to the mummified heel of the Saint.
The mummified corpses are stacked in boxes like display items in a department store.
The mummified remains of St. Leon Bembo were exhumed in 1207. In life he was a Venetian Priest of the Doge’s Palace and later a Bishop. He died in 1188 but when his body was exhumed 19 years later there was very little corruption or degradation. He is interred wearing a Bishop’s hat.
The mummy of St. Ivan (Giovanni) Olini is stretched out peacefully in another of the display coffins. He was considered a ‘Living Saint’ in his life and though he lived among the Plague inflicted, he died of natural causes.
Even after his death in 1300, people were cured of diseased just from sitting on his grave.
Saint Nicolosa Bursa (pictured in the cover photo) is the main attraction of the chamber.
She died in 1512, on April 24th, the day she predicted she would die. When they opened her grave (supposedly) a pleasant odor came out of the tomb. Making the story even more incredible, supposedly she was left in the open air for 163 yrs. and still didn’t decompose.
Her mummy is considered the best preserved corpse in Europe. Bioenergy healers have proved that the body of Nicolosa Bursa emits a 32-meter bioenergy circle. It is also said that there have been 50 miraculous healings in the body’s close proximity.
Next to the stacked coffins are various reliquaries containing hundred of Saintly pieces including the jaw and tongue of Saint Mary of Egypt. She was a 6th century prostitute who after visiting the grave of Christ, repented her life, using the same tongue to convert so many others.
Vodnjan is a 20-30 minute ride from Pula (which has one of the best Roman Amphitheaters in the world. The church (and the mummies) are open to the public in July and August between 9am and 7pm during the week and 2pm – 7pm on Sundays. From September through June you’ll need to make an appointment at +385 (0) 52 511 420.
The cost for the tour of the Mummy room is €5 for adults and €3 for children under 14.