Sunday, 17 January 2021

17 January: Feast of Saint Anthony the Great in Croatia

January 17, 2021 – On the Feast of Saint Anthony the Great in Croatia, horns named after the saint sound out in the village of Halubje, Kvarner, marking the start of the annual marches made by their masked bell ringers, the zvončari, and for the carnival season in their region. Over subsequent days, they will travel from village to village before descending on Rijeka

Following a long period of Advent, the extended celebrations of Christmas and the explosive culmination of the season on New Year's Eve, many in the northern hemisphere retreat and relax in January. This is a time to wait out the remaining cold days of winter, the signs of spring hopefully just around the corner. Just a few days after spring arrives, it's Easter, the next grand, annual occasion in their Christian calendar. But, not in Croatia.

In Croatia, January brings a strangeness to the air. The sound of bells carries on the chilly wind. As the discordant chimes draw nearer, bizarre figures in furs, strange fibres, masks or with painted faces perform a timeless dance in circles. January in Croatia is the start of the season for carnival, fašnik or maškare, an annual occurrence sometimes many months in the making. That the masked bell ringers - zvončari – should make their otherworldly entrance on 17 January, the Feast of Saint Anthony the Great in Croatia is most befitting.

Luca_signorelli_santi_eligio_e_antonio_sansepolcro.jpgSaint Anthony the Great and John the Evangelist pictured on one side of The Crucifixion Standard (1502-1505) by Luca Signorelli © Public domain

The title of Saint Anthony is shared by several men, the most prominent being Anthony of Padua who lived between 1195 and 1231. Saint Anthony The Great, or Anthony of Egypt, lived much earlier - between 251 and 356. Although not the first Christian to forgo worldly pursuits in order to fully devote himself to religion, Anthony of Egypt is regarded as the Father of All Monks and of the monastic life. He gained this title by casting himself into the wilderness of the Eastern Desert in Egypt. It is fitting that the Feast of Saint Anthony the Great in Croatia should signal the start of the mystical carnival season because, while in the wilderness, it is said Anthony of Egypt experienced a series of supernatural events – the appearance of mythical beats, of unnatural temptations.

1441px-The_Minotaur_by_Michael_Ayrton_03.jpgA centaur - one of the supernatural meetings St Anthony is said to have had in the wilderness. With the head of a bull and the body of a man, he does not look too dissimilar to some Croatian zvončari  © statue by Michael Ayrton, photo by 14GTR

The telling of Anthony's supernatural temptations became rich in metaphor, particularly from the Middle Ages. These tales - his meeting of a centaur and a satyr, of demons in a cave and a plate of silver coins - would go on to inspire artists and writers for centuries. Wild in fantastical detail, they lent themselves particularly well to the extravagant imaginations of painters like Hieronymus Bosch and surrealists like Dorothea Tanning, Max Ernst, Leonora Carrington and Salvador Dalí (main image).

Joos_van_Craesbeeck_-The_Temptation_of_St_Anthony_1.jpgThe Temptation of St. Anthony by Joos van Craesbeeck, c. 1650, inspired by earlier paintings of Saint Anthony by Hieronymus Bosch

Although maškare and the zvončari are an event and figures from pagan traditions, with the bells they carry you could almost be forgiven for thinking they were continuing the work of St Anthony the great in Croatia. The costumed bellringing of the zvončari - which was added to UNESCO's Representative List of the Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity in 2009 – is an effort to ward off evil spirits. And who's to say if these are not the same one who plagued Anthony in the wilderness.

Just as they hold different names in different places, fešta, carnival, fašnik or maškare takes place on different days and at different times of year. Similarly, the zvončari associated strongly with the carnival season of Kvarner, all have different costumes, dances and traditions which vary from village to village. These traditions have been passed down through generations, indeed it is thanks to the zvončari themselves that the carnival in Rijeka was in 1982 revived. It has now grown to become what is traditionally the country's largest.

zvoncar_maska.jpgHalubajski Zvončari © Halubajski Zvonč

On 17 January, the Feast of Saint Anthony the Great in Croatia, in Halubje, Kvarner, near Rijeka, carnival games, festivities and music fills the streets. The town's Halubajski Zvončari are one of the oldest groups who undertake the tradition and they are one of the zvončari groups responsible for bringing back Rijeka carnival. The sounding of St Anthony's horns in the town on the Feast of Saint Anthony the Great in Croatia marks the official commencement of carnival season and of the marching of the Halubajski Zvončari. Over subsequent days, they will march, accompanied by music, through villages in the region, eventually descending into Rijeka on carnival day. This tradition was recorded in written records in 1860. Some say the bells are meant to ward off Ottomans or Tartars as much as they are evil spirits, which makes the tradition even earlier.

Friday, 18 September 2020

VIDEOS: Amazing New Google Project Shows Croatian Culture to the World

September 18, 2020 - Incredible new video series explore Croatian culture, its natural assets, and the country's rich traditions, a collaboration with Google

Steeped in history and tradition, Croatian culture is incredibly diverse. Recognised as being of high value to the country's appeal and its understanding of itself, many items from this rich heritage appear on the protected UNESCO list.

The Croatian National Tourist Board has teamed up with Google Arts & Culture and partners The Museum of Arts and the Museum of the Sinjska alka to produce an incredible series of videos that explore this cultural heritage.

From arts & crafts to music and dance, natural assets and architecture, the new videos show off the rich menu of traditions assets that make Croatia such an incredible country. With so many items included on the protected UNESCO list, there's always something more you can learn about Croatia, no matter how many times you visit.

Lace-making, costumes of folklore, ancient instruments, time-honoured recipes, beloved festivities and distinct, regional styles of music are just some of the facets of Croatian culture explored in the videos. Now, people from all over the world can explore Croatian culture and heritage before they even arrive. The menu of videos and accompanying media is presented in both English and Croatian.

Some of the videos in the series are not new, but they have been selected by the Croatian National Tourist Board for inclusion as they are the best at showcasing their particular aspect of Croatian culture. Alongside the video presentations, there are a wealth of photographs and informative texts. You can view the whole new collaboration with Google Arts & Culture here

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Sunday, 21 January 2018

Zvončari of Rijeka: Bellmen Who Keep Evil Spirits at Bay (Photos)

Even though the calendar says otherwise, Rijeka temporarily said goodbye to winter and glided into the most flamboyant season of them all. Premature spring? Nope, the so-called fifth season of the year: the carnival!