The exhibition “Gold and Silver of Zadar”, initiated in 1951 by the great Croatian writer Miroslav Krleza who dedicated a matchless essay to it, was transformed in 1976 into a permanent display of the Permanent Exhibition of Ecclesiastic (Religious) Art. It is housed in the Benedictine Convent of St. Mary in Zadar where it has been guarded by nuns since the end of the Second World War and became one of the first capital buildings of Croatian culture. The Gold and Silver of Zadar is presented in intimate and atmospheric surroundings shining on a surface area of about 1200 m2 in 8 modernly equipped halls and is guaranteed to leave the most resolute non-believer awestruck.
It is one of the most important cultural repositories in Croatia showing the priceless treasure of the rich past of Zadar from the 8th to 18th centuries, as a town which was an important cultural center, particularly in the Middle Ages. The connection between the Benedictine order and Zadar has been unbroken from the Byzantine period. During the bombings of the Allies in 1943, this treasure preserved for centuries was secretly hidden by the Benedictines in a deep hole under the church bell tower.
The city has enjoyed various periods of flowering of arts and culture, and the work of local gold and silversmiths (including Italians and Venetians resident in the city) is absolutely stunning. The collection includes reliquaries for either entire saints or parts of them (e.g. hands, arms and heads), crucifixes, paintings, and vestements interwoven with gold and silver thread as well as the manuscripts, sculptures, embroideries, tapestry, reliefs, etc. On the ground floor there is also a reconstruction of the former chapel of St Nediljica and examples of Romanesque masonry. A reliquary in the shape of a cross dating from the end of the 7th and beginning of the 8th centuries, which is incorrectly thought to have belonged to abbess Čika, will always be called Čika’s cross for the inhabitants of Zadar. It is small and has no gems but most valuable to the locals.
The exhibition “Gold and Silver of Zadar” narrates of grandeur and pride, love and faithfulness, skill and culture, the meaning and wealth of Zadar through history. Joy and hope, patience, suffering and faith of the tumultuous past periods of the region have been interwoven in the reliquaries and chalices, sculptures, paintings and embroideries exhibited here.
The Permanent Exhibition of Ecclesiastic Art places Zadar among the great cultural capitals as such a collection of valuable and exquisite religious works of art all in one place can only be seen in the greatest European centers.