Mary on the Throne
Very Ancient Roots
Patroness of Carantania
Mary's Image
Carantanian Spiritual Legacy

Our Lady of Carantania

The image of the early Slovenian Mary has finally been discovered
A proof, that Slovenians have been an autochthon people

Dr. Jožko Šavli

It is certain, that in the 8th century AD, the period after Christianization, church arts definitely existed in the Carantanian territory, even though they had the appearance of a modest nature. Nevertheless, no pictures have been preserved from this period, and they even had become quite scarce in the later period. This is due to the fact that until the 15th century AD churches were built mainly of wood. Only the foundation was of stone. From time to time, the wooden churches needed restructuring, and the ancient paintings got lost during renovation.
Mary on the Throne
In my efforts to write an article about the church Maria in Solio (Gospa Sveta, in Slovenian, Maria Saal, in German), the one-time cathedral of Carantania, which is located north of Klagenfurt - Celovec, in Carinthia, I could not find any of Mary's pictures, reflecting the contemporary artistic style. We have no evidence, if a typical »Carantanian« image of St. Mary existed at all. But one has to assume, that a corresponding picture of St. Mary must have been present at the time of foundation or  following renovations of the Carantanian cathedral, which bears the characteristic name Maria in Solio (St. Mary on the Throne). But what kind of picture was it? In search for the right answer, we have to first of all, take into consideration several historical facts.

The cathedral of Carantania, mentioned in the records as ecclesia sanctae Mariae in Solio, was founded in 753 AD. Its founder, the missionary Bishop St. Modestus with his Irish monks, came from Salzburg. The Bishopric of Salzburg was under the jurisdiction of Rome, i.e., it was part of the western Latin Church. There, at that time, Mary's veneration was not yet promulgated. Thus, St. Modestus must have met Christians in Carantania, who already venerated St. Mary. Those could have been only Christians from the Roman period. They pertained to the Metropolitan Church of Aquileia, which in that period was not subjected to Rome but to Byzantium. In the Byzantine Church, Mary's veneration was already widely popular in that period. Therefore, one comes to the conclusion, that St. Modestus was introduced to Mary's veneration for the first in Carantania, because the influence came from Aquileia and was of Byzantine origin.

The type of image, showing the Carantanian Mary in details, is that of the Nikopoia (the one who is giving victory). It is in its origin a Byzantine picture. However, it bears characteristic Slovenian traits. They are clearly visible on the faces of Mary and Child.

Consequently, one must assume, that the first picture of Mary in the Carantanian cathedral was elaborated in Byzantine style. This style is still present in the great basilica of Aquileia. Its apses are decorated with a great fresco, which dominates the presbytery. It depicts Mary with Child sitting on the throne, encircled by Aquileian Saints on both sides, and among them appear the representatives of the State and Empire: Duke Adalbero of Carantania on the left, and Emperor Conrad II the Salian on the right. The fresco is from ca. 1030, and it still reflects the Byzantine artistic traits. Another fresco of Mary is found in the crypt of the basilica.

We have established, that the first painting of St. Mary in the Carantanian cathedral probably was elaborated according to the standards found in Aquileia and Byzantium. The question remains, if this picture also bore certain features, typical for the indigenous surroundings, so that it can be characterized as a »Carantanian« trait.
Very Ancient Roots
During the Roman period in Aquileia, according to historical sources, the beautiful basilica built by Bishop Theororus (ca. 308 - ca. 319), was already consecrated to Mary's Birth. Thus, the veneration of St. Mary was present in Aquileia prior to the Church Council of Ephesos, in 431 AD, that identifies her as Kyriotissa, i.e., the Queen of Heaven and Earth. Thus, we assume, that already in the Roman era Mary's veneration with the Christian mission, carried out by the Aquileian Church, penetrated also the hinterland of this city.

In the Roman epoch, the area of the Eastern Alps, i.e., the province of Noricum (later Carantania), pertained to the Metropolitan Church of Aquileia from the ecclesiastical point of view. In the central Norican cities, like Aguntum (Lienz), Virunum (north of Klagenfurt), Celeia (Celje), Emona (Lublana), … the first bishoprics were already founded in that period. However, after the decline of the Roman Empire, in 467 AD, and after the temporary occupation by the Ostrogoths, these bishoprics gradually fall into decay. Historians are using these circumstances as an opportunity to proof, that the Norican bishoprics were destroyed by the "Slavs" (ancestors of the Slovenians - Carantanians), who allegedly have settled the Eastern Alps after 568 AD.

But we must be aware of the fact, that at that time, in spite of the quotations made by official historiography, Carantanians - Slovenians did not arrive in the Eastern Alps at all. There are neither historical data nor any other proofs available. The people of the Eastern Alps, it is true, are autochthon inhabitants. In the Roman period, the great majority of them was not yet Christianized. When in the second half of the 6th century AD independent Carantania arose in this territory, they were still prevalently a pagan people, reluctant to let go of their pagan gods. However, several Christians lived among them.

One of the proofs, that they spoke Slovenian, provides the name Gospa Sveta, which they gave to the Caranthanian cathedral. It is a literal translation of Kyriotissa, in Greek. Compare: Kyrie - Gospòd (Lord), Kyriotissa - Gospà (Lady). Of course, the attribute "sveta" (holy) was added to her name. She probably received the Slovenian name right after the general Christianization of the Carantanian "Slavs". Opposite to this, the German name Maria Saal is a derivation of the Latin name Maria in Solio.

As already quoted, these Christians pertained to the Aquileian Church and its religious tradition. They already venerated St. Mary. Even though there are no written records, we must assume that on the same place, where St. Modestus founded or better said renewed the cathedral Maria in Solio, very probably already stood a much older Mary's sanctuary. It is possible, that future archaeological excavations will discover the original foundation.

Some Roman stones from ca. 2nd century AD, built into the walls of the present-day Maria in Solio cathedral, confirm this prediction. One of the stones depicts a Roman post car (symbolizing the journey of the deceased to the other world). Another stone above the main entrance symbolises a vine (tree of life) encircled by two panthers. Later, the panther figure became the State symbol (coat of arms) of Carantania. Another witness is the octagonal building close to the cathedral. Evidently, it is about an early Christian baptistery, where adults received baptism. It is still called "Heidentempel" (pagan temple), like the one in front of the Cathedral of Aquileia.

Stara gora (Castelmonte, 618 m) with Mary's church and Franciscan monastery, located above Cividale (Cedad) in Friuli (Italy). It is one of the oldest pilgrimages in the area of Aquileia.

In today's Carinthia many other findings come to light, bearing witness, that in the late Roman era and afterwards relatively numerous Christians were living here. Their number was on the decrease, but they still existed at the time when St. Modestus arrived. It is very probable, that the church of St. Mary, which he found there, belonged to the ancient city of Virunum. There is also the possibility, that it was a pilgrim's church, like several others in the area of ancient Aquileia.

In this area, pilgrimage churches consecrated to St. Mary have reached an honourable age. For example: According to historical sources, the pilgrimage church of Monfalcone (Tržic) was built by Marcellian, the patriarch of Aquileia (ca. 485 - 504). In Grado (Gradež), the church dedicated to Mother of Mercy stems from ca. 550 AD, the previous church at the same place was even older. The church of Virgin Mary on the lagoon island of Barbana dates back to 582 AD, and that of Stara gora (Castelmonte) on a hill above Cividale, in present-day Friuli (Cedad, in Slovenian), is from ca. 750 AD. Over the centuries, large crowds of Slovenians participated in Mary's pilgrimages.

In Carantania, after Christianization, towards the end of the 8th century AD, Mary's pilgrimage churches flourished all over the country. The Carantanian nobility in particular let build many private churches (lastne cerkve, Eigenkirchen), and they maintained priests to administer the needs of the population. It seems that churches were set up spontaneously everywhere, even though we have no precise records available. But one of the cases has been witnessed in Lesce, in the upper part of Carniola (a province of Carantania). The inhabitants of this community erected, who knows when, a wooden St. Mary's church, which was never consecrated. There the crowds gathered, prayed and honoured Mary. Finally, in 1140 AD, a noble named Natwin, let build a new church of stone on its place. Until the 18th century, this church remained the most visited Mary's Sanctuary in the entire province of Carniola.
Patroness of Carantania
In the Middle Ages, the pious character of Slovenians - Carantanians was known all over Central Europe. As a matter of fact, their religious reputation even reached the chronicler Helmold, a parish priest in Plana (Plön), in the Vagrien (Holstein) land, west of Lübeck, where people still spoke a Slav language in those times. He wrote the following: "Karinthi... homines divino cultui dediti, nec est ulla gens honestior et cultu Dei et sacerdotum veneratione devotior" (Helmold, Chronica Slavorum, ca. 1163). Translated: Carinthians (Carantanians, Slovenians)... are people devoted to the veneration of God, and there is no other race, which is more pious in the veneration of God and respectful of the priests.

Sometimes, the Slovenian clergy in their sermons used to say, "Slovenians are Mary's nation"! This saying is being repeated over and over again, without being aware of its very historical significance. Thus, no one substantiated it adequately until now. Nevertheless, it is not a fine-sounding talk only. The above quoted facts prove, that in ancient Carantania as well as in the modern Slovenian area, the roots of Mary's veneration are much deeper and more original, as one could have imagined.

It is true, that St. Mary was the Patroness of Carantania. It is not an isolated case. For example, the Republic of Venice, too, was consecrated to St. Mary. - The Prince (Duke) of Carantania, after being elected by the people's assembly called Veca and after being installed at the Prince's Stone (Knežji kamen), attended mass in the cathedral Maria in Solio and paid homage to St. Mary. Only then, he was installed again on the Duke's Throne (Vojvodski stol) as the superior judge.

The image of the enthroned Mary and therewith of her patronage over the Slovenian people is very well expressed in the verses of a Slovenian pilgrim's chant, which says: Marija na stolu sedi, gleda na vse strani (Mary is sitting on the throne and she is looking in all directions) (Grivec 1963, 37). It is not about a particular Mary's image but about an epithet, evidently referring to the protective role of Mary. This epithet, too, originated from Byzantium. There was the famous church Theotokos Peribleptos - Vsevidna Božja Mati, All-seeing God's Mother (renowned in 1031 AD). The church of Bogorodica Perivleptos also existed in Ohrid, Macedonia.

From approximately 80 Slovenian pilgrim's chants, published in the collection of Slovenian popular songs (K. Štrekelj, 1907), most of them are dedicated to Mary and Child. Still today, people from near and far visit especially the main pilgrimage gatherings. Pilgrimage churches are usually located in the mountains. There, the mass, prayers, chants and processions under open sky bring an unforgettable experience, and people are sad when they are saying farewell to Mary.

No less than 200 "Chants in Mary's honour" have been published in the famous collection of Slovenian popular chants. One of the most popular begins with: "Lepa si, lepa si Roža Marija…" /Beautiful, beautiful are you, Rosa Mary…/. The chants are also touching the heart of Slovenian men, who are truly not accustomed to show their sentiments, and they remain usually silent in church. However, when the song "Roža Marija..." has its turn, the strong male voices too, begin to resound and fill up the entire church.

Our Lady of Carantania - The picture above is of ca. 1150 AD. It is a book illumination in a Psalter, which was written in the Benedictine nunnery of Seckau (Sekova) in Upper Styria, now kept in the University Library of Graz. It reflects a Byzantine style of Mary's picture, with several indigenous lines, and it only can be a reproduction of the first Mary's images, which after Christianization (after 750 AD) were found in Carantania. The first Christians in this territory pertained to the Metropolitan Church of Aquileia (Oglej). This Church, however, was under the jurisdiction of Byzantium, where Mary's veneration was widely diffused at that time. It seems, that this picture of Mary is the only one, which so clearly reflects the primary Mary's image of Carantania and which has been preserved until today. It is very probably a reproduction of the first image, that in ancient times was displayed in the church Maria in Solio, the cathedral of Carantania, called Gospa Sveta (in Slovenian) or Maria Saal (in German), which still today stands on a hill north of Klagenfurt - Celovec, in Carinthia.
Mary's Image
For some time I am asking myself the question, if a true original Carantanian respectively Slovenian image of Mary existed at all? Indeed, it is very uncommon, that Mary's people (the Slovenians) do not have at their disposal a proper image of the celestial Queen and Patroness.

Was it by accident or was it God's finger, when I came across the book called »Das Werden der Steiermark« (The Rise of Styria, Graz 1980). I discovered a very nice picture of Mary in this interesting book. It is a black and white reproduction of a book illustration, found in a Psalter from ca. 1150 AD. The book originated in the one-time Benedictine nunnery of Seckau (Sekova, in Slovenian) in Upper Styria, and is now kept in the University Library of Graz (Codex 286).

When I paged through the book, I looked several times at this black and white reproduction. I was, without doubt, completely impressed, and I wished to find the reproduction also in original colours. Indeed, after some searching I came across a reproduction, that showed a painting with rather modest colours. But what an artistic composition! Soon I was aware of the fact, that the original features of the Carantanian Mary finally have been discovered.
This painting, too, depicts Mary with Child. Mary is sitting majestically on the throne holding the Child. At her feet are kneeling the noble Chunigundis (on the left), the first superioress of the Benedictine nunnery, and its foundress, Countess Rihiza of Perg (on the right). In this picture composition one can notice the influence of the monastic arts of Salzburg and Hirsau. Anyway, the picture also reflects a great deal of local lines. Therefore, I strongly believe, it could have been only elaborated through examples of earlier Mary's paintings, which later were lost again.

It is about a picture of Byzantine shape, known as Nikopoia , `the one who gives victory'. Nevertheless, several elements on the image reflect Carantanian (Slovenian) traits: the background of the figures are of blue colour (meaning the Heaven), followed by a green frame (meaning Hope). The red colour of Mary's mantle is faintly indicated, her tunic is white. The clothes of the Child are white, too. He is blessing with the right hand, and holding a roll in the left, evidently symbolizing the Christian doctrine. The entire composition is without splendour and glory, which especially in the Byzantine arts are usually represented by golden and red colours. The whole picture rather reflects modesty. Intentionally! Just for this reason, its spiritual message is particularly perceived.

Compared to Byzantine images, which, in spite of their brilliant colours, show very serious figures, the effect expressed by the enthroned Mary with Child on this Carantanian picture is easy and natural. Moreover, Mary's figure is that of an indigenous young and nice lady and mother. She has a happy look on her face, holding little Jesus in her arms, who seems to be a very Slovenian child as well. He is so alive and lovely, that one desires to cuddle the child and to take him horseback riding.

It is true, the outward form of the picture is that of a Nikopoia, but its contents has Carantanian features. I think, with this painting the image of Our Lady of Carantania has been finally discovered. In my opinion, still today this beautiful image can be reproduced. The aureole of the figures could be touched up in gold and Mary's mantle in red. Nevertheless, the expression on Mary's and the Child's face is so typical Slovenian, and this fact alone makes it absolutely necessary to preserve the painting forever.

Today's aspect of Maria in Solio, Gospa Sveta, Maria Saal. It was founded or rebuilt in 753 AD by St. Modestus, Apostle of Carantania. To the right we see the ground-plan of the cathedral with the octagonal »pagan temple«, the one-time baptistery.
Carantanian Spiritual Legacy
After Christianization in the 8th century AD, a Christian culture was established in Carantania. Archaeologists call it the Köttlach Cuture, after one of its most important finding places. However, until now its spiritual feature has not yet been researched. During the centuries, it is true, the high clergy in Carantania (later Austria) pertained to the aristocracy, and they were instructed in the Latin and German language. In this way, they were unable to perceive enough religious legacy preserved in the people's tradition.

Much later, in the 19th century, the national awakening took place. Then, the people's religiousness, under the leadership of unselfish priests, experienced its very heyday. Slovenian prayers and choir singing filled the churches. Nevertheless, the indigenous spiritual tradition, which originated in the first Christian period of Carantania, was not discovered at that time. So, one searched the roots of the Slovenian spiritual identity in the legacy of Sts. Cyril and Methodius, the Slav apostles from Moravia and Pannonia (9th century AD). Such a point of view had also its consequences of pan-Slavism, in which the Slovenians saw a salvation from the Latin and great-German expansionism.

In general, because of the ideology of pan-Slavism and later of yugo-Slavism, the Carantanian religious legacy remained unknown and was neglected. It is true, some saintly Carantanian figures, like St. Modestus or St. Emma, have been mentioned. But the Carantanian spiritual and cultural legacy has not been researched in its very extent. In this regard, we hope, the facts exposed in this article represent a step forward into the future.

Some Bibliography:
   Das Werden der Steiermark, Graz 1980
   M. Bora: Aquileia, il Patriarcato, Udine 1992
   R. Klinec: Marija v zgodovini Goriške /Mary in the History of Gorica Province/, Gorica 1955
   J. Gruden: Zgodovina slovenskega naroda, 1.zv. /History of Slovenian Nation, I vol./, Celovec 1910
   K. Štrekelj: Slovenske narodne pesmi, 3.zv. /Slovenian Popular Chants, III vol./, Lublana 1907
   Fr. Grivec: Sveti Ciril in Metod, Marijina castilca. Šmarnice ob 1100-letnici prihoda svetih bratov med Slovane 663 - 1963 /Sts. Cyril and Metodius, Mary's worshippers. May devotion on occasion of the 1100-anniversary of the arrival of the saint brothers among the Slavs 663 - 1963/, Lublana 1963
(cf articles: St. Domitian of Carantania and St. Modestus of Carantania)