Church on Sunday: Zagreb Cathedral
This Church on Sunday features a Cathedral of many names. Most guidebooks will call it the Cathedral of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary. Others call it St. Stephen’s Cathedral. (The Cathedral is devoted to both.) I prefer the third name, Zagreb Cathedral-it’s probably the least accurate, but most informative.
The Cathedral serves two purposes: providing Catholicism to the masses, and helping people orient themselves in Zagreb, since its twin spires dominate the skyline from most of downtown. It was built on top of the ruins of an earlier, unfinished cathedral that was destroyed by the Tartars in 1242. (It’s not just a sauce, people!) The current cathedral was built in the second half of the 13th century. The spires aren’t original-they were added during repairs stemming from earthquake damage in 1880. The spires are 108 meters, or 354 feet, high.
The Cathedral’s interior is noted for its frescoes, baroque statutes, and other treasures. I tried to take photos surreptitiously, but they didn’t come out very well. I hope this isn’t a sign from the Big Man Upstairs.
The Cathedral also contains the tomb of Archbishop Aloysius Viktor Stepinac, a controversial figure in history. During WWII, Croatia was invaded by Germany. The NDH (Independent state of Croatia) was then formed with the help of the Ustaše movement. Stepinac was Archbishop at the time. Stepinac supported some Ustaše leaders, but also protested against the Nazi persecution of Jewish people in Croatia, helped Jewish people escape, and criticized the Ustaše regime. After the war, he criticized the Yugoslav government, led by Marshall Tito. (Political positioning was not his strength.) Shortly thereafter, he was convicted of war crimes, imprisoned, released after five years and placed under house arrest in his old parish, where he died.
Sorry for the downer of a story, but Stepinac is an important part of Croatian history, particularly for Catholics, so he’s a good person to know. He’s been called a Nazi sympathizer, savior of Croatian Jews, anti-Socialist and anti-Fascist; sometimes in the same book. As always, I’m sure the truth lies somewhere in between.