Beram - Vermo
Churches and Cemeteries


Cemetery and Sanctuary of St. Mary of Beram (Vermo)


About ten klilometers out of from Pazin and driving toward Porec, a road sign that shows the village of Beram to the right. The main road goes uphill to the town of Beram, while at the fork in the road there it is large cross that marks a narrower road which deviates to the left that descends to the valley,  traverses a small stream and ascends the woods, reaching at about 1500 m. from the fork a small square in front of the ancient cemetery church.

Around the year 1000, this location was for a time the seat of an ancient Benedictine abbey. There is no historic information that indicates when the convent actually ceased to exist but it is presumed to have been sometime between the 12th and 13th centuries when the Benedictines almost totally left the Istrian territories. What remains is the actual sanctuary of the 13th century that over time was altered.

Beram was one of the most important centers of medieval Glagolitic literacy. Students („žakans“) from most parts of Istria would come to study with Beram Glagolitic priests. They left testimonies of it written in Glagolitic script on the margins of Beram liturgical books, or carved with a sharp object into fresco-painted walls of the church of St. Mary.

A few graves in the cemetery have kept their stone. More grave stones are probably hidden by the vegetation. The one in the photograph (left) shows glagolithic writing.

Several illuminated XIII. and XIV.cent. Glagolitic manuscripts come from Beram, including a fragment o a homilliary (collection of sermons), and a richly painted missal and a breviary from the XIV.cent.

Arriving at the church, there is a large unpaved space that is used as a parking lot, then a footpath of twenty meters which brings to the small church. The church exterior is covered in tiles (?), and its entrance is a portico with three arches. At the top of the facade is a belfry with a mullioned window with two lights and one bell.

The Sanctuary of St. Mary of Beram (Vermo) is also called Blessed Virgin of the Rocks or Madonna of the Rocks, and known in Croatian as Sveta Marija na Skriljinah. This small treasure, substantially preserved, is the church in the cemetery of the town of Beram (Vermo).

The church was given its name St. Mary of the Rocks for the stratifications in the rocks in which it was constructed. In more ancient times, even the roof of the church, before the alterations, was covered in sheets of stone.

St. Mary was constructed across (or into) the side of a sandy hill. In the 18th century, during the baroque period, the church was expanded and renovated, which caused most of the 1474 frescoes painted by Vincent of Kastav (Castua) - who left his name on the side door of the church - to be damaged or destroyed. At that time, the frescoes were painted over and hidden until 1913 when they were rediscovered and restored.

The church Sveta Marija na Skrilinah is small, but strong and massive. It has been able to protect the frescoes from rain, snow, storms and sun in relatively good condition for more than half a millenium. The most significant alterations to the church were man-made when more windows were opened in the walls, thereby damaging the paintings that had existed in place.

The entrance of St. Mary's Church does not open directly on the outside. There is a portico (porch) that protects the main entrance from rain and wind. This architectural characteristic has certainly helped to preserve the frescoes. escoes. escoes. p>The roof of the portico has been reconstructed with wood beams but the stone pavement is the original, as is the stone facade and its low arched door that is painted in red. Also original to the period is the exterior holy water stoup that has been carved from a single slab of lime and inbedded in the wall. The wall is constructed of regular rows of squared limestone blocks, and small narrow gothic windows and half-moon shaped windows are on the apse walls. The stone of the exterior of the church is totally bare except for the arches which were plastered and painted a sandy color. Above the doorway of the church there is a nitch that shows traces of an ancient fresco and in a small window above the niche there is enclosed s stone star.

The interior of the church is divided by a round arch that separates the hall from the presbitery which contains a small altar. Even the interior pavement is made of rectangular panes (lastre) of limestone block, polished to a shine by years of wear. Behind the church is a prolonged the cemetery that is enclosed by an old limestone wall. On its pavement are tombs from the 19th century. The churchyard s bounded by a tall wall on the left facade which hangs over the stream that flows into the small valley below.

The painter of the church frescoes, Vincent of Kastav (Castua), was a probable contemporary of John of Kastav (Castua) who painted the frescos at Hrastovlje (Cristoglie), in the Risano (now in Croatia) part of Istria. Although he was a native of Kastav, he may have been of Friulan origins because his given name was not then in vogue among the Liburnian Slavs of the area (would he necessarily have been otherwise only a Slav?). In this work, Vincent of Kastav was joined by assistants.

Vincent's frescos were inspired by German-Tyrolian-Carinthian examples, the subject and style confirm their Nordic origins and show all the characteristics of the art of the border territory where influences from the south and north merged. The cycle of frescoes is otherwise an example of the popular culture that was expressed during the European Middle Ages. Models of folk simplicity are incorporated in a unique narration.


The different fields show sequences from the life of Mary and Christ, the entrance of Jesus in Jerusalem, the Last Supper, the figures of individual saints and symbolic scenes, Saint Martin, Saint Florian, etc. TThe Annunciation, the Birth, the Baptism and the Passion are depicted on other walls.The top half of the northern wall is occupied by a colorful procession, the Adoration of the Kings (Magis), with women, knights and soldiers all dressed in the style of the 15th century. The top half of the western wall by an allegorical y/macabre-history1.htm">Dance of Death which is the most famous and interesting of all the frescos.

The dance is depicted over the entrance door: two skeletons, one in the act of dancing and the other of playing a string instrument that resembles a mandolin, while leading by the hand a bishop and a king. A third skeleton is embracing a queen and an innkeeper and is flanked by two others. The author wants to represent the concept of equality of all in the face of death. These macabre arguments, in vogue during Medieval times, are often found on the cemetery churches in Germany, France and also Italy. It is an inescapable memento of life and of death, the leveler of every transient power. At times, thinking of death helps to better arrange one's time, assets and life itself.

During the remodelling of the church in the early 18th century, some of the paintings disappeared from the sanctuary or were damaged when new windows were installed. With time, the frescoes by Vincent of Kastav and his assistants became covered by mortar, to be rediscovered in 1913 and exhibited to the public.

Because of is frescoes, the Church of the Madonna of the Rocks is now a mecca for tourists and is frequented year round. To gain access to either the St. Martin parochial church and/or the little church of St. Mary of the Rocks which are kept locked, visitors must contact the Tinjan parochial office (phone num. 052-626-016) or the "keymasters" directly - Mrs. Sonja Šestan at Beram 38 (Tel. 052-622-903), or Mrs. Marija Gortan at Beram 33 (Tel. 052-622-444) at least half an hour prior to arrival to Beram.

See: Murals of the Santuary of St. Mary of Beram


  • Close-up photograph of church altar by Marisa Ciceran
  • Dario Alberi. ISTRIA - storia, arte, cultura. LINT (Trieste, 1997), p. 1453-61. All copyrights reserved by the author and publisher.

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This page compliments of Marisa Ciceran

Created: Saturday, Dcember 16, 2006, Last Update: Sunday, August 18, 2013
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