Rovinj - Rovigno
Churches and Cemeteries


Cathedral of SS. George and Euphemia

The first record of the main church of Rovigno, dedicated to St. George, the town's first patron saint, dates from 800. According to legend it was in this year that the ark containing the remains of St Euphemia of Chalcedon, martyred in 284, were miraculously washed ashore. This first church was a modest building, so the inhabitants decided to erect a more suitable home for the Roman sarcophagus and its precious contents. 

Excerpt of painting courtesy of: Turisticka Zjednica / Comunità Turistica di Rovigno 

The new church of SS. Giorgio ed Eufemia was completed around 950 and had the ground plan of a basilica, with stone columns supporting pointed arches and three domes over the altars in the apses. The holy relic was placed in the centre, which was common practice in  Byzantine churches.  The ark of St. Euphemia - click to enlargeln 1684 a separate chapel was added on the south side, next to the main choir, to accommodate the relics in a more fitting fashion, especially after they had been carried off by the Genoese in 1380 and subsequently restored by the Venetians, who had nevertheless kept them in the church of S. Canziano for thirty years. 

But the old basilica had become too small and in 1720 the city council decided to build a larger one. In the first instance the work was entrusted to the Venetian Giovanni Scalfarotti, a follower of Longhena, one of the leaders of the Neoclassical movement in religious art. But since he refused to make any modifications to his original design, another architect, Giovanni Dozzi, was summoned from Venice. So work began in 1725 by incorporating part of the attached cemetery and the little nearby church of S. Orsola on what was to be the largest Baroque church in Istria,   after the Duomo of Capodistria.

The choirs were the first to be built in 1728  (on 13 March of that year the sarcophagus containing the saint was moved to the new choir). 1734 saw the completion of the aisle dedicated to St. Ephemia and two years later the remaining aisle and the nave were finished. Particularly successful is the blending of the facade with the other sides through a serried series of pillars, executed in the side section by Simone Battistella. The facade was only completed in 1883 to a design by Giacomo Pozzo.

Much thought was also given to the ornaments. ln 1741 Girolamo Laureato built the high altar and the altar of the Holy Sacrament in place of the old gilded altars of the previous church. Giovanni Mattiuzzi of Udine installed (1779) the altar of St Peter, with an altarpiece by Francesco Grandi, replacing the original work, which was destroyed by fire in 1876, and the altar of St. Francis, with a painting by Giovanni Battista Mengardi, a pupil of Tiepolo.

The ceilings, the pews in the nave and the choir stalls of 1750 were made by Giovanni Napolachi, while the stucco decorations were added in the same year by the Venetian Giovanni Lattuga. The organ dates from 1754 and is the work of Antonio Barbini of Murano.

Many of the carvings can be ascribed to Alvise Tagliapietra, one of the foremost exponents of Venetian Rococo sculpture, and include: the three statues on the high altar [image above, right], of St. George, St. Mark and St. Roch (1741), the statues of an angel and St. Euphernia on the altar of the Holy Sacrament, the antependium of the altar of St Michael, made together with his son Giuseppe, and perhaps also the group of the Carmel Madonna on the altar of that name. The church also contains precious objects, such as the icon of St. John the Baptist by Emanuele Zanfumari, originally in the church of S. Giovanni, the candelabras by the Paduan silversrnith Zuanne Adolfo Gaap, born in Augsburg (early 18th c.), and the splendid silver antependium by Angiolo Scarabella d'Este (1776). The church was consecrated with an elaborate ceremony on 26 September 1756 by Bishop Gasparo Negri. 

Although work continued until nearly the end of the 19th century (the chapels and presbyteries of the Holy Sacrament and St Euphemia were frescoed in 1883 by Leonardo Rigo and Giovanni Bino), most was completed in the 18th century and S. Eufernia is thus rightly regarded as the finest example of Baroque architecture in southem Istria.

The steeple (59 m) was put up in the 17th century after the earlier one had been damaged by lightning in 1545. It is strictly modelled on the steeple of St Mark's in Venice, like those of Pirano and Dignano, and the design was submitted by Alessandro Manopola in 1650.  Building began in 1654 under the direction of the Milanese architect Antonio Fassolla, who was replaced by another Milanese, Antonio Man, in 1668 and the steeple was finally completed in 1687 under Cristoforo Ballan. The fine facing stone came from the quarries of S. Pietro.

The vertical effect of the belltower was emphasized by an architectural rhythm of pilaster strips on the walls of the tower, as well as on the tall pyramid above the bell chamber. The majestic swivelling statue of St Euphernia is the work of the brothers Vincenzo and Giovanni Battista Vallani of Maniago. It was set on top of the spire on 11 June 1758 by the local architect Simone Battistella, replacing an earlier copper-covered wooden one, which had been destroyed by lightning. Major restoration, carried out by Andrea Battistella, was required in 1834 to repair the brick-built spire and a lightning conductor was put in place in 1879. A military airplane struck the statue on February 20, 1936, and repairs had to be made before it could be returned to its place on July 8, 1938.

Text from above plaque:

ST. EUPHEMlA was born in Calcedonia near Constantinople. Because of her Christian religion, under the reign of the emperor Diocletian, she was martyred. She died 15.9.304 in her youth.

The old marble sarcophagus contains the body of the martyred Saint. At first it was kept safe in Calcedonia, then in Constantinople, until the year 800. But then the governing power became the iconoclasts, and there was danger that the mortal remains of the Saint could be dishonoured. The pious legend says that the sarcophagus disappeared from Constantinople and reached the shore of Rovinj 13.7.800. From that time it has been safeguarded in this place.

St. Euphemia is the protectress of the city Rovinj. ln lstria, female persona often have her name. On the 16th of September many people from the surroundings come to venerate and pray at the tomb of the Saint-martyr.

Left altar fronted by a Gift Shop. (What would Moses have to say about that?!)

Looking up at stairwell to the church belltower

See also:

  • San Eufemia di Rovigno di Gianclaudio de Angelini (Italiano)-
  • The Parish Church at Rovinj, Photo Gallery -


  • Text, 3 color and all B&W photographs - Daniela Milotti Bertoni, Istria, duecento campanili storici / Two Hundred Historic Steeples, Bruno Fachin Editore (Trieste 1997)
  • Photographs (color) - Marisa Ciceran
  • Painting of miracle of the ark - Turistička Zjednica / Comunità Turistica di Rovigno
  • Vintage postcards - D. Načinović & M. Budicin, Rovinj - Old Postcards, Zavičajna Naklada "Žakan Juri", Center for Historical Research (Rovinj, 1998)

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This page compliments of Marisa Ciceran

Created: Sunday, September 15, 2002; Last updated: Wednesday, August 28, 2013
Copyright © 1998, USA