Chronology of the Collection formation
The rich treasury of the Church of St. Blasius was enriched in 1818 by new valuable donations of the academic artist Gaetano GRESLER, member of the Academy of Fine Arts of Venice, originally from Verona. He gifted artwork of a secular character to the Vodnjan Municipality, and sacral objects to the Parish Church of St. Blasius.
The wartime adversities of WWI and WWII endangered the artistic heritage of the Parish Church of St. Blasius and devastated many sacral buildings in the Vodnjan area. The valorisation and rescue of the cultural treasures of Vodnjan and the surrounding area began in the 60’s when a new form of symbiosis appeared between the autochthonous and newly arrived population. It was at this time that part of the Vodnjan lapidarium, with ancient and Middle Age monuments, was preserved from going to ruin. Decorative stone elements and church furniture from the small Church of St. Michael in Banjola near Vodnjan were placed in the exhibition area of the Franciscan monastery in Pula in 1963. Part of this lapidarium (St. Christopher and Romanesque figures) was presented in Paris in 1971 at the big retrospective exhibition “Art in the territory of yugoslavia”.
These activities prompted the Parish office of St. Blasius and the local community of Vodnjan to speed up the registration of the cultural monuments of the Vodnjan region. The regional institute for protection of cultural monuments in Rijeka, carried out the registration of the small town of Vodnjan as an urban monument entity on 4 November 1975, it made a list of all the sacral facilities with a large part of their inventory.
In 1977, the Parish office of St. Blasius proposed to the Regional institute for protection of cultural monuments in Rijeka, that they setup a sacral exhibition in Vodnjan. The institute approved the proposal, and up until 1983 preparations were being made and the best possible presentation of sacral treasures as part of the Church of St. Blasius were searched for.
In 1983, a special expert working group was formed under the auspice of the Municipal Conference SSRN in Pula, which took on the task to found a the Heritage Museum of Vodnjan in the Betica Palace and permanent exhibition of sacral art in the Church of St. Blasius due to the exceptional cultural value and monument heritage of the area of Vodnjan.
Given that the Parish Office of St. Blasius provided the premises for the exhibition of the Collection, placed some of the art pieces at their disposal and secured the initial financial funds, during 1983 and 1984, the Archaeological Museum of Istria in Pula conducted an expert selection, partial conservation and restoration of the works of sacral art, along with the simultaneous realisation of the project of presentation in part of the premises of the Parish Church of St. Blasius. The Republic self-government interest community of culture of Croatia and the self-government interest community of culture of the Municipality of Pula enabled the co-financing so that the execution of this facility would become a realistic cultural event, while upon signing the Agreement on the founding, caretaking, maintenance and disposal between the founders – the Parish Office of St. Blasius in Vodnjan and the Archaeological Museum of Istria in Pula – the foundations of the Collection of sacral art of the Parish Church of St. Blasius in Vodnjan were laid.
The initial intention was to exhibit the most valuable part of the inventory in the vestry of the church (premises of 50 square metres). After inspecting the available material, it was decided that the permanent exhibition should be conceptually expanded to another three premises (surface area 62 square metres), in which the Museum holdings from the IVth to the XIXth century would be in brief and clearly presented. Ceramic and glass archaeological objects of sacral significance with stone statuary and decorative church sculptures were exhibited in the first room. The most significant typological specimens of glass and metal relics, as well as church vessels were collected in two of the most valuable premises of the Collection, while the selection of paraments and polychrome wooden sculptures completes the concept of the exhibition in its first presented phase.
In the second, intended, expansion phase of the exhibition, the project represented the other valuable parts of the cultural heritage (manuscripts, Glagolitic records, old books and parts of archives, pictures of old masters, wooden Baroque sculptures and sculptures). The extensive work will be completed over a few years, and then lovers of antiquity and Istrian cultural heritage will be able to assess the significance of the venture. A stimulus for the realisation of this special social and church interest in looking after and presentation of sacral and other valuable art pieces of Vodnjan is certainly the inscription on the Church of St. Blasius which marks the founding of the Collection of sacral art on 20 December 1984.