Yesterday, we had a private tour of Zadar’s Archeological Museum. Among some really special artifacts, our attention was caught by a unique sarcophagus. During rescue excavations at Petra Zoranića square in Zadar, a long-lost church was uncovered, identified as the Church of St. Peter of the Windlass (Sv. Petar od Vitla) mentioned in medieval documents. Inside the ruins, there was a special surprise: a sarcophagus with an engraved epitaph of Georgius, who was a priest and recluse. The sarcophagus was of a design and decoration that were typical of monuments from the latter half of the 8th and the first half of the 9th centuries. But the radiocarbon dating of the remains found inside didn’t match. Georgius chose to live a life of strict solitude and isolation, locked inside a small cell, and it seems he never strayed from this path, as he was interred in the sarcophagus with the epitaph PRESBITER ET RECLAVSVS, signifying his commitment to his solitary lifestyle to the very end.
St Peter of Windlass? Had no luck searching for this saint. The closest would be https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Peter_Gonz%C3%A1lez but I think he is more likely some local saint, There was no shortage of saints back then!
The Research of the Sarcophagus in Zadar Museum
At the archaeological laboratory of the Croatian Academy of Sciences and Arts in Zagreb, analyses were conducted. The goal was to determine the gender, age, pathological changes, and height of the individuals buried in the sarcophagus. During the analysis, bone and tooth samples were taken. Detailed investigation determined that the sarcophagus contained the remains of four adult individuals (three older men and one younger woman). Based on the reserach, the skeleton believed to belong to the priest/monk Georgius was identified. This was a man over the age of 50and about 180 cm tall. In detail – it is described in a paper – his bodily changes included signs of subadult stress (tooth enamel hypoplasia), degenerative osteoarthritis in the joints and spine, and spondylolisthesis of the 5th lumbar vertebra. All the nice stuff. However, the tooth analysis suggests very good oral health. The data from anthropological analysis indicates that among others, the bones of the priest/monk Georgius, who was a contemporary and possibly a relative of the bishop of Zadar Donatus, were indeed stored in this very sarcophagus!
This sarcophagus has an inscription near the top that reads +HIC REQVIESCET GEORGIVS PECCATVR PRESBITER ET RECLAVSVS (Here lies Georgius, sinner, priest and recluse). The inscription has elegant Latin crosses with expanded ends and increases in size from left to right. The sarcophagus in Zadar Museum of Georgius matches the monuments from the eastern Adriatic from the late 8th and early 9th centuries in terms of form and decoration.
The Life of Georgius
Georgius, aka George or Croatian Juraj, lived a secluded and solitary life as a “recluse” in a monastery or next to a church. That means that the person who chose to live that way, lived in a tiny room with no doors and with one opening for food. This monastic lifestyle was common back in a day (since 10th ct) and was regulated by canon law from church councils. After a probationary period, Georgius probably lived in his cell until the end of his life. Apparently, that was a thing back then and all European cities wanted to have such a “detail” for protection. One of the best known was Symeon of Trier who lived in the famous “Porta Nigra” Roman Gates of Trier. Most popular local recluse is Ozana Kotorska. But that is whole another story that involves miracles, Turkish siege and stolen feet kept in a silver chest.
Although we know little of Georgius’ life, this great archaeological find is well worth visiting when in Zadar.