What Prophet Muhammad Has To Do With Franciscan Monastery?

What Prophet Muhammad Has To Do With Franciscan Monastery?

When speaking of heritage in Split, first idea is usually ancient Rome and Emperor Diocletian. The second one is Christianity, with Split being one of the centres of faith in Croatia. However, influences on that heritage are various, sometime with strange twists. It's enough to see Egyptian sphinxes scattered in public spaces and museums, or traces of thousands of years of Jewish presence in this area.

Some of those signs of different influences are in the same time among those hidden gems that most of local people don't know about, even if they are placed somewhere where many people come. We can take a monastery and church of Saint Anthony as an example. This church just next to the Poljud Stadium is very popular, not only for masses happening there, but also for weddings, because of nice surroundings and easy access. It's hard to believe, though, that many of worshippers noticed a painting at the church's northern wall, on the left side when facing the main altar. In the lower right corner of the painting there is a figure identified with a writing above the head, saying (in Italian) Prophet Muhammad. What founder of Islam is doing in Catholic church?

As it's widely known, one of rules of Islam is that art should not depict any human being, especially not Prophet Muhammad. There are rare exceptions in countries like Turkey or Iran, but in general the written word is much more important mean of spreading the faith than images, and calligraphy is usually the only decoration in mosques. Actually, in recent years images of Muhammad caused some serious trouble.

Christian artists also rarely took Muhammad as a "model", which makes this painting in Split even more interesting and unique. In short, it depicts 39 theologists gathered in a hall, debating about Immaculate Conception. There are some of the greatest minds of the time shown, including Muhammad. He holds an inscription saying in Latin "Nullus est, ex Adam, qui non tenuerit Satan, preter Mariam et Filium eius". Translated, it means "All Adam's descendants (meaning the human race) were under Satan's power, except Mary and Her Son". Usual interpretation is that with these words Muhammad recognizes Adam, but even more important, acknowledges Mary's pureness when she gave birth to Jesus Christ.

The original painting was a work by Renaissance artist Nikola Bralić or Braccio, dated to 1515 or 1518. Unfortunately, that one is lost, and the one displayed is a 1727 work by Baroque artist Mihovil Luposignoli. Popular legend says that this painting actually saved the church and monastery from destruction by Ottoman Empire army at the end of 16th century, because they didn''t dare to loot and burn the church after seeing the prophet's image.

Church also has very rich library, and other interesting art pieces. My favorite among them is ten-parts polyptych above the main altar, painted by Girolamo da Santa Croce in 1549. The second section from the left in lower row shows Split patron Saint Domnio holding the city in his hands, and it's one of the oldest known pictures of City of Split.