In the development of sacral architecture, the Basilica of the Sacred Heart of Jesus belongs to the period of late historicism, more precisely to neo-baroque. The foundation stone for the construction of the Basilica was laid on 10 th October 1901 in Palmotić Street (previously Gardeners’ Street) in Zagreb. The construction works, including the tops of the bell towers, were completed in 1902.
The basis for the construction of the church was a foundation of 60,000 forints created by archbishop Haulik in 1858 with the aim of housing the Jesuits in Croatia. In 1900, the Provincial of the Austro-Hungarian province, A. Forstner, authorized the canon of Zagreb Ivan Pliverić, head of the Ordinariate of the Archdiocese of Zagreb, to lead the construction of the church. On 15 th December 1902, he performed the ceremonial blessing of the church, whereby it was officially opened.
In the first regulatory basis for the « expansion and embellishment » of the city of Zagreb from 1865, this part of the Lower Town was also included in the new urban design. The urban development of the Lower Town, where many citizens were to be settled, included the construction of a church.
The architect Janko Holjac was entrusted with the design. The construction works for the church were carried out by the Pilar, Mally and Bauda construction company. The church was furnished by reputable local artisans and master craftsmen: Ignjat Franz, Adolf Baumgarten, Miroslav König, Ivan Budicki, Aleksandar Maruzzi.
The main altar was entrusted to the design skills of Herman Bollé and was constructed by the «The First Lika Stonemason’s Workshop for Construction and Art». The predominant features are the whiteness of stone and the gilded decorations. The pulpit was carved by Srećko Toman according to the design by Herman Bollé.
The Croatian architect Janko Holjac (17 th December 1865, Zagreb – 28 th July 1939) graduated from the Academy of Fine Arts Vienna, where he was part of the special department for architecture under the tutorship of Professor Friedrich Schmidt. In Zagreb, he was employed as an engineering official in charge of the construction of public buildings at the Department of Internal Affairs of the Royal Croatian–Slavonian–Dalmatian Land Government until 1895. He simultaneously started his teaching work in 1893. He taught Civil Engineering Structures at the Civil Engineering School in Zagreb. In 1897 he received a permit from the Land Government to open a civil engineering business. He started his own firm and designed churches, monasteries, schools, apartment and office buildings, houses, new build and appendage of industrial buildings (Courthouse in Osijek, the restoration of the Orthodox Cathedral in Plaški, the appendage of the leather factory – today the main building complex that includes the Glyptotheque of the Croatian Academy of Sciences and Arts in Zagreb, the Jesuit church and monastery complex in Palmotić Street, the Antolković mansion in the Zrinski Square, the Archdiocese of Kaptol Printing Office, the Archdiocesan Classical Gymnasium, etc.)
Herman Bollé was a Croatian architect (18 th October 1845, Köln – 17 th April 1926, Zagreb). He studied architecture at the Academy of Vienna and worked in the atelier of the renowned architect F. Schmidt. Bollé took over the construction of the Cathedral of Đakovo and constructed many buildings in Croatia in historic styles (the Museum of Arts and Crafts and the Mirogoj graveyard complex in Zagreb). In the style of Romanticism, he rebuilt and restored the pilgrimage complex in Marija Bistrica, the Cathedral, the Archbishop’s Palace and several Kaptol manors in Zagreb. He created plans for the fountain in Zrinjevac Square, the altar of the Basilica of the Sacred Heart of Jesus, the fence of the palace housing the Croatian History Institute in Opatička Street, etc.
The Basilica of the Sacred Heart of Jesus holds cultural significance which transcends the usual architectural and stylistic analysis. It is the first sacral building in Zagreb with symmetrical convent wings organically linked to the church. It is the first church by size after the Cathedral (59,13m in length, 22,30m in width, and the roof height is 20m). The Basilica can accommodate around 4,500 people, including the gallery. Following a period of more than a century, it is the first newly built church in the city.
The Basilica is composed of the central nave and four side aisles on each side. Each chapel has its own side altar with the likeness of a saint, a confessional and a large window, which gives light to the church. Galleries are located above the side aisles. Above the central nave is the barrel vault with four arches that transfer the weight of the ceiling to the floor through the columns. The Basilica has a vestibule (narthex) with three entrances. The metal-and-glass barrier visually connects the vestibule with the space for the congregation. The central gallery (chancel) is furnished with an organ. The church has two bell towers, each with a square base, which turns into an octangle near the top. On the opposite side is the central (main) altar with the image of Jesus Christ. The pulpit (ambon) is next to the altar, and above the altar is the semi-dome (apse) with the image of the Last Supper.
The following materials were used in the construction of the church: the roof at the tops of the bell towers are made of copper and are covered in green patina due to the influence of atmospheric conditions. The roof down the length of the church is of made of wood, covered in tiles. The main door is of oak, with an outward copper coating. The inner vestibule door is made of profiled metal with glass inlays. The floor was initially made of square tiles, which were later replaced with white and brown marble. The walls, columns, arches and vaults are made of solid brick. The columns are reinforced with Portland cement to withstand the weight of the construction. The stairs leading to the gallery and the belfry are made of stone. The gallery and chancel railings are also stone. The side gallery and chancel girders are steel railings covered with ornaments.
The monolithic construction method was used at the time when the church was being built. Elements were manufactured at the construction site, a lot of scaffolding was used, pulleys, a great deal of human strength and a mould for the semi-dome. Individual elements were manufactured in stonemason workshops (the pulpit, parts of the altar, the gallery railing), and the inner profile door was constructed in a locksmith’s workshop.
Many parts of the building were never restored, e.g. the murals on the walls and the semi-dome, as well as other artwork on the ceilings. In the early 80s the floor of the Basilica was rebuilt and tiles were replaced with marble. In the late 90s the vestibule and the inner glass doors were renewed. The chancel was expanded in 1999 and can accommodate a substantial number of singers since then. The roof was rebuilt in 2001 by replacing all the tiles, and the old waterspouts were replaced with copper ones. The lower part of the façade was renewed the same year.
Today, this church serves the same purpose for which it was originally constructed, i.e. the gathering of the faithful from the Lower Town and beyond for Sunday Masses, holidays and work days. The Basilica has seen an increase in visits since the beatification of Ivan Merz, whose his grave is located there (one of the side altars is dedicated to him). The Basilica adorns the Croatian capital, and was declared a cultural monument in 1963.
Having examined the Basilica of the Sacred Heart of Jesus and written about it, I conclude that it is an imposing building, functionally and aesthetically perfected in detail. If we refer to the oldest preserved work on architecture, which states that a good building must possess beauty (venustas), robustness (firmitas) and usefulness (utilitas), I note that the building in question undoubtedly possesses all three. Both her outward appearance and interior are visually arresting, and her function and form are awe-inspiring. In that sense, her present and future worth is priceless.
Text by an unknown author (with amendments)