The crypt contains tombs of two noblewomen from the 17th c – a woman and her granddaughter, with a crown made of wire and flowers on her head.
Croatian Conservation Institute archaeologists were astonished when they discovered the remains of two 17th c. noblewomen in a forgotten crypt of St. Nikola’s church in Podžumberak, 24 sata reports on August 26, 2017.
The tomb surprised them, as its entrance was found at 1.14 meters below the ground, near the altar.
“We were looking into the floors and found a crypt below a thick layer of stones and debris. The church was renovated four times and it is quite possible that the tombs were forgotten after the first renovation,” said archaeologist and head of research Ana Azinović Bebek.
This doctor of science and head of the Division for Archaeological Heritage at the Conservation Institute has been investigating this church and the graveyard for years. The two noblewomen were an elderly woman and her granddaughter. The woman was wearing leather shoes, a rare red silk vest, and the remains of a scarf, shirt, a cross and a medallion depicting a pilgrimage site of Loreto.
“When she passed away, she was about 60 years old, which is far older than the age that inhabitants of Žumberak lived to at the time. Her head was on a pillow filled with sawdust, which is perfectly preserved. We have spent three years restoring it and today it is the oldest restored women’s piece of clothing in Croatia,” the archaeologist explained.
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Her granddaughter was wrapped in a pall. There was a crown of tiny wires and flowers on her head, and her hands wrapped with a bow, as if praying.
On one finger she had a ring that was too big, so it is assumed that it was not hers, but someone put it on her finger for emotional reasons. Archaeologists have looked through the archives, but they haven’t discovered which family they belonged to yet. Novi Grad Žumberački, also known as Sichelberg, was located near the church. The Paradajzer family probably ruled it at the time, followed by ban Petar Zrinski.
“Their discovery was a surprise for us. We assumed there had to be an entrance to the crypt somewhere, but the only thing we found at the usual place was two stones. We have not yet studied the entire church floor for static reasons,” the archaeologist said.
The Croatian Conservation Institute started this project in 2004 and it is financed by the Ministry of Culture because the church is a protected monument.
The oldest part of the church dates from the 13th century. It can be seen at the entrance, which has a pointed arch, and the decorative red triangles on the pointed windows of the church. There’s an old cemetery next to it, where archaeologists have found 294 graves. Most of the tombs are Roman Catholic, but there are also remains of Greek Catholics who lived in Žumberak for centuries.
“There are many tombs here. When a new grave was dug and older bones were found, the older bones would be moved to the church’s ossuary. Many medals, crosses, jewellery and rosaries with which they were buried were also found. They are important because they help us follow the traditions and faith of people of Žumberak through history.” What archaeologists found particularly interesting were the soles of shoes that they found. The people of Žumberak in the past were either barefoot or they wore traditional moccasins (“opanci”), but they had to have special clothing and footwear for the funeral. It was always new or it was only worn on Sundays. The soles of the shoes which were not worn out confirm this theory. After each part of the research, anthropological analyses are carried out at the Anthropological Centre of the Croatian Academy of Sciences and Arts, which confirmed that people of Žumberak hadn’t had an easy life, which influenced their health.
“The average life expectancy was 35 – 45 years. If children lived to be ten, they would mostly make it to 35 or 45. This is also the earliest recorded tumour in the archaeological population. Based on the woman’s bones we found that she had breast cancer and her bones had been ‘eaten’ by lesions. Her molars were well preserved, unlike her front teeth. They were black and most probably destroyed by some of the pain medicines the woman used,” the archaeologist said.One of the children’s skeletons they found had hydrocephalus or ‘water on the brain.’ Along the outer edge of the cemetery, they found a preserved urn with two fetuses. They were most likely from an abortion, and since they were not baptized, they could not be buried on the sacred grounds of the cemetery.
One of the children’s skeletons they found had hydrocephalus or ‘water on the brain.’ Along the outer edge of the cemetery, they found a preserved urn with two fetuses. They were most likely from an abortion, and since they were not baptized, they could not be buried on the sacred grounds of the cemetery.
Archaeological Museum Zagreb
All of these findings were also part of the exhibition “Tihi svjedoci vjere, baštine i raskoši”, which was on display at the Archaeological Museum in Zagreb in April. Given the great interest and rich exhibits, it will soon be on display at museums in Karlovac and Jastrebarsko as well.
Translated from 24 sata.