History of Franciscan Friary in Koper

Arrival of the Franciscans and the building of the friary

Kliknite za povečavo The Franciscan presence in Koper reaches as far back as the very beginnings of the Franciscan order (Ordo fratrum minorum – OFM). The first brothers came to Koper soon after the death of St Francis of Assisi, the founder of the Order. In 1229 St Anthony of Padua presumably visited the town and founded the first community of Franciscan friars. The hitherto known records mention the Order of the “Poverello of Assisi” in 1264 when the bishop of Koper allowed the Franciscans to build a new church because the old one was in a state of decay.

On 17 September 1492, Antonio Almerigotto, a nobleman from Koper, and his wife Chiara donated to Fr Bernardin from Rab, the provincial vicar of the Dalmatian province of Observant Franciscans, a plot of land to build a new church and monastery in Koper. At the donated plot there was already a smaller church of St Mary Magdalene with Tertiary Franciscans living there, who were also called glagoljaši i.e. priests using Glagolitic liturgy that had been introduced by St Cyril and his disciples and approved by pope Hadrian II in 868. The Tertiary Franciscans moved to St Gregory’s church in the northeastern part of the town called Zubenaga. St Gregory’s church had before been used by Observant Franciscans, but was the property of the Sisters of St Francis of the Holy Cross from Venice. After all exchanges and obtained approvals, the building of the original church and monastery started in 1493 and was completed by 1513. From a document dated at 1644 it is evident that the monastery was then repaired. From the very beginning it was intended as an education house (for many years it housed the novitiate of the Dalmatian province) and thus theology and philosophy studies were pursued there. In 18th century it was declared a Studium generale and was entitled to grant the degree Lector theologiae that was acknowledged throughout the Order.

The original church was completed and furnished by winter 1513, when also the altarpiece was painted by Cima da Conegliano and Vittore da Feltre and put up in the main altar. The church was much smaller than the present one. For about ten years, its patron was St Mary of the Angels as it was of Porziuncola, the small chapel in the Umbrian plain below Assisi that was the birthplace of Franciscan order. Yet already before the completion of the church the patron saint was changed so that the church is dedicated to St Anne. The present church was finished in 1627 with the restoration works begun in 1620.