Church linked to the Bourbons being restored to original splendour

Nova Gorica, 14 December - The church on a hill above the city of Nova Gorica whose crypt contains the remains of the last French king has undergone extensive renovation ahead of its 400th anniversary next year.

Kostanjevica nad Novo Gorico
Renovated frescos at the Church of the Annunciation of Our Lady.
Photo: Rosana Rijavec/STA

Kostanjevica nad Novo Gorico
The Church of the Annunciation of Our Lady.
Photo: Rosana Rijavec/STA

Kostanjevica nad Novo Gorico
REnovation of the Church of the Annunciation of Our Lady.
Photo: Rosana Rijavec/STA

Kostanjevica nad Novo Gorico
REnovation of the Church of the Annunciation of Our Lady.
Photo: Rosana Rijavec/STA

Kostanjevica nad Novo Gorico
REnovation of the Church of the Annunciation of Our Lady.
Photo: Rosana Rijavec/STA

Kostanjevica nad Novo Gorico
REnovation of the Church of the Annunciation of Our Lady.
Photo: Rosana Rijavec/STA

Kostanjevica nad Novo Gorico
REnovation of the Church of the Annunciation of Our Lady.
Photo: Rosana Rijavec/STA

The Church of the Annunciation of Our Lady, also known among the locals as the Chappel, forms part of the complex of the Kostanjevica Franciscan Monastery.

Its crypt contains the tomb of the Bourbons, including the last French king, King Charles X, who settled in Gorizia in 1836, having fled the revolution in his county.

Some of the family's symbols have been discovered anew during restoration of the frescoes in the church's nave, which has recently been completed after going on for six years.

Minka Osojnik, a conservation specialist from the Nova Gorica unit of the Institute of Cultural Heritage, said restoration yielded many secrets beneath past repaints and renovations.

The removal of repaints of the motif of Mary, Consoler of the Afflicted, in a lunette has revealed a black vase, which was earlier repainted blue, as well as a third lily next to two in the vase.

The motif is linked to the Bourbons, whose remains are buried right below the lunette. The vase is understood to represent a burial urn and the three lilies are a symbol from the coat of arms of the House Bourbons.

"The restoration of the lunette was extremely challenging because it was repainted so much. It was difficult to remove all the dirt and grime and inadequate repaints," Osojnik said.

Another problem was that the frescoes were by two different authors from two different periods, which the restoration specialists had to bring together in a way.

Also restored have been the stucco decorations, which are considered the finest from the period in Slovenia.

The renovation of the nave cost around EUR 300,000. EUR 60,000 has been secured by way of calls for applications from Nova Gorica and EUR 40,000 from the Culture Ministry.

Now funds are being raised to renovate the presbytery. The cost assessment is about the same as for the nave. An auction of donated wines has netted over EUR 60,000 for the cause, Father Niko Žvokelj, the head of the Franciscan Monastery, said.

"We would like for the renovation of the presbytery to be completed by 2025, when Nova Gorica hosts the European Capital of Culture," Mirjam Brecelj, the monastery's librarian, told the STA as the renovated frescoes were blessed in November.

"Considering the financial plan, what has been completed and what still needs to be done, we're about half way through. There's still the presbytery, almost original from the 17th century," she added.

The church was partly destroyed during the First World War, but was later rebuilt. Along with the monastery, it was also damaged by an earthquake in 1976. It had been a risk to the visitors since.

"A minor tremor and it could all fall to the ground," the Franciscan father said. "We also wanted to feel the original beauty of the church," he said about another motive for the renovation.

The monastery's library keeps precious old manuscripts. The library acquired much of its materials between 1885 and 1915 when linguist Stanislav Škrabec worked there.

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