The earliest mention of the Cres Franciscan friary is found in the documents from the very beginning of the 14th century: In 1302, there is mention of one Friar Dominik, Guardian of Friars Minor in Cres, while the Cres church features in the list of Franciscan churches from 1306 by Pope Clement V. As mentioned, the arrival of the Franciscans to Cres was dated back to the mid 13th century by Friar Antun Marcello Petriš, who, in 1508, said that the brothers have been enjoying the privilege of being buried by the church for the past 250 years. Apart from mentioning the altar of the Franciscan church in the wills of the local noble family Petris as of 1372, and the sacristy under construction in the will of Stjepan Petriš from 1405, one must stress that, from 1412 to 1438, the bishop of Osor was Friar Vito, a Franciscan from Cres, which most certainly contributed to the prosperity of the friary. Since both worldly and Church power were moved from Osor, hit by malaria, to Cres as of mid 15th century, one must also mention the statement by Daniele Farlati according to which the Cres Franciscan church was built under the bishop Ivan Giusti (1486 – 1509). However, today’s appearance of the friary complex is a result of numerous interventions over several centuries, making it quite impossible to discern its most original appearance. Still, the basic layout of the friary was finished by mid 16th century, with the baroque church tower being added subsequently.
The friary is located to the south of the former defence walls that used to enclose the Cres core, on the way leading to Osor, the archipelago’s historical centre. The compound consists of one large and one small cloister. The western side of the larger cloister hosts a single-nave church running in the north-west direction, reminiscent of the Dominican sacral buildings, owing to its simple form.
The central axe of otherwise smooth stone church front has a rosette and a rectangular renaissance portal whose lintel is decorated by stone-dressed Franciscan coat-of-arms and a relief. The added side chapels have different protrusions than the usual larger rectangular openings. On the eastern side of the front, just in front of the passage leading along the church wall to the cloister, there is another renaissance portal with a shell. The artistic stone-dressed decorations may be dated back to the last quarter of the 15th century, which would – according to s Farlati’s suggestion – point to the building of a new church or a major expansion of the existing one, before the side chapels were added at the beginning of the 16th century. These particular two interventions that happened over a rather short period of time should be attributed to the local workshop, building a new Osor cathedral in early Venetian renaissance style, partitioning the Cres church, and constructing a number palaces owned by the local nobility.
The elongated church nave is headed by a profiled ceiling. The church’s height was increased in 1853, adding (on the eastern and western wall respectively) two semi-round windows, thus introducing a lot of light into the nave. The wooden baroque choir, mentioned by the documents, used to be located by the northern wall of St. Francis church, whereas it was removed when the church was renovated in the 80s of the past century.
The Sanctuary is separated from the space for the faithful in the nave by two rows of stairs, while the pointed stone triumphal arc shapes the ceiling over the rectangular apse, whose eastern wall is opened by pointed windows added later.
The church has a number of chapels, belonging to St. Francis, the Petriš family, and to Bishop Marcello Petriš, clearly pointing to the fact that the commissioners pertained to the most distinguished local noble family. The General of the Order, Bishop Marcello Petriš, was the executor of his relative’s Nikola will from 1508. The will mentions the construction of the chapels, thus facilitating their actual dating. The chapels are opened towards the nave with three profiled arches leaning on extensively decorated dressed pillars, with large round flowers on all four sides of the body and early-renaissance pseudo-Corinthian column capitals. All the decorative elements were dressed with great skill and precision, although at the same time not observing the classical rules, also the work of the aforementioned local workshop. The somewhat higher central part today hosts the church organs. The tomb-stone of Friar Antun Marcello Petriš is today built into the north wall of the church, presenting this learned Franciscan, who died in 1526, lying with his eyes closed, dressed in Episcopal attire, surrounded with books. This outstanding piece of work has damaged surface, since it was once built into the church floor in front of the chapel altar, while it is a identified by an inscription presently built into the western wall of the nave. Apart from the organs, the chapel also holds two most simple altars, whereas the – artistically speaking – two more impressive polychrome marble altars by the nave’s eastern wall are probably the work of the 18th century Venetian workshops. In the 16th century, the church had almost a dozen altars, only rare fragments of which have been preserved at the friary museum. An interesting detail to mention in this regard is the fact that one of the altars used to be under the juridical patronage of the Cres family Colombis, Golubić. The friary collection of stone monuments keeps several stone-dressed column capitals and pilasters which used to decorate the chapels, probably former parts of altars and other stone equipment that was being removed from the church over the centuries.
As regards the inventory still in the church, especially valuable is the wooden friars’ choir in the apse, with two rows of six seats each separated by little poles and chair backs decorated with geometrical gothic carvings. The seat nearest to the nave has flat decorations with the figures of saints on both sides: St. Jerome holding a model of the church with the high tower, with the tiny figure of the friar who made the commission kneeling next to his legs, while the saint on the north side, dressed in the antique holy attire holds a volume in one hand, and a long rod in the other. The same side of the choir also holds a small coat-of-arms with three dolphins, pertaining to the famous Venetian family Dolfin. Since – in 1422, and then again in 1423, two Venetian captains from the said family were spotted on the island: Andrea and Giacomo, it is quite possible that they, together with the then bishop, a Franciscan Vito from Cres, who could be identified as the little carved figure of the kneeling friar, had something to do with the commissioning of this valuable piece from the Venetian wood carving workshops.
To the north of the apse is the cross –vaulted sacristy with a gothic washing-stand. Judging by its shape, the washing-stand probably dates back to the first half of the 15th century. Works on the sacristy were in progress also in 1630, when the doors were fixed and the ceiling completed, while it was paved in 1662, when the impressive sacristy closet was also purchased.
Added next to the church apse is a rectangular church-tower ending in a bulb-shaped dome. Its present appearance results from the works that had begun in 1682, although there was mention of the church’s bells and bell-tower even prior to that. At first it was master Nikola Crussilo who was commissioned to perform the works, with the best quality Istrian stone ordered for the church-towers’ angles, pillars and arches, but, in 1687 the then guardian Ivan Jakovljev Petriš asked the island of Krk builder Ivan Krstitelj Fontana for opinion, and so the construction of the bell-tower was continued according to his blueprints. The builders mentioned at payoffs originated from the place called Baška on the island of Krk, while the stone came from both Krk and Cres. The guardian Petriš had an inscription about his merits for the construction placed on the church-tower in 1695, and the scaffolding was finally removed in 1700. Half a century later, the present dome was erected, visible on the aforementioned Cres panorama from the 18th century in the assembly church.
The small friary cloister is on two sides bordered by the garden wall and the friary building, while porches on pillars stretch along the north and east sides. The pillar capitals differ among themselves, not only as regards the stone dressing itself, but also the stone kind, one of them holding the inscription 1490 TE P E Fra IS MATHEI. The cloister holds a stone-built water tank with the well crown holding coats-of-arms of the families Petriš and Balbi as well as the municipal coat-of-arms of the town of Cres. The municipal council documents state that, upon the proposal of the ambitious Friar Antun Marcello Petriš, in 1503, the Council gave 20 gold pieces for the construction of a water tank in the inner cloister of the Franciscan friary. Since the Cres captain in 1509 was Angelo Balbi, his family’s coat-of-arms indicates some role he had in the building of the tank.
The large cloister surrounded with four cross-vaulted porches leaning on simple stone pillars, holds in its middle a water tank with a well crown decorated by the Cres nobility coats-of-arms. Documents show that this too involved the inhabitants of Cres: the city council cleared – in 1544 – 30 gold pieces for continuing the works on the cistern in the large cloister, but it was still not completed in 1553, which is why the Council elected Gašpar de Proficis and Constantine from Cyprus to ensure financial help, with the same duty in 1557 being passed on to Jakov de Proficis. According to the engravings, the cistern was repaired in 1614 and 1839 respectively. It goes without saying that the building of the cisterns was a joint venture of the friars and the locals, with the intention of collecting water from the large roofs of the church and the friary, thus creating reserves for the ever thirsty island place.
The earliest inventories kept, those from the 16th century, mention different objects in the friary dormitory, comprising at least 8 cells, while they also speak about the storage place with oil and wine barrels, and other spices. The several times aforementioned renowned General of the Order, Friar Antun Marcello Petriš, had a larger cell built on the first floor. The cell still exists and is clearly marked by a lovely dressed fire-place with Marcello Petriš’s coat of arms as a combination of fruit and leaves. The dressed fire place frame is placed in the former chapter hall up on the floor in the eastern wing, today adjacent to the friary archives and library. The lovely dressed washing stand with three lion’s heads releasing water is today placed on the way to the refectory next to the small cloister, whereas the one in the dining room itself is particularly outstanding, with a dressed rectangular frame, a polygonal basin at the bottom and a gothic net on the top, the details pointing to the early renaissance local workshops.
As we have already seen, upon proposal by the Provincial Ivan Jakov Dražo from Cres, as of 1644, a hospital for old friars and other patients was opened at the friary, and, as of the 19th century, in the northern part of the friary, there was also a seminary, separated by special invigilation. Each one of these additional purposes resulted in the adaptation of the friary space, thus contributing to the compound’s present complex appearance.
At the ground floor of the northern wing’s large cloister, there is a newly opened museum exhibiting outstanding works of art owned by the friary. The lovely wooden relief Mother of God with the Child by Andrea da Murano from 147? is placed within a rectangular frame, dating it back to the 16th century. The peaceful figure of the Mother of God on the throne with baby Jesus holding a dove was probably the central part of a larger composition, while – somewhere in the 16th century – it was given the present frame and became a part of one of the church’s altars.
Dating back to the renaissance are also the wooden statues of Mary, and the apostles John and Paul, made by local workshops. The first two figures are actually a part of the Crucifixion theme, only the central character, Christ Crucified, is lost. Lovely examples of baroque sculpture are the figure in motion of the Our Lady of Immaculate Conception and a somewhat stiller figure of Our Lady of Mt Carmel. High quality work of the Italian-Cretan 16th century masters is also the small icon with the figure of St. Francis on a gilded background. The Saint from Assisi is presented as pushed into the close-up, meditatively leaning on an ascetically thin arm, with the Holy Book, a skull and a Crucifix before him. The rocky landscape in the back reveals a cave and, in it, a church with a tower-bell. Some of the artefacts are identified by inscriptions as orders by the local noble families, such as Rest During the Flee to Egypt, made for the Bocchina family in 1651 by Toma Grgurić (Gregori). All of these are, artistically speaking, quite modest works, made according to models coming from Venice.
Similar features characterize two series of portraits of Franciscan founders and writers from the 17th century, testifying not only dedication to Franciscan tradition, but also the Order’s intellectual power. Also preserved is the valuable furniture from the chapter hall, consisting of mosaic oak wood chairs of Lombardian-Venetian type from the turn of the 16th century. The Museum also keeps valuable examples of old liturgical attire, some pieces even coming from the French workshops, as well as liturgical silverware originating from Venice, made between 16th and 18th century. There is also a rich collection of ethnographic items, illustrating how the life of local peasants and fishermen was like.