Helen of Zadar

Bust of Helen of Zadar, Croatia. Image Credit: WikiCommons.

By Holly Marsden

Queen Helen of Zadar lived in tenth-century Croatia. She married King Michael Krešimir II in 946, becoming queen consort of the Kingdom of Croatia. King Michael died in 969, making her dowager and regent due to the young age of her son, Stephen Držislav.

Ruling women were rare in medieval Croatia, and Helen was the first queen regent to rule the kingdom. She was succeeded only by Maria of Anjou in the 14th century until the Hapsburg dynasty ruled Croatia in the 16th century. A charitable ruler, Helen’s era was characterised by peace.

During her reign Helen built a church complex on the island in Solin, on the river Jadro, comprising of two parallel churches called St Stephen and St Mary. St Stephen includes a mausoleum for Croatian kings, including a space in a Western-style annex for Queen Helen herself.

It is speculated whether there was a pre-existing royal mausoleum on the site of St Stephen, as it is the subtler and smaller of the two churches. Interestingly, excavations showed the bodies found in the original tombs were actually those of 17th and 18th century peasants.

Known as Helen the Glorious, the queen ruled as regent of Croatia until her own death in 976. Her epitaph states her role as wife and mother whilst referring to her as a ‘mother of orphans and protectress of widows.’ It was written on her sarcophagus, which still exists today.

Recommended Reading

Magdalena Skoblar, Figural Sculpture in Eleventh-Century Dalmatia and Croatia: Patronage, Architectural Context, History (Farnham: Ashgate Publishing, 2016)

Vesna Mikić and Vladimir Peter Goss, “Jakob, Jelena, and Bogdin – Three Miniatures on the Assigned Theme,” Studia Mythologica Slavica 13 (2010): 43-58

Vladimir Gvozdanović, “Two Early Croatian Royal Mausolea,” Peristil: zbornik radova za povijest umjetnosti 18.1 (1975): 5-10.

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