The friar berard barčić natural history exhibition – a franciscan experience of unity with nature

Prospekt Događanja

Photo 1. The opening of the Friar Berard Barčić Natural History Exhibition
in the Franciscan Monastery on Košljun Island (Photo by Sunčica Strišković)


Košljun Island at Puntarska Draga has been protected
as a special reserve of forest vegetation since 1969. Since its foundation,
Public Institution “Priroda” has been cooperating with the Franciscans
to help protect nature on the small island. Cooperation reached new heights
during the latest project of setting up the Friar Berard Barčić Natural
History Exhibition.

The inspiration for setting up the Exhibition was drawn
from the teachings of St. Francis of Assisi. St. Francis is beloved for
his exceptionally emotional closeness with nature and all its creatures
and phenomena. In the present time of severe ecological crises and the
degradation of nature, his teachings are more important than ever. The
Exhibition comprises three fundamental sections – Air, Water and the Earth
– divided according to the main natural elements. The introductory part
provides basic information about the island. The concept and visual identity
of the Exhibition were designed by Vesna Rožman, while PI “Priroda”
was responsible for the expert part*.

The introductory part of the Exhibition gives us basic
information about the island as it is today. For example, it tells us
that Košljun Island has an area of 0.72 km2, making it the 215th small
island by size in the Croatian Adriatic, out of a total of 525 small islands;
and that it is six metres high and has a shoreline that is 1,083 metres
long. Its shores are low with segments of muddy sediment between coastal
rocks and limestone rocks. The drystone wall that encircles the island
along the shore was built in the last century by the Franciscans to protect
the islet from strong winds and waves, a vital role, especially now in
a time of climate change.

The section “Air” features the island’s main
winds, birds, butterflies and flying insects. It contains two important
insect collections: a collection of the butterflies of Krk Island and
an entomological collection of beetles and arachnids. The butterfly collection
was donated to the Monastery by Heinz Habele, an avid researcher of the
region’s butterfly fauna. It is interesting to note that 1,450 butterfly
species have been found on Krk Island up to date. This is an impressive
number and it accounts for 45% of all known butterfly species in Croatia.
A large number of the butterflies of Krk Island can permanently or occasionally
be found on Košljun Island.

Focusing on marine life (marine flora and fauna), the
section “Water” displays an interesting collection of sponges,
corals, molluscs, bryozoans (moss animals) and other exhibits from the
island’s “school” collection of natural history. Especially
interesting is the story about the submarine walls that stretch from Prnibe
Peninsula to Košljun (and which are clearly visible in images taken by
aircrafts and satellites). Many tales and legends have been spun about
the walls. Although hydro-archaeological research has yet to be carried
out, there are several possible explanations for these unusual, submarine
constructions. According to one, they were built to guide schools of fish
towards special spots on the shore (known as “piškeri”) where
the fish were kept and captured. According to another, the submarine construction
was used for pedestrian communication (perhaps in Antiquity when the sea
level was some two metres lower than it is today). It’s possible that
the submerged walls were used for both purposes, each in their own time.

Photo 2. The section “Water” displays eye-catching marine flora
and fauna. (Photo by Sunčica Strišković).

There was a private high school for monk trainees on
Košljun from 1884 to 1928, which was attended for a time by external pupils
as well. The current natural history collection (the part that has been
integrated into the new exhibition) was built upon the school’s collection
that was primarily used for teaching. The collection was begun by Friar
Mauricije Gugić (1870 – 1946). It is interesting to note that during the
time the high school was active and when the collection was being put
together, the Franciscans of Košljun were in regular contact with renowned
European natural scientists. The majority of exhibits in the collection
are minerals and rocks, fossils, marine organisms and fish, including
some “oddities” (such as a one-eyed lamb) displayed in the so-called
Cabinet of Wonders.

The collection of fish and other vertebrae consists of
mounted fish specimens and parts, such as the heads, teeth and jaws of
cartilaginous and bony fishes; the fins and “sword” of swordfish;
parts of fish skeletons; shark eggs; and the rostrum or “beak”
of a smalltooth sawfish. The griffon vulture nurtured on the island, the
nest of a tropical weaver bird and a mounted python are sure to grab your

The section “Earth” presents minerals, rocks,
flora, fauna and fungi. Geological strata containing minerals, fossils
and rocks are like the pages of an open book; they tell us about events
from the Earth’s past – but only if you know how to read them! Over time,
the Franciscans have managed to put together a fascinating collection
of minerals and rocks. However, information about where the specimens
were found and who collected or donated them is available for only a part
of the exhibits. The specimens featured in the new exhibition come from
several collections that were mostly created in the early 20th century.

The work of Friar Berard Barčić in natural history. The
Franciscan Berard Barčić, who celebrated his 104th birthday this year,
has played a compelling role in studying the plant life and fungi of Košljun
Island. A separate section of the exhibition is dedicated to his work
concerning the island’s natural history and presents the results of his
studies of flora, vegetation and fungi. Despite the many duties he was
responsible for, he still found time to engage in natural history research
and writing. He is the author of 11 books, two of which are important
botanical books (Flora i vegetacija otočića Košljuna, 1982, 2nd Edition
1996, and Biljnogeografski odnosi otoka Badije, 2001). He has published
about 130 papers and articles in professional and academic journals, proceedings,
calendars, etc., some of which deal with evolution, botany, mycology and
biology. He studied and presented the plants of the islands of Košljun
and Badija by applying modern floristic and phytosociological (phytocenological)
methods, which he learned from Prof Ivo Horvat, the renowned Croatian
botanist. In the more than ten years that he studied the flora and vegetation
of Košljun, he found 387 species of higher plants, 151 species of fungi
and three species of lichen and moss. He studied in depth and described
12 plant communities on Košljun Island. Hence, the natural history exhibition
in the Franciscan Monastery on Košljun is dedicated to this keen natural
scientist, whose name it bears.

Marko Randić

*Public Institution “Priroda” would like to thank
all its collaborators, in particular the outstanding nature photographers
Radovan Kranjčev, PhD, Daniel Frka, Ervin Raguzin, Želimir Gržančić,
Mark Matešić and Željko Stojanović, for their assistance, cooperation
and (donated) photos.

Photo 3. The remarkable and imaginative visual identity of the natural
history exhibition was designed by Vesna Rožman, and the spatial installation
was created by Matej Voćanec and Ivana Pastić (Photo by Sunčica Strišković)