In church architecture, a crypt is a stone chamber beneath a church floor. It was used as a chapel or a room for safekeeping relics.
The history of crypts
Crypts originated from catacombs, underground tunnels and chambers from the first centuries of the Common Era in which early Christian communities held services and buried their dead. Later, crypts were built in churches and served as chambers for tombs with a sarcophagus or coffin. Initially located beneath choirs, crypts were later constructed also under church naves and transepts.
St Pelagius' crypt is Istria's only historical crypt
The only historical crypt in Istria, and one of the few in Croatia, is the crypt of the Cathedral of St. Pelagius in Novigrad. Mysterious and slightly intimidating, the crypt was built after the fashion of the crypt of the Basilica of Aquileia. The similarity of the crypts has enabled researchers of cultural monuments to date the Novigrad crypt back to the Carolingian period during the transition from the eighth to the ninth century. This is yet another confirmation of the strong ties that existed between medieval Novigrad and the Frankish state and Carolingian cultural circles.
The Novigrad crypt is a chamber with four columns and cross vaults. It was accessed down two narrow stairways leading from the side of the main nave. It held a sarcophagus with the relics of St. Pelagius, the town’s patron saint and an early Christian martyr who, legend has it, refused to renounce his faith, even under torture.
Recent research and restoration carried out from 1996 to 1999 has uncovered numerous medieval stone monuments that are today kept in Lapidarium Museum.