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Experience Pazin

Pićan: The Legend of St. Nicephorus

Many legends, sometimes excluding each other and often intertwined, are linked to the emergence of the Diocese of Pićan and its patron, Saint Nicephorus. Orientation is made even more difficult by the fact that Pićan is, in fact, linked to two Nicesphoruses – Saint Nicephorus the Martyr and Saint Nicephorus the Bishop.

The legend of Saint Nicephorus the Martyr says that the Roman Emperor Constantine the Great (who proclaimed Christian toleration, promoted Christianity and built a new capital of the Empire – Constantinople) had the body remains of Saint Nicephorus of Antioch put on a ship in Constantinople. He ordered that a church had to be devoted to this Saint on the spot where the ship stopped of its own volition.
According to a longer version, the Saint's body, after landing on the shores of Istria, was mounted on a horse which was left free and which stopped – in Pićan.

The legend of Saint Nicephorus Bishop and the Thorndancers The second legend tells of Saint Nicephorus, the Bishop of Pićan (in some versions he was the first Bishop of Pićan and the founder of the Diocese). The inhabitants of Pićan complained to the Patriarch of Aquileia of his alleged immoral life, namely for living with his nephew. In order to clear his name of the charges and prove his mission, Nicephorus offered to open a source of potable water by striking the barren and thorny acacia grown ground with a stick. The residents of Pićan declined that, saying that the acacia was more important as it is later used in the vineyard. He replied by saying May you walk on thorns. The residents of Pićan are still called Thorndancers. On his way to the Patriarch of Aquileia, Saint Nicephorus created water wells in Gračišće, Krbune, Buzet, Trieste and in many other places. When he stood in front of the Patriarch, he had no place to put his cloak so he hung it on a sunbeam shining into the room – this sign was enough to acquit him of all charges.

On his way back Nicephorus died and his remains were kept in Umag until 1379, when they were stolen by the Genovese. However, obeying the Saint's wish and as sign of grace, his right hand was sent to Pićan where it has been kept to this day in the Cathedral.
It is obvious that the Bishops of Pićan wanted to disentangle these contradictions of two saints of the same name. Bishop Antonio Marenzi (1635-1646) wrote a book about their lives. During a reconstruction of the Cathedral, sculptures of both saints were installed on its façade and both saints are represented in the picture over the Altar of St. Nicephorus, where St. Nicephorus the Martyr and Protector of the Diocese of Pićan keeps a layout of Pićan in his hand.

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