Ancient illustration (1490)  of  the Dance of Death in the church of Hrastovlje, Slovenia. 29th June 2011. For editorial use only ; Shutterstock ID 586578413; Your name (First / Last): Anna Tyler; GL account no.: 65050; Netsuite department name: Online Editorial; Full Product or Project name including edition: destination-image-southern-europe

Shutterstock / Tony Craddock

Church of the Holy Trinity

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What attracts most people to this little church is the famous Dance of Death or Danse Macabre, a fresco that shows 11 skeletons leading the same number of people forward to a freshly dug grave. A 12th holds open a coffin. The doomed line-up includes peasants, kings, cardinals, and even a moneylender (who attempts to bribe his skeletal escort with a purse): all are equal in the eyes of God.

The church was built between the 12th and 14th centuries in the southern Romanesque style, with fortifications added in 1581 in advance of the Ottomans. Its sombre exterior is disarming in the extreme.

The Dance of Death is not the only fresco – the interior is completely festooned with paintings by John of Kastav from around 1490. The artworks helped the illiterate understand the Old Testament stories, the Passion of Christ and the lives of the saints. Spare the 12 minutes it takes to listen to the taped commentary (in four languages, including English) that guides you around the little church.

Facing you as you enter the church is the 17th-century altar, the central apse with scenes from the Crucifixion on the ceiling and portraits of the Trinity and the Apostles. On the arch, Mary is crowned queen of heaven. To the right are episodes from the seven days of Creation, with Adam and Eve, and Cain and Abel on the right.

On the ceilings of the north and south aisles are scenes from daily life as well as the liturgical year and its seasonal duties. Christ’s Passion is depicted at the top of the southernmost wall, including his Descent into Hell, where devils attack him with blazing cannons. Below the scenes of the Passion is the Dance of Death.