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A Mysterious Monument That Used to Protect the Citizens of Novi Sad and Adorn the Liberty Square

The mysterious Holy Trinity monument dominated the centre of Novi Sad for 167 years. It was built by Catholic masons, by order of the Roman Catholic Church. These kinds of monuments were unique totems and had only one function – to protect from plague.

Plague was one of the biggest diseases in the history of humankind, described as the time when ‘the living envied the dead.’ These kinds of totems were built across the Habsburg Monarchy. One such monument, The Plague Column, was preserved in Vienna, similar to the one that existed in Novi Sad.

The Novi Sad monument ‘Holy Trinity’ was built in 1781, in today’s Liberty Square, which used to be a marketplace. It was located somewhere between today’s monument to Svetozar Miletić and The Name of Mary Church (the cathedral).

The monument was made from hard limestone and red marble. The limestone began to deteriorate over time and was refurbished in 1866. It was composed of four parts and was 20 metres tall. All parts were ornately decorated, with lots of statues of Catholic saints, marble wreaths and various other details. At the very top was a stylised sun, cross and two more statues. Processions were being held once a year in front of the monument, at the feast of Corpus Christi (60 days after the Catholic Easter). The author of this monument is not known and there is not much preserved information on him. Stylistically speaking, the monument was a classic representation of the Western European classicism of Louis XVI. It bore an epitaph of a rare ornamental example of monumental visual arts.

Citizens of Novi Sad were saved and the plague didn’t enter the city. However, it is more likely that the well organised sanitary cordon is accountable for that, not the totem. But the citizens were convinced that the totem with the Christian symbols saved them from the plague, and not some random state regulations. In the Habsburg Monarchy, stopping the spread of infectious diseases was highly important. All citizens were required to respect the prescribed measures, especially during the outbreak of plague in the border region of Turkey in 1710. The decree on plague issued absolute stoppage of traffic along the border during the epidemic. In 1713, during the reign of Emperor Charles VI, the preparations for the enactment of regulations that would ensure permanent organisation of the health corridor began. Thus, in 1728, a permanent sanitary cordon was set up along the border. Military quarantines, checkpoints and control health stations were created, and a little later a Health Commission was formed under the leadership of the emperor himself. All these measures saved Novi Sad from the plague, both in 1726 and during the famous Irig plague that lasted from 1795 to 1796. We must not forget that the Novi Sad doctors, namely Jovan Apostolović, Vincent Stefani, Nestor Mandić and Jovan Živković, are also to thank.

Generations of people from Novi Sad respected the Holy Trinity monument. When the Serbian army entered the city in 1918, they didn’t touch the monument, they only replaced the Austro-Hungarian coat of arms with the Serbian one. In 1941, Hungarians took down the Serbian coat of arms and replaced it with their own. After the Second World War, the Communist Party completely removed the monument. The official reason for this was enabling more space for rallies. Of course, the real reason for removing the monument was of religious nature. Nobody knew what happened with the monument after that. There are many stories about its destiny. According to one, it was relocated to the cemetery in Telep, a neighbourhood where the most Catholics of Novi Sad lived. Supposedly, the limestone, and the whole monument consequently, completely deteriorated since it wasn’t taken good care of. Another story says the partisans wanted to install a five-pointed star in the pedestal, but since they didn’t succeed, they decided to destroy the monument. Some say the monument was moved to Telep in 1948 and put in the yard of the Church of Saint Elizabeth. When the clergy house was built in 1969, parts of the monument were built into the foundation of the church. However, there’s no evidence of any kind that something like that ever happened. Thus, the mystery of the Holy Trinity monument lives to this day.

Novi Sad also had another, not so praiseworthy monument. It was the pillar of shame. This way of rectifying justice was started in Europe in the 13th century. The pillar of shame was erected on the main alley (today’s Zmaj Jovina Street), on 20 February 1749. It stayed there until the beginning of the 19th century, when it was removed because the citizens were ashamed of it. A group of citizens sent a letter to the authorities in 1817. Today, the letter is kept in the Historical Archives of Novi Sad. Thus, the pillar of shame was destroyed, and the material was used to repair the mill. There is no data on how many citizens of Novi Sad were punished on this pillar. We wonder whether the people of Novi Sad blindly obeyed the authorities back then, or were there some convicts as well, such as the famous writer Daniel Defoe, author of ‘Robinson Crusoe,’ who was sentenced to the pillory in London in 1703. His fellow citizens threw flowers at him, instead of stones and rotten fruit. In addition to the pillar of shame, Novi Sad also had a place of execution for the death penalty, on the left side of Temerinski Put, on a hill near the entrance to the city.

Read more: How Did Novi Sad Come to Be: the Ways of Beer and Silk

Author: Ljiljana Dragosavljević Savin, master historian
Photo: Museum of Vojvodina