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The first Roman chaple by the declared name of »the blessed Virgin Mary of Šmarna gora« is mentioned in one document from the year 1314, but it is believed that it has been build already in the 13th century or even earlier. Namely, the Patriarch of Aquileia, who wrote this document states that his predecessors granted indulgences to this chapel. Because we presume that Gora had already in prehistory been know for its rituals and defensive position, it is plausible that the chaple, dedicated to Mary, was pre-Romanesque. Due to being visited by masses of pilgrims in the year 1432 instead of the chapel a gothic church with two choirs and two naves (mentioned also by Janez Vajkard Valvasor (1641 –1693), a natural historian from Carniola).
In the 15th century a defensive wall was build around the church due to the Turkish incursions. In the time of the threatening islamic danger the people living nearby found refugee behind the safe, thick walls of the camp of Šmarna gora, earlier they have lit the bonfire and shot with mortar and this way communicated to the Upper Carnolia that the Turk army is approaching.
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The camp on the top was never captured. In memory of this miraculous rescue the bell on Gora nowadays still tolls at half past eleven. The tale clarifies that when Turks were looting through Carnolia again, they had agreed on tolling the bell when they had reached the peak. If till noon they had not overcome the defenders of the walls of Šmarna gora, then the other troups should have joined them. The locals had learned about the enemy's plan and tolled noon at half past eleven. For Turks this was a sign that Gora was already taken over, so the troups turned back halfway to Šmarna Gora.
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As the pilgrimage trail was more and more popular in time there arose a need for a new church. They tore down the two-nave gothic church and in years 1711-12 at those time the most renowned Slovenian master builder Gregor Maček built the current central building. He was inspired by the pilgrimage church in Nova Štifta near Ribnica. In its ground floor the church is octagonal to which a rectagonal altar part with cut corners is leaned. Both parts are covered by big cupolas. The church was blessed only in 1729, which is stated also on an inscription, built into the wall between the nave and the presbytery.
In the next century the frescos in cupolas were made. In 1842 Matevž Langus painted the arch over the presbytery with the scenes from Mary's life, as well as the coulisse-like main altar. This one was renovated by Matija Koželj in late 19th century and, in addition, he painted the walls of the presbytery with four evangelists and the scene of Mary's showing herself to the St. Dominic and Simon Štok.
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In years 1846-1848 the arch of the big dome was painted by Matevž Langus, who painted an ilusionistic scene of Mary's Assumption. In the upper band, the heaven, father God and Jesus Christ are already waiting for Mary in its crown the Holy Spirit in the form of pidgeon and an innumerable crowd of angels. In the second band the heavenly scene is accompanied by saints and patriarchs of the Old Testament. The third, the lower band, presents the Earth; Mary Magdalene and her sister Martha are standing by an empty grave and the twelve disciples behind them. On the opposite, western side, a crown of pilgrimages is shown, where next to the painter's self-portrait at the rock lightning the portraits of numerous Langus' contemporaries appear: among others the mayor of Vodice and contract giver for this painting Jernej Arko, Anton Jamnik, who was the priest of Šmarna gora at that time and the advocate for the pilgrimage of Šmarna gora the Franciscan Anton Rant. On the right to the organ case the Aljaž family from Zavrh under Šmarna gora is painted. Jakob Aljaž, whose bust portrait, the work of France Kralj, is on the famous façade of belfry, is the baby in the lap of his mother, while the father is the man with the trowel in his hand. He helped the painter apply the fresh plaster on which the artist painted immediately, in fresco technique. On extreme right there are two pilgrims in noble clothes, who are in oral tradition believed to be Langus' acquiantances France Prešeren and Julija Primic.
Prešeren liked visiting the Šmarna gora, especially in the time of service of his uncle Jakob Prešeren who is also buried in the cementery of Šmarna gora at the chapel of the Sad Mother of God. The result of these visits are also the Ode of pilgrimage - Šmarna gora and Romanca from Strmi grad, which tells us about the emergence of the first church of Šmarna gora.
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In the belfry that is actually a redesigned defensive tower there are four bells, dedicated to Christ the King, Mary, St. Florian and archangel Michael. The first weighed almost 3878 kilos and is the second heaviest bronze bell in Slovenia (the first being the one on Sveta gora near Nova Gorica). Even before the First World War there were four bells in the belfry for sure, but during the war there were taken away and melted. The renovation lasted till the year 1928 when the new bells tolled again. From all four bells who were pulled up the Gora by bare hands of believers, there are only two left – Mary's and the smallest Michael's bell.
In the end of the 19th century the pilgrims coming to Šmarna gora were joined by climbers, trippers and other secular visitors. Planinski Piparji (the Pipers of Planina), who later on established the Slovene Climbing association, had a meeting point here every Thursday and were called the četrtkarji (those who were coming on Thursdays) or ričetarji (those who liked to eat ričet), so noble men, who on Thursdays when the housemaids had a day-off came for lunch. The sexton's house where there were pouring wine when the pilgrimages crowded Gora, slowly grew into an inn.
Photos from: http://www.razglednice.eu