“In, but not of, the world” are words that might be used to describe this monastic community and its orientation in life. Founded on the values of the gospels, borne by love of God and man and guided by its own rules, in the middle of the city and its life, the community has persisted almost a thousand years. The “own rules” mentioned are in fact the Rule of St Benedict, which he, the father of Western monasticism, wrote for his sons and daughters for them to be able to achieve the monastic ideal pray and work. The basic rhythm of life in the monastery is provided by the prayer with which the day begins and ends, and with which it is completely permeated. Prayer is exercised individually and communally. The latter refers mainly to the canonical prayers of the Church, the prayer of the Book of Hours that is carried out seven times daily for the needs of the Church and the world. The source and high point of this liturgical prayer is in the celebration of the Eucharist, around which the prayers of the canonical hours circle as if round a hub. But prayer is not the only activity that occupies the time, attention and strength of each of the monastic women. There is also everyday work of various kinds that prayer inspires and consecrates. The labour and effort that it demands, whether the activity is physical or mental, are also turned by the sisters into their gift to God, for whom they live. Work is, then, an essential component of their life, in which they imitate their Master, Teacher and Betrothed, Jesus Christ. With their work they express their solidarity with all workers of the world and take responsibility and have a concern for the world and the society in which they live. All of this is practised in the seclusion of the monastery and in inner composure, which enables and makes lighter that coexistence and mutual suffusion of contemplation and action to which every Christian is summoned.
The history of the community
There is very meagre information about the first members of this monastic community. But from the document telling of the foundation of the monastery, we can learn the name of the first abbess – Euphemia. By all accounts, she was a woman of Trogir, member of a high-ranking noble family, a status that was, until the 18th century, a condition for entry into the community. At that time, it was made possible for daughters of patricians from other places to enter the community, and in the 19th century, during the time of Abbess Scholastic Croatto, girls who were not from noble families could enter the community. Because of the great distance in time, and still more because of the dire circumstances in which the community often found itself during its history, many historical data have been lost without trace. And so its course through a time that lasted almost a millennium is in many respects obscured from us. But we do know something. During the history of the community, the essential was nevertheless retained and change was slow, taking account of the time in which it lived, the circumstances in which it was placed and the opportunities at its disposal. The pillars of this vitality were prayer and work on which it built the arrangement of its life, even if their form changed over the course of time. For example, right up until the 1960s and the liturgical revival at the Second Vatican Council, the canonical prayers were said only in Latin. Intellectual and hand work, which was represented in line with the Rule, also underwent changes of its own. For centuries the nuns were engaged with the upbringing and teaching of children and young people, primarily of girls. This tuition included reading and writing, religious instruction and needlework, and even music and piano practice. But it was only in 1826, during the time of Abbess M. Scholastic Buccareo, that the first girls’ primary school with the right of publicness was founded officially in the monastery. In 1903/4 a public general girls’ elementary school was opened, teaching in Croatian and Italian, and this was active until 1908/9. Ten years later, in 1918, the nuns opened a private school for the teaching of children. In 1921 it opened a kindergarten for boys and girls from the age of 3 to 6; in 1934 the nuns opened a private vocational school for “the teaching of girls sewing, by hand and by machine, as well as artistic embroidery”. The nuns were extremely well-versed in all forms of needlework, particularly embroidery, the making of liturgical vestments and in lace making, which they made for many generations in Trogir and environs. During World War II, and afterwards, they had to live from their needle, for all other forms of activity were denied them, and much of the real property belonging to the community was expropriated.
The numbers of the community have varied from one nun to thirteen. In 1274, there were thirteen; in 1578, eight; at the beginning of the seventeenth century, eleven. In the first half of the eighteenth century two or three nuns lived in the monastery, and in 1730 there was but one very old sister. Then she was joined from the local Monastery of St Peter by the nun Perina Michieli, in order to revive life in the Monastery of St Nicholas. This turned out to be a wise decision, and in the second half of the 18th century the community counted five or six sisters. In 1826, history repeated itself, and once again the community was reduced to a single member. This was Scholastic Buccareo, a woman of great faith and full of trust in God, who, although she had been left alone, with the help of some lay members, opened a school in the monastery. And so life continued to go on within it. In 1850, there were just three nuns in the monastery, and in the middle of the twentieth century, the number had risen again to twelve.
In brief, the life of this community has several times been faced with extinction and yet has never expired. From the embers of some single person’s trust and dedication, new sparks have been created and continue to shed their light.