The first traces of human life in the area of today’s Municipality of Cerklje were discovered on the terraces under the Church of St. Stephen on Štefanja Gora. The findings tell of a settlement, which must have occurred at the end of the Palaeolithic period.
In the Neolithic period, more settlements were located in the hilly area at around 700 metres above sea level. These begin with the Vrtinčkovo nad Kokro settlements, which were a kilometre away from Možjanca, and continue on the Štefanja Gora Mountain and the Šenturška Gora Mountain, as well as beneath the village of Sliška Vas.
As early as in the Bronze Age and even more in the Iron Age, the humans who settled in our environment began developing an increasingly more reliable manner of food acquisition and production - stockbreeding - which replaced hunting and the cultivation of land which, in turn, had replaced the original gathering of fruits and seeds. Gradually, such simple farming was widespread and reached an extent which was maintained even throughout the Ancient times and the Early Middle Ages.
At the beginning of the Christian era, our land was occupied by the Roman Empire. There were at least two Roman settlements in the area of today’s Municipality of Cerklje; Šmartno and Lahovče. In addition, traces of Roman settlements can be found elsewhere in the area.
However, after the Roman Empire collapsed and the Slavic people came, these places, like all others in Slovenia, witnessed the process of Christianisation. Thus, a document issued by Duke Berthold II of Andechs in the years between 1147 and 1154 represents the first written report on the existence of the Cerklje Parish. This document confirms the legend that the Vetrinje monks were were gifted land near Preddvor by the Knight Mainhard Schabab from Kokra. This gift ceremony occurred some time between the years 1147 and 1154 and was repeated when this Knight's cousin was buried in Cerklje. After the burial, his uncle, Mainhard Schabab from Kokra, the Minister of Count Berthold II of Andechs, repeated the good deed of gifting his land to the Vetrinje Monastery. One of the witnesses was Richerus Plebanus de Sancta Maria, which means Riher, the Priest of St. Mary’s. And, as other parishes in the Gorenjska region were dedicated to Mary much later in history, there is no doubt that the above-mentioned church belonged to the Cerklje Parish.
It is believed that the original name of the settlement which had been built around the Church of the Annunciation of Mary, was Trnovlje. This fact is based on the tale of the origins of the church in Cerklje. One day the shepherds found an image of Mary in a thorn bush. They understood their finding as an instruction to build a chapel dedicated to her memory on this spot, and truly, they built it amidst the thorn bushes. It was therefore given the name Mary in the Thorns and the place around it Trnovlje. Due to the huge crowds of visitors the chapel soon became too small and had to be pulled down. Instead, a real church was built.
Another legend continues the first one and tells the story of Cerklje and how it was given its name. A long time ago there were three churches in the centre of the village, where the largest – the Church of St. Mary - was in the middle. As these three churches were nearly stuck together, people started calling this place simply churches, thus Cerklje in the dialect of the Gorenjska region.
Officially, the name of Cerklje was first mentioned in a document from the year 1239. In this document it says that the Church of St. Mary lies »in Cirkelach« - in Cerklje.
In these times a parish represented the religious, cultural and economic centre of a certain place. It was also the only cohesive force which connected the settlements and people from a certain area and gave them a feeling of belonging. Therefore, the right location of the parish centre was truly important. If the location was Cerklje this means that all major activities were performed in this place. In addition, as the Monastery in Velesovo (a renowned Velesovo Dominican Nuns’ Monastery with its pilgrimage church, which was established in 1238 by the Church of St. Marjeta, mentioned as early as in the year 1163) joined this centre in the first half of the 13th century, two important centres were formed at a distance of only half an hour of walking, which attracted many people. The rural trade also represented an important factor in the development of the countryside. Trading was performed mainly on the days of religious feasts. Many people were engaged in farming – agriculture and stock breeding were quite developed by this time, in particular horse breeding and horse trading.
On the basis of the afore-mentioned document proving the existence of the Cerklje Parish, which was issued by Duke Berthold II of Andechs in the years between 1147 and 1154, the residents of the Municipality of Cerklje celebrated in 2004 the 850th anniversary of the first written record of the Municipality’s centre.
Sources and Literature:
Janez Močnik – Podobe iz nekdanjih časov, Občina Cerklje na Gorenjskem, 2004