All Things Ecclesiastical

As you will see next month, in my final Croatian posting, I wasn’t in the Dubrovnik area with my usual determination to unearth interesting nuggets of history or design. Many of my other city trips have been aided by a GPS app on my phone which enables me to record where the images were taken, and sometimes it even works!  That wasn’t the case in Dubrovnik because I wasn’t here for the buildings at all, and so whilst my reflex response to a baroque painting or architectural feature was still to record it, my brain wasn’t so disciplined in recalling where I was at the time.

Consequently I have images shot in a number of churches in Dubrovnik old town but can’t be certain which is which. I can look at them chronologically and therefore have some idea of where I might have been at the time, but the old town is so compact that that is far from infallible so please bear with me.

Let’s start with a disappointment and an example of my lack of preparation.

If, as most visitors do, you enter through the Pile Gate, you’ll pass Onofrio’s fountain on your right as you make for Stradun, the main street.  Dominating that space on your left is the Franciscan monastery, whose campanile is one of the tallest structures here.  Naturally I went straight into the church but found it lacked impact or imagination.  There are some second-rate mouldings, a positively funereal colour scheme, and a dominating pulpit emerging from the walls.

Between these features stretches of plain plaster and velvet drapes were more akin to someone’s living room so I wasn’t in a hurry to linger.  My mistake, because elsewhere in the complex is a pharmacy.  A pharmacy that has been operating for 700 years.  The oldest in Europe.  I didn’t see it.

And now things get messy.  You might think that given the saint’s importance that the church of St Blaise would be Dubrovnik’s cathedral, but 100m along the same street is another great church and this is the Cathedral of the Assumption.  Their proximity and the multiple entrances mean that I can’t be sure where I was when capturing images of the interiors.

Externally there is no doubt for though they are both domed buildings made from the same coloured stone the large golden statue of the town’s patron is easily spotted.

And it would be easy to think that those are major sites, but there are other monastic compounds and if you opt to walk the walls one more great church becomes apparent, high above the central area.  This is St Ignatius, the great baroque church built by the Jesuits and completed in the 18th century (though bizarrely it houses the oldest bell in the city which was cast over 350 years earlier).

The Italian influence is apparent in the reliquary statue, grotto, rosaries and frescoes that decorate the interior, the latter being a particularly obvious demonstration of the power and wealth of the church, though it’s the approach that underlines this.

Spanish Steps anyone?


What the Blaises?

How is your throat today?  A little sore?  Or maybe you’ve some wool that needs unravelling?  More seriously perhaps you’re at risk of imminent invasion?
English: Flag of the Republic of Dubrovnik.
English: Flag of the Republic of Dubrovnik. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Who you gonna call?

Perhaps a man who was martyred early in the 4th Century?

_pw_5094St Blaise, St Blazey, San Biagio, St Blasius, San Blas; his reputation spread throughout the Christian world, so what made him so influential?  (In Croatia he is Sveti Vlaho.)

The former physician turned bishop miraculously cured a child who was choking on a fishbone (thus becoming the patron saint of throat problems).  His execution consisted of being beaten with a stick, having his flesh ripped off with iron combs (hence the patron saint of wool combers) before he was beheaded.  That death at the hands of the Romans was by virtue of his religion rather than as a result of any significant political act.

On route to Sebastea for his execution he reputedly intervened when meeting an old woman whose pig had been snatched by a wolf, Blaise somehow persuading the wolf to release the pig to the woman.  To repay this act she apparently brought two candles to light his cell as he awaited his end._pw_6220

His remains rest in the Italian town of Maratea’s basilica, or at least some of them do.  Parts of him are also to be found in Dubrovnik, where he finally seems to have done something of note.  Over 600 years after his death in Turkey, he appeared in a vision to a priest of St Stephen’s cathedral in the Croatian city, to warn of an attack by the duplicitous Venetians whose fleet had anchored nearby, ostensibly to refresh their water supplies, but according to Blaise, to assess Dubrovnik’s defences.  Why this long-dead Armenian should feel the need to intervene in the politics of two Mediterranean city states is unclear.

_pw_6243Whatever the spectre’s motivation, he was immediately venerated in the city, remaining part of the states iconography until Napoleon’s arrival centuries later (ironically the same individual who ended Venetian independence).  Blaise’s head and hands (and of course a part of his throat) are paraded each year on the 3rd of February,

In modern-day Dubrovnik the Saint’s patronage lives on.  You can barely turn a corner without encountering some image of Blaise, who is characterised by the model of Dubrovnik that he carries with him.  If you think you’ve heard this story before, then you may be confusing him with Petronius of Bologna, who also had a predilection for miniaturised municipalities.

Mistaken identity is easily avoided though – the twin towers of Bologna make it easy to spot that city’s patron if you should bump into them both at a party.




I’d never come across St Blaise before Dubrovnik, and then what should I find on a day in Richmond, North Yorkshire?  Not sure a pub is an appropriate tribute!