Festivity of St. Blaise, Patron Saint of Dubrovnik

Festivity of St. Blaise, Patron Saint of Dubrovnik

The oldest festivity in these parts begins on the eve of the Festival of Saint Blaise, on the second day of February or Candlemas, by a symbolic release of white doves – an image that is certain to sear into your memory. This tradition dates back to the 10th century and has its roots in the legend of the saint who helped the people of Dubrovnik defend their freedom during the Venetian siege of the town. As a token of gratitude, he was made the patron saint of Dubrovnik, and during the Middle Ages the locals built a new, Baroque Church of St Blaise on the foundations of the old Romanesque edifice. The church became a focal point of the festivities in the saint’s honour for the locals, as well as for the inhabitants of the islands of Mljet and Lastovo and the area of Konavle, located south of Dubrovnik.

 

The festivities officially begin by raising the flag of St Blaise in front of the church that is decorated for the occasion, and by carrying out a gilded relic of the saint, a statue of him holding a model of the town. A special honour is bestowed on the festanjuli, whose role is to lead the procession, while the trombunjeri take care of the most entertaining part of the festivities, firing antique guns in the town’s port.  The procession makes its way down the beautiful main street of Stradun accompanied by the notes of the hymn “Čuj Sveti Vlaho naš” (“Hear us, St Blaise”). Alongside church dignitaries, the procession is attended by everyone regardless of age, including ever-growing numbers of tourists. Special attention is given to the lovely girls of Dubrovnik who wear traditional costumes, unparalleled in their richness. During the festivities, people from all over Croatia would come to this town at the foot of Srđ mountain. Just how much this saint was revered and how much the spirit of freedom was upheld is evidenced by the fact that everyone was welcome to attend the festival, even criminals, who were free from any form of prosecution during the two-day festival.

 

This tiny but powerful and rich city-state owes part of its survival precisely to the devotion to St Blaise, which shaped social relationships, since patricians and peasants alike were united in their faith in the saint, thereby defining the local identity. Thanks to the efforts of the pious people and the Fraternity of St Blaise, the festivity has retained all of its traditional characteristics and customs throughout history, which has helped preserve the intangible heritage of the Dubrovnik Republic and the spiritual wealth of the local community.