Dubrovnik Full of Life as St Blaise Celebrated in Style

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The streets of Dubrovnik were packed once more on February 3, 2017, but this time with locals, for the celebration of its patron saint, St. Blaise (Sv. Vlaho). It was quite a day.  (With thanks to Dubravko Lenert Photography

The streets of Dubrovnik’s old town were full of people once again. Not such an unfamiliar story for one of the true jewels of world tourism. 

Except this time it was different. Tourists were there of course, but they were vastly outnumbered by local people who had come to reclaim the city and celebrate its most important day, the feast its patron saint, St. Blaise (Sv. Vlaho in Croatian), the man who saved the city from the Venetians in 971, and whose image adorns every nook and cranny of the city, as he continues to oversee the welfare of its citizens today.

There is  a unique atmosphere when Croatians come to celebrate their most important relgious festivals, a time of joy and togetherness, which is contagious, and which lifts the destination in a way that tourism never could. I first experienced it in Jelsa on Hvar during the magical period of Easter, where the Za Krizen overnight procession along a 22km route through the night on Maundy Thursday brings together a community in joy and prayer, as it has done every year for more than 500 years.

And in Dubrovnik, the tradition is more than 1000 years, and after a wonderful preparation for the big day (read more about the days leading up to St. Blaise here), it was a privilege to witness this proud city revering its most loved saint.  

The fabulous Trombunjeri gave notice that the events were about to begin with a volley from their historic firearms, shots which reverberated around the city, and served as a call to prayer.

Holy Mass at 10:00 started the day’s proceedings, with a host of Croatian dignitaries, including the Croatian President Kolinda Grabar-Kitarovic and senior Zagreb politicians in attendance. 

The outdoor ceremony, which took place to the side of Dubrovnik Cathedral, was extremely well attended, with crowds stretching round the Church of St. Blaise and onto Stradun. 

A city comes to pay tribute to its revered patron saint. 

It is an occasion where families don their traditional costumes for the ensuing parade, with mothers ensuring every detail is just right.

Did I mention the sense of joy in the city’s atmosphere?

Dubrovnik is rich in religious relics, and a central part of the celebration is a colourful procession through the city’s old streets, with various relics in tow. Above, the swaddling clothes of Jesus.

The so-called ‘Powers of St. Blaise’ – head and body parts. 

Locals reached out to touch and kiss the ancient relics.

The arm of St. Blaise. 

The procession was truly magnificent, a colourful assortment of traditional costumes from people and groups, and not just from Dubrovnik. 

Dubrovnik’s most famous street, Stradun, was packed once more, but mostly with locals observing their important tradition. A curious addition for this year’s procession was the presence of wooden green props halfway down Stradun, part of the filmset for Robin Hood: Locations – filming is due to start later this month, with producer Leo di Caprio rumoured to be arriving in the city next week. 

Outfits of all colours and age groups. The youngest participants were Trombunjeri twins, as just five months, but this young man stole the show for this correspondent. 

He did a magnificent job keeping pace with his father, but had less success keeping his headpiece where it should have stayed. A heartwarming moment on a day of pure joy. 

At the heart of everything, the proud Trombunjeri, leading the parade, and displaying their firearms skills at various points of the day.

And their efforts were even accompanied by cannon fire – hands over your ears as you watch this… 

It seems that the Trombunjeri might be recruiting, but I am not sure if this TCN correspondent passed the test. 

And away from the crowds, a reminder that this is of course a tourist destination. While the water may have been a little cold for some, one young family was clearly enjoying itself. 

Looking for a beach with a view?

A very curious tradition at 16:00, which the crowd enjoyed VERY much, a humanitarian tombola with a bitter orange twist, as the tombola announcer stood above the gate next to the bell tower to put the numbers on a large board, only to do so at his own risk, for the tradition was to pelt him with Dubrovnik’s famous bitter oranges, a task the local kids took to with gusto.

An unfortunate Japanese tour group chose just the wrong moment to visit this part of the city, but took the orange avalanche in good humour. 

Some of the orange attacks were very accurate – check out the atmosphere above.

And there was no shortage of ammunition, as the majority of oranges fell to the floor for reuse.

And so the tombola commenced, demanding full concentration from all involved.

Whatever their age.

And no sooner was the tombula finished, then so too was evidence of the orange attacks. Dubrovnik was strikingly clean, a feeling perhaps also enhnanced by so many streets stripped back to the gorgeous original stone, given the lack of tables and chairs from the many cafes and restaurants which are shut this time of year. 

The magnificent Trombunjeri, getting their social media fix in a rare moment of downtime. 

Time for another show of tradition and considerable skill and strength, as a procession of banner bearers paraded their banners in front of the cathedral, each giving a brief demonstration of their skill – and with the wind up a little, their task was made all the harder. 

An exhilarating day, and one which required a little reflection – so much joy and so many images and moments to digest. And what better place than the edge of the walls. 

The St. Blaise festivities start on February 1 each year, and I can’t think of a better time to experience the true essence of this truly unique city. Put it in your diaries for 2018… 


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