DUBROVNIK DIGEST >> History
History >> Feast of St Blaise
Feast of St Blaise
Story of St Blaise, patron of Dubrovnik and feast of St Blaise
Whether approaching the old town from sea, land or in a panoramic flight high up in the sky, you are bound to encounter statues of St. Blaise, the patron saint of Dubrovnik, and realize how deeply rooted his worshiping is and what it meant to the people of Dubrovnik of old and what it means to its contemporary citizens.
Saint Blaise was born in mid-3rd century in the Cappadocian city of Sebastea (modern day city of Sivas in central Turkey) where he was a physician and a healer. He was later elected bishop, but was forced to seek shelter in the mountains due to the Roman prosecution of the Christians. Legend has it that wild beasts visited and protected him in the wilderness and he was able to communicate with them. He was eventually captured and tortured by the Romans. Saint Blaise didn't want to renounce Christianity so he was beheaded.
But what does this story have to do with Dubrovnik, which, at the time of St. Blaise's death, barely even existed?
A legend says that in 971 Venetians wanted to occupy Dubrovnik using trickery. They docked with the excuse that they needed to gather food and other supplies, but in reality they wanted to seize the city. The priest, Stojko, was praying in the church of St. Stephen when St. Blaise appeared to him, before a celestial army, and warned him that the Venetians were about to take the city. Stojko alarmed the city authorities and the attack was prevented thanks to Saint Blaise.
From that moment on, Saint Blaise has been revered as the patron saint of Dubrovnik, which is best exemplified by the model of the city that he holds in his left hand. Because of that, the feast of Saint Blaise has been going on since 972, every year on February 3, the feast in which all citizens of the Dubrovnik Republic participated. In order for everyone to participate in the festivities, the „Freedom of St. Blaise“ was introduced, a period of time when any felon, criminal or exile could freely come to the city two days before and two days after the feast and nobody could press charges or arrest them. This freedom was later extended to seven days before and seven days after the feast.
The feast of St. Blaise today draws attention of both locals and tourists. On St. Blaise's day people wearing traditional folk costumes make their way to Dubrovnik from faraway places. They carry the symbols of their parishes on their banners and meet in front of St. Blaise's church. Once there, they greet the saint by lowering the banner, minding that the canvas doesn't touch the ground.
Following the holy mass, a procession goes through the streets, and on that occasion the holy relics are displayed to the public, a byzantine crown, that is the relic of the saint's head, ornamented by precious stones, a work of Dubrovnik goldsmiths, that is kissed by the believers, the relics of arm and leg, Jesus' diaper (according to a legend, baby Jesus was wrapped in it when being shown in the temple).
The trombuneers fire their short guns before entering the old town, where, in the times of the Dubrovnik Republic, shooting practices were held. This is how the old Dubrovnikers scared their enemies.
Saint Blaise was so important to the people of Dubrovnik that he was even displayed on the official flag, and in their scarce colonies, such as the one in the Indian state of Goa, churches were built in his honor.
Because of a thousand year old tradition, the feast of Saint Blaise was enlisted on UNESCO's list of Intangible Cultural Heritage.