There were, according to historical records, almost 50 churches of all shapes and sizes inside the Old City walls of Dubrovnik before the great earthquake that struck in 1667. Verifying that number might be tricky but it does highlight the fact the throughout history the Republic of Dubrovnik and its citizens constructed churches and chapels at locations that were of specific importance and often had a specific meaning. And one of these very churches, or rather chapels, probably has the best view over the city, although the chapel itself is a shell of its former self.
The St. Ursula Church was constructed in the middle of the 14th century, more precisely in 1348 following the orders of the last will and testament of the noble Dubrovnik citizen, Tolija Silvestro. And the name is connected to the cult of Saint Ursula, a legendary Romano-British Christian saint, who died in October 383.
St. Ursula Church overlooking the island of Lokrum - Photo Mark Thomas
According to a medieval legend the British princess set out from south-west England to meet her future husband Conan Meriadoc of Armorica, or the western part of France. However, she and her party of 11,000 virginal handmaidens were attacked in Cologne by tribes of Huns and all were slaughtered. Although this is a legend St. Ursula gained the distinction of being the saint of virgins.
So how did the murder of a British princess get connected to a Dubrovnik chapel
The church may be located at one of the most picturesque spots in the whole of Dubrovnik, but it is also at a rather precarious position with sheer cliffs swooping down to the Adriatic. The chapel was actually built on the old trading route to the east, the remains of this very path are clearly visible, and indeed in places walkable, today. However, it also had a darker history.
Now that's a chapel with a view - Photo Mark Thomas
As from this high cliff many a young girl would throw herself to her death in the times of the Republic of Dubrovnik, young ladies that had in some way been mistreated. There are reports that some of these ladies were pregnant after being raped by members of the republic’s nobility, although these reports are unfounded. However, the connection to the British princess, who represented the saint of virgins, and the name of this chapel point to a darker chapter of history.
As with many ancient buildings this small chapel had a turbulent history. In 1806 the church was set on fire to stop Napoleon’s troops from advancing on Boka Kotorska in today’s Montenegro. These ensuing fights pretty much levelled the church to the ground, and in fact what was left of this chapel lay buried or hidden in the undergrowth for the next 200 years.
It took the hard work of a local man, Andro Vidak and a team of volunteers to uncover the church and to bring it back to a resemblance of its former glory. Today, the Park Orsula, yes the name Ursula spun through the centuries into Orsula, is open to the public and you can visit this charming location with its picturesque chapel. The chapel might not be complete anymore but the view is still as outstanding as it was when it was built.