The 3rd of February is the Day of St. Blaise, the day that Dubrovnik gives thanks to the saint who saved their city, the patron saint of Dubrovnik. Thousands of citizens descend on the Old City every February to celebrate the day of their patron saint, as days go its right up there with Christmas and Easter.
According to legend Venetian ships anchored before the city walls on the eve of the 3rd of February 971, in the middle of winter. The Venetians gained free access to medieval Dubrovnik under the pretence of stocking up on food and water for their journey eastwards. However, their spies carefully noted the number of guards on the city walls, as well as the amount of ammunition in the arsenal. In the middle of the winter night, when the streets lay deserted, Priest Stojko, the parish priest, went from the city square towards Pustijerna and the Church of St. Steven. He found the church open, and inside, the troops of a heavenly army led by a grizzled old man. He addressed the priest with a request that he inform the city fathers of how the Venetians planned to attack Dubrovnik.
The old man had repelled them from the city walls with his own army for a number of nights already. He was garbed as a bishop, with a mitre on his head, and a staff in his hand. When Stojko asked him to identify himself, he answered that his name was Vlaho, or in English Blaise. So it was that on a winter’s night, that Dubrovnik met its patron, St. Blaise. The next day, his messenger did in truth confront the city fathers with the message. The Venetians knew that they had been discovered when they noted the hasty activity on the city walls and the closed city gates, and so moved on. Already in the following year, in 972, Dubrovnik began to celebrate a day in honour of the patron saint. UNESCO officially recognized the Festivity of Saint Blaise as an example of the Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity in 2009.
The biggest day in the city
But how much do you know about St. Blaise?
Here are five things that you didn’t know about St. Blaise
1 – Who was he anyway?
According to legend Saint Blaise was a 4th century bishop of Sivas in Armenia (now in Turkey) who was martyred in around 316. He was born to a well to do Armenian family in about 280, and he studied medicine.
2 – How was he sainted?
Saint Blaise healed a sick boy who was choking on a fishbone. The boy was at the point of death when his mother brought him to Saint Blaise. Saint Blaise placed his hands on the boy’s throat, prayed to God, and healed him. On account of this miracle, Saint Blaise has since been invoked as a protector against throat illnesses, including sore throats, and other associated maladies, such as tonsillitis and respiratory problems. And this is why candles are placed around worshippers throats the day before the St. Blaise festivities.
3 – Who was afraid of St. Blaise?
A flag adorned with St. Blaise would flutter from the Orlando Column through the times of the Republic of Dubrovnik in praise of the patron saint. However, when Napoleon, or more precisely his General Marmont marched his troops into town in 1808 and ended the republic he ordered his men to take down the St. Blaise flag. Not only did he banish the flag from the centre of the city but he also commanded the ships of Dubrovnik to take down the flags flying from their sterns. The reason for this mass exile of St. Blaise flags was that Napoleon feared the political and republic importance of the symbol.
Flag waving in Dubrovnik - Photo - Zeljko Tutnjevic
4 – How far does he voice travel?
St. Blaise has many churches and monuments dotted all over the world. Surely one of the furthest from Dubrovnik is in Goa, India. So how did the patron saint find himself in sunny Goa. In 1480 a Dubrovnik citizen, Melik Jesa Dubrovcanin, sailed to India and established a colony of the Dubrovnik Republic on the Malabar Coast in north Goa. He went a step further in 1563 with the construction of a church, the Church of Sao Braz-Saint Vlaho, in 1563. To make the story even stranger the church bell was actually made in Dubrovnik and shipped over to Goa and still rings in the church to this day. According to the history books the Dubrovnik colony in India had 120,000 inhabitants in the past.
Photo by Najka Mirković, Dubrovnik
5 – Can I still see him today?
There are dozens and dozens of statues dedicated to St. Blaise all over the historic city centre. From the city walls to almost every important building an image of St. Blaise can be seen. In fact, there are many more statues to St. Blaise on the coastal side of the walls than the land side, proof that his image was used to dissuade possible invaders that the city had a holy protector. There are 27 images to St. Blaise on the major landmarks of the city and another 40 located around the stone facades. The smallest, and it is pretty tiny, image of St. Blaise in Dubrovnik can be seen in side the Old City harbour.
The smallest statue to St. Blaise in Dubrovnik - Photo - Ivana Smilovic