The biggest day on the Dubrovnik calendar is here. The day that thousands of people crowd onto the Stradun waving flags and banners, dressed in colourful folk costumes with smiling happy faces all to celebrate a foreigner, one special foreigner. It seems a little ironic that for 364 days of the year the historic Old City is packed with people from the four corners of the world who come to marvel at the city’s wonders and then for one day of the year the entire city, and surrounding regions, flock to the city to marvel at one foreigner.
Yes, it is the festivity of St. Blaise, the patron saint of our city. I am not sure if this any city in the world that loves and worships its patron saint as much as Dubrovnik. In fact, you could say that Dubrovnik doesn’t have a patron saint, but St. Blaise has Dubrovnik.
I remember the very first festivity I went to all those years ago. I have to be honest it was all a little bit confusing. Golden body parts being paraded along the streets and then kissed by hundreds of people, yes more than a little unnerving. At first I couldn’t really work out if it was a religious or sacral event or if I was at a folklore festival. The brightly embroidered costumes, the exploding muskets and the smartly dressed festanjuli made me think at first that I was at a giant Linđo show. Everyone was so happy, the café bars were full and people were joyfully singing. With experience comes knowledge. And over the years I too have come to respect the “day of all days” for the city. In fact, I think that this special day for the city should be taken to a new level.
Thankfully it has been recognised by UNESCO as an asset of Intangible Cultural Heritage, but I do find it rather strange, no disappointing, that there is no museum to our patron saint. In a city that is so devoted to its protector there is no information point for visitors to start to understand the special bond between this city of stone and its favourite foreigner. If we can’t provide a museum to one of the most important icons of the city, then how can we expect visitors to understand our values. It is really a sad reflection on what we perceive to be important. We have museums of all shapes and sizes and yet St. Blaise is left locked out, shame on us for ignoring our most favourite foreigner.
And yes he was a foreigner, not even from the European Union, not even from a neighbouring country, but an Armenian in fact. Thankfully Mr. Blaise came to Dubrovnik in 972, as he would find it considerably more difficult to come today. Firstly, he would now require a visa for entry, probably some form of health insurance and if he tried to walk across the border he would probably be picked up by the police as an illegal immigrant and sent back to where he had come from. But back in 972 he turned up at the gates of city without even a passport yet alone travel insurance or a Schengen visa. He was welcomed in with open arms and through his actions help defend the city from cruise ships from Venice…whoops no, not cruise ships but warships, maybe he could come back from the grave and help fight the cruise ships.
And over a thousand years later we still celebrate this holy foreigner that saved our city. And celebrate him we certainly do. Although it would be nice if the city could somehow declare that the 3rd of February an official public holiday. We have public holidays for anti-fascism day, a day that hardly seems important anymore, and yet we can’t find a way to make St. Blaise Day an official public holiday. It wouldn’t be something new. Certain regions and cities in France, Spain and Italy all have official public holidays for their saint’s day, so why can’t we.
Let’s build a museum and declare the 3rd of February a public holiday. St. Blaise defended our city, now it’s time for us to defend him!