St Blaise (portrayed as an old man holding a model of the Dubrovnik in his hand) is the patron saint of Dubrovnik and a hero. He appeared to the town’s canon, Stojiko in 971 AD, an impressive vision, dressed in the ceremonial robes of a bishop, complete with mitre and long beard. St Blaise warned the canon of an impending attack by the Venetians, whose galleys had dropped anchor in Gruz and nearby Lokrum, supposedly to resupply the water but really to spy on the city’s defences. Stojiko was summoned to the senate to speak of his vision and disaster was averted by the council’s quick action. Since this dramatic episode, St Blaise has been revered and loved by the inhabitants of Dubrovnik and his feast day is celebrated on the 3rd of February.
The festivities begin the previous day at Candlemas, when white doves, symbols of freedom and peace, are released in the saint’s honour in front of St Blaise’s Church; his flag is then raised on Orlando’s Column. Relics of the saint, his head, a piece of bone from his throat, his right hand and his left, are paraded in reliquaries (ornate containers for the preservation of religious relics) along the Stradun, Dubrovnik’s main street. A huge number of people follow the reliquaries with banners and the procession continues with great ceremony to the front of St Blaise’s church. In front of the church the embroidered banners are unfurled in a special way. This is also an opportunity for the banner carriers to show off their special skills, as well as their rich and exquisite folk costumes.
Priests perform a throat blessing ceremony for members of the congregation. The ceremony, which comprises a blessing in front of antique, interweaved candles, is believed to protect worshippers from throat diseases and problems with speech. At sunset the stained-glass windows and laurel decorations in the Church of St Blaise radiate with the love of the people for this most venerated of Saints.
Concerts and recitals are also part of the celebrations, as are readings, exhibitions, book presentations and theatre performances. In the evening Dubrovnik’s people bid farewell to St Blaise for another year, although his statues and images are all over the city, from the ancient walls to the entrance gates, offering the faithful protection and security.
Photo credit: Archive Tourist Board Dubrovnik / Photographer: Igor Brautović