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Churches in Dubrovnik - Vital Part of Architectural and Cultural Heritage

Churches are an important part of Dubrovnik’s architectural and cultural heritage, providing a vast treasury of sacred objects and original documents which bear witness to the glorious history of this town.

Churches such as the Cathedral, the church of St. Blaise, St. Ignatius, the Franciscan monastery, the Jewish synagogue as well as many others, have been historic houses of worship and prayer, particularly in times of hardship. Today, these sacred shrines are still in active use by the local populace.

The Dubrovnik Cathedral of the Assumption of Mary is connected with a legend about the English king, Richard the Lionheart, who, returning from the Third Crusade, was shipwrecked on the rocky shores of the nearby island of Lokrum. At that moment, he vowed that if he survived, he would donate funds for the construction of a church dedicated to the Virgin Mary. His donation was used to complete work on the Romanesque cathedral, which was already under construction at the time.

Construction of the cathedral began in the 12th century, and continued until the 14th century, but the cathedral was completely destroyed in the great earthquake of 1667. Today’s Baroque cathedral was built on the same spot in the 18th century, thanks to the efforts of Stjepan Gradic, a respected historian and philosopher, who brought the most well-known Italian architects and builders, including Andrea Buffalini and Paolo Andreotti, to Dubrovnik.

The lengthy construction process required the work of many craftsmen, and was completed under the leadership of local builder Ilija Katicic. The cathedral houses one of the most valuable treasuries in Europe. The cathedral treasury includes valuable relics stored in special reliquaries of great artistic value, decorated with gold filigree and enamel. The works of Titian, Santia, Pordenone, Palma and others, are of particular significance. In addition, the cathedral is a very interesting archeological site in itself. During the most recent construction in the last century, the remains of a spacious Byzantine church from the 7th century were discovered on the site.

Many people consider the Church of St. Blaise the most beautiful in Dubrovnik. Created by the Venetian sculptor and architect Marin Gropelli, it is an outstanding Baroque monument. It was erected at the beginning of the 18th century in a on the site of an earlier Romanesque-Gothic style church, which had been damaged in the great earthquake of 1667 and then later even further damaged by fire. Of the original church, only the foundations and three statues remain: a gold-plated statue of St. Blaise holding a model of the city from 1453, and two statues by Lazanic, of St. Blaise and St. Jeronim.

St. Blaise was an Armenian bishop, who has been the patron saint and protector of Dubrovnik since the year 972, when the first church was built in his honor. Among the many legends about St. Blaise, the most famous is the one in which he appeared to a priest in the church of St. Stephen Stojka and warned him of an imminent attack on the city by the Venetians. The priest then alerted the city authorities, who organized an effective defense, just in time.

The image of St. Blaise - a bearded man, wearing a mitre on his head, and holding the city in his left hand while offering a blessing with his right – became the official symbol of the Dubrovnik Republic, and his image appears on official flags, coins, official seals, and documents. Statues of St. Blaise can still be seen today above every entrance to the city, and on every fortress. The festival of St. Blaise is celebrated each year on February 3, with a solemn procession and outdoor Mass, which attracts thousands of participants and spectators from Dubrovnik and the surrounding region. This festival is also celebrated as Dubrovnik City Day.

The Jesuit church of St. Ignatius was built by the famous Jesuit architect and painter Ignazio Pozzo, who led the construction from 1699 to 1703. The church was completed in 1729. It is located on Ruder Boskovic square, (dedicated to the famous Dubrovnik physicist) and connected via a graceful Baroque staircase to the adjacent Gundulic Square below. This beautiful stairway was built in 1738 by the well-known Roman architect Pietro Passalaccquea.

The Franciscan monastery, which dates from 1317, includes a sculpture above its southern entrance door, of the Mother of God holding the body of her dead son. This rendering is the work of Dubrovnik sculptors, brother Leonardo and Petar Petrovic, from 1498. The grave of Dubrovnik’s famous writer Ivan Gundulic is located in the interior of the church. The cloister of this monastery is the work of Mihoje Brajkovo, of Bar, and his late Romanesque creation is one of the most beautiful of the period. An attraction not to be missed is the 14th century apothecary, located in the monastery complex, which is one of the oldest continuously operating pharmacies in Europe.

The Dominican monastery, whose current form dates from the 15th century, houses an especially valuable collection of paintings by local artists from the 15th and 16th centuries, including Nikola Božidarević, Lovro Dobričević, and Vlaho Bukovac, as well as works by foreign artists such as Titian. The vast library of this monastery, with more than 220 beautifully decorated manuscripts and documents, is also of special value.

The Dubrovnik synagogue, located on the Jewish street, is one of the oldest synagogues in Europe in which religious services are still performed. Adjacent to the synagogue is a museum of valuable sacred objects and documents, including a Torah from the 14th century.

Equally interesting is the chapel of St. Mary, or Our Lady of Danče, which is part of the monastery complex on the cliffs overlooking the sea. Built in the 15th century, it houses valuable paintings by artists Nikola Božidarević and Lovro Dobričević. Built facing the sea, this chapel is especially sacred to the sailors of Dubrovnik, who still today, greet it as they pass by sounding their horns. The nuns within respond with a blessing, ringing the church bells to wish the sailors calm seas and safe passage.

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