A Franciscan Monastery In Dubrovnik
Dubrovnik is one of those towns which rises beyond its reputation. Even when drowning under a sea of summer tourists, when cruise boats arrive by the score and unload their passengers, there is so much to do, and places to escape the crowds. Aside from the beauty of the Adriatic lapping at her feet, and the wealth of museums and sights within the town (not to mention cafes and restaurants), side streets stretch off in all directions, begging to be explored. There are hidden nooks at every turn, lined with ancient houses and walls of crumbling stone.
One of my favourite spots in Dubrovnik is the 14th C Franciscan monastery. This is not far from the Pile Gate, the main entrance to the town. (In days gone by the drawbridge here was raised every night; now the moat is filled with orange trees.) I went in to visit one of Europe’s oldest functioning pharmacies, and found peace and tranquility as soon as I stepped in from the street. A pharmacy has operated here since 1317, and the perfumes from the shop paint the air. (The dispensary, although moved, is still in use).
|A quiet spot in the cloister|
Within the old pharmacy, now a museum, are hand-written texts, paintings and an extensive collection of votive jewellery, vestments and rosary beads. The collection is famous for its wealth of over 70,000 books, including 216 incunabulas – books printed, not hand-written, before 1500. There is also an inventory of the old Franciscan monastery as well as the utensils and recipes then used, along with paintings by Old Masters. The detailing in the jewellery and vestments is exquisite. There is also an extensive collection of reliquaries, each one encased in precious metals or encrusted with gems, as well as the obligatory piece of the True Cross (there are a few of these in Dubrovnik).
|St. Francis receiving the Stigmata|
The prize possession, however, is St. Blaise’s foot, preserved in a gold and silver boot. Originally an Armenian martyr, St. Blaise appeared in a vision to a local priest in 791, saving the town from an imminent Venetian attack. (Intriguingly, the story was not recorded until around the year 1000.)
Originally built just outside the city in the 14th C, the monastery was rebuilt inside the walls after the devastating earthquake of 1667 felled so much of the city and killed some 5000 citizens. The portal, dating from 1498, is the only remaining original part of the church. (The Hilton Imperial Hotel stands on the original site of the monastery.) The tower of the Franciscan Holy Saviour Church looms high in every view of the Stradun, the main road of Dubrovnik, while the wall of the monastery runs along the street.
|The famous map of Dubrovnik|
The monastery has a double cloister – the upper level is for the use of the monks only. Below, a Romanesque cloister decorated with frescoes showing the life of St. Francis wraps around an elevated garden. The frescoes with their fading tones and gentle themes immediately take you back to the world of the Middle Ages. Don’t forget to look at the capitols of the colonnade – animals and people peep coyly out from amongst the designs.
|Don't miss the faces and animals on the colonnades!|
The monastery also has a famous painting showing Dubrovnik before the earthquake of 1667. The town was quickly rebuilt, and has remained virtually unchanged since. Missile damage suffered on ‘Black Tuesday’, the 6th December 1991, can be still be seen in the monastery walls, remaining unrepaired to serve as reminder of those who died during the war of 1990-1991.
I barely touched on all Dubrovnik has to offer – I will return one day to discover these delights, but will also visit the monastery. When the world of travel becomes overwhelming, such places offer an oasis to sooth both the soul and tired nerves, before the next round of sight-seeing begins.
|Another gentle fresco.|