If you, like me, went to a Catholic school as a kid, you probably remember getting your throat blessed with candlesticks. (If you were really like me, then you were also always disappointed that the candles weren’t lit – how much more exciting would that have been?) This happens on February 3rd, the feast day of St. Blaise. The celebrant holds two crossed candlesticks near your throat and say, “Through the intercession of Saint Blase, bishop and martyr, may God deliver you from every disease of the throat and from every other illness.” You then make the sign of the cross, and you’re on your way.
This ritual goes back to the story of St. Blaise, an early Christian bishop, who saved a young boy who was choking on a fishbone by blessing his throat. This wasn’t enough to make up for the fact that he was, in fact, Christian in a time when Christianity was illegal, and he was martyred by beheading.
All of this happened in Cappadocia, in modern-day Turkey. So how did he wind up being the patron saint of Dubrovnik?
Catholics have a strong tradition of mysticism, and we very much believe in the importance of dreams, visions, and signs. In 971 AD, the story goes, a believer named Stojko had a vision in which St. Blaise appeared to him. In his vision, St. Blaise warned Stojko that the Venetian galleys anchored just offshore, near the island of Lokrum, were not really there to take on fresh water; they were, in fact, reconnoitring the city of Dubrovnik, looking for weaknesses in the defenses. At which point, I’m guessing that St. Blaise doinked him on the head and yelled, “Duh! Of course your mortal enemies didn’t drop anchor less than a mile offshore just to take on water!” But that’s just speculation on my part.
At any rate, Stojko was able to use this information to rally the townspeople, an effective defense was mounted, the walls remained unbreached, and Venice had to deal with a trading competitor for a while longer.
As Catholics do, the people of Dubrovnik built a church to honor St. Blaise for the service he’d done the city. The church was built at the intersection of the two main thoroughfares in the Old City, with a piazza out front. In one of those historical ironies that just kinda make you chuckle, the church, which had been badly damaged by earthquake and fire, was rebuilt by a Venetian architect. This is the church which stands today.
The church is very beautiful, albeit quite small for a church dedicated to the saint that saved the city from ruin. Inside, there’s exactly one statue which survived the fire which had so badly damaged the old church, and magnificent altar decorations. When I visited, though, the first thing I noticed was the stained glass. The small windows are rather high up, but it’s worth craning your neck back to see. They don’t fit with the church’s interior very well, being rather modern compared to the other decor, but from the outside they look very neat, especially at nighttime.
Note: As always, please be respectful when visiting active churches! Visitors will not be allowed into the church while mass is going on, although you are more than welcome to join in the mass. In Europe, churches require that all visitors adhere to a dress code: for both men and women, shoulders should be covered, bellies fully garbed, and all shorts and skirts should pass the fingertip test. Be mindful of your volume, and if you’re not sure if you should touch it, don’t touch it.
There is no admission fee for entering the church, but feel free to make a donation and light a candle.
Read more about St. Blaise here.
Read more about the Church of St. Blaise in Dubrovnik here.