The Gargoyles of Dubrovnik— And a Saint’s Finger… Armchair Travel

Today, I am continuing to dig back into my Word Press archives by looking at gargoyles. I have a weakness for them. While they are said to scare away evil spirits, they attract me. What can I say? As for the various body parts of saints, you will find them scattered in Catholic churches throughout Europe. One can only wonder… Anyway, Gargoyles and a sacred finger are the subject of today’s armchair travel as I wrap up my posts on Dubrovnik.

I found this marvelous gargoyle about a foot off the Stradun connected the the Franciscan Monastery.
I found this marvelous gargoyle about a foot off the Stradun connected to the Franciscan Monastery in Dubrovnik, Croatia. Check out the great mustache!

Weird amuses me— and few things are more weird than a gargoyle. During the middle ages, no decent cathedral would be caught without them. In addition to piping water away from the building, they served as reminders to the faithful that evil lurked in the world, an evil that could only be overcome by attending church and donating money. Their cousins, grotesques, were also found on churches. Equally ugly and portentous, they didn’t carry water.

Whenever I get near a gargoyle or grotesque, I can’t help myself; I have to take its photo. Fortunately, Peggy feels the same way.

Peggy caught this Dubrovnik gargoyle. Possibly it represents one of the winds.
Peggy caught this Dubrovnik gargoyle. Possibly it represents one of the winds.
I took this closeup of the Dubrovnik gargoyle Peggy photographed above. Note the water dribbling down its chin.
I took this closeup of the Dubrovnik gargoyle Peggy photographed above. Note the water dribbling down its chin. I don’t know about you, but I always find it interesting to try different perspectives when I am photographing something.
We found examples of grotesques in the cloister of the Franciscan Monastery of Dubrovnik on top of columns. (Photo by Peggy Mekemson)
We found examples of grotesques in the cloister of the Franciscan Monastery of Dubrovnik on top of columns. (Photo by Peggy Mekemson)
Dragons were a popular subject for both gargoyles and grotesques. What could be more scary. We found this specimen with his fine set of choppers in the Franciscan Monastery.
Dragons were a popular subject for both gargoyles and grotesques. What could be more scary. We found this specimen with his fine set of choppers in the Franciscan Monastery.

I have also found that fountains in Europe often host strange-looking beings. While the wealthy in pre-modern times might have water piped into their homes, the common folks obtained their water from community fountains. Dubrovnik built an aqueduct system in the mid 1400s to bring water to the city and then located two public fountains on the Stradun: big Onofrio’s Fountain located near the Pile Gate and little Onofrio’s Fountain found next to the clock tower in Lutz Square.

The top of Little Onofrio's Fountain with its ferocious looking fish. The fountain is located near the clock tower in Dubrovnik, Croatia.
The top of little Onofrio’s Fountain with its ferocious looking fish. The fountain is located near the clock tower in Dubrovnik, Croatia. If I caught something like this, I’d be cutting my line!
Another view of Little Onofrio's Fountain.
Another view of little Onofrio’s Fountain. The oranges, BTW, were part of Dubrovnik’s Christmas decorations.
Big Onofrio's Fountain located near the Pile Gate had 16 sides and each side featured a different mask with a spout coming out of its mouth. This was a cow mask.
Big Onofrio’s Fountain located near the Pile Gate had 16 sides and each side featured a different mask with a spout coming out of its mouth. This was a cow mask. Or maybe it was a bull.

Something I find even stranger than gargoyles, grotesques, or fountain inhabitants are relics— bits and pieces of saints or other holy items kept around in reliquaries as items of worship.  Pieces of the Cross are a common example. I once read that selling pieces of the cross was a thriving business during the Middle Ages. Scam comes to mind. The Dubrovnik Cathedral has a particularly impressive set of relics including a requisite piece of the Cross, Baby Jesus’ swaddling clothes, and various body parts of St. Blaise.

All of these items are reputedly capable of performing miracles and it is something of a miracle they exist. How they were obtained is usually rooted in the murky past. Pieces of the swaddling clothes were provided to women having difficult births. No matter how many pieces were cut out of the cloth, so it is said, the cloth returned to its original form.

I came across St. Luke’s finger in the small museum found in the Franciscan Monastery in Dubrovnik. The finger is encased in a gold reliquary. I know people take these items seriously and believe they have miraculous powers, but I find them on the far side of strange. I would almost bet that it cost the monastery an arm and a leg to get the finger.

NEXT POST: You want gargoyles? Wait until you see the white oak trees on our property and in the national forest behind us. These trees would fit right into “Lord of the Rings” or most other fantasies— or horror movies. My theory is that they will scare the heck out of the coronavirus if it comes around. Remember how the gargoyles were supposed to scare the evil spirits away from medieval cathedrals in Europe? I bet that they were recruited to frighten the plague as well! I know better, but it is fun to contemplate. And I find the trees interesting and amusing as opposed to scary. (At least during the day.)

Exploring the Streets of Dubrovnik… Armchair Travel

In this armchair travel post, Peggy and I walk the streets of Dubrovnik reliving our 2013 visit. We were there off-season a few weeks before Christmas, happily putting up with rainy weather to avoid the crowds of tourists!

The Stradun, Dubrovnik's main thoroughfare, lit up by sun after a rain storm.
The Stradun, Dubrovnik’s main thoroughfare, wet after a rain storm.

Luck was with us— the rain held off while we were on the walls of Dubrovnik and waited for us to descend to the Stradun, the city’s main thoroughfare. Lunch and pizza occupied most of the downpour. Afterwards we were treated to shiny, wet streets.

Our pizza, Croatian style.
Our pizza, Croatian style.

In its first life the Stradun had been a winding canal separating Dubrovnik’s Roman and Slav populations. The canal was filled in during the Eleventh Century and brought the two populations together. A devastating earthquake took out most of the town in 1667 and Dubrovnik rebuilt the road to its present straight alignment.

Narrow pedestrian ways shoot off in both directions from the Stradun and invite exploration. Plazas anchor both ends of the street. Since we arrived in December, Dubrovnik was preparing for the holidays. Two Christmas trees competed for our attention in Luza Square. I found one outlined by a window in the old Customs House to be particularly dramatic.

Walkways such as this and the one below branch off from the Stradun in Dubrovnik, Croatia and invite exploration.
Walkways such as this and the one below branch off from the Stradun in Dubrovnik, Croatia and invite exploration.
Dubrovnik walkway.
Dubrovnik walkway. No crowd here.
We visited Dubrovnik in December and found the city preparing for the holidays. In this picture,a Christmas tree is gracefully outlined by a window in Sponza Palace, the old custom house.
With Christmas coming, the city was decorated to celebrate. Here, a Christmas tree is gracefully outlined by a window in Sponza Palace, the old custom-house.
Another photo of Sponza Palace, the Christmas Tree and Dubrovnik's clock tower.
Another photo of Sponza Palace, the Christmas Tree and Dubrovnik’s clock tower.

The town’s bell tower and clock, St. Blaise’s Church and Orlando’s Column and are also prominent features of Luza Square. Both St. Blaise and Orlando symbolize Dubrovnik’s fierce sense of independence.

A close up of the Dubrovnik clock tower.
A close up of the Dubrovnik clock tower. A digital clock at the bottom adds a touch of modernization.

St. Blaise was an early third century Christian Martyr from Armenia who was so holy that wild animals were said to drop by his cave for a blessing. The Romans used steel combs to flay off his skin and then beheaded him. Since the combs resembled those used for carding wool, Blaise became the Patron Saint of the wool trade. Go figure.

He earned the everlasting gratitude of Dubrovnik by appearing in a vision to a local priest to warn of an imminent invasion by the Venetians in 971. Ever since, the locals have loved St. Blaise and disliked Venice. They celebrate his birthday by parading various parts of his body through the city on February 3.

St. Blaise, the Patron Saint of Dubrovnik, holds a model of the city in his hand. This particular statue is found in the Pile Gate at one of the city's main entrances. (Photo by Peggy Mekemson)
St. Blaise, the Patron Saint of Dubrovnik, holds a model of the city in his hand. This particular statue is found in the Pile Gate at one of the city’s main entrances. (Photo by Peggy Mekemson)

Orlando is known as the legendary knight Roland in Northern Europe. The story is that he rescued Dubrovnik from a siege by the Saracens in the Eighth Century. The fact that the dates of Roland’s life don’t match those of Orlando doesn’t seem to matter. He wasn’t from Venice. Also of note— his arm was used as the standard measure of cloth in Dubrovnik.

The Orlando column in Luza Square. (Photo by Peggy Mekemson.)
The Orlando column in Luza Square. (Photo by Peggy Mekemson.)

The Pile Gate, Franciscan Monastery, and Onofrio’s Fountain are located at the other end of the Stradun. The fountain is a subject of my next blog. The Monastery houses a peaceful cloister and a small but interesting museum that features a pharmacy that opened in 1317— and St. Luke’s finger.

The Franciscan Monastery in Dubrovnik.
The Franciscan Monastery in Dubrovnik caught in the sunlight.
In 1337 the Franciscans opened one of the first phamacies in Europe as part of their commitment to provide medical care.
In 1317 the Franciscans opened one of the first pharmacies in Europe as part of their commitment to provide medical care.

NEXT POST: I’ll conclude our visit to Dubrovnik by looking at gargoyles, St. Luke’s finger, and other oddities that caught my attention.