19 May Our Lady of the Rocks – From Rocks to a Sanctuary
From a lecture that was part of the St. Tryphon day celebrations in Rijeka
On the occasion of the celebration of the feast of St. Tryphon in Rijeka, the Bay of Kotor 809th Marine (Rijeka) organized a series of events related to that saint and to the Bay of Kotor generally. Among other events, on February 7th, a lecture was held in Rijeka City Hall on the famed mariner’s shrine in that Montenegrin bay – Our Lady of the Rocks.
The shrine of Our Lady of the Rocks is constructed on an artificially built islet of the same name that stands in front of the settlement of Perast. It is Perast’s second islet, the first being the islet of St. Juraj (St., or Sv., Svijeti, Đorđe in Montenegrin). The islet upon which the sanctuary was built was created by the gradual adding of rocks around the existing exposed natural rock and the sinking of decommissioned boats around it.
The construction of the original chapel on the islet began on July 22, 1452. According to legend, the Mortešič brothers who were fishermen from Perast, found a picture of the Virgin Mary and a boy Jesus on the rocks, and it was associated with the miraculous healing of one of them. Even prior to 1482, the area that had been built up around the natural rocks was large enough to build a chapel on it, which the pious inhabitants of Perast and its surrounds did. The islet was gradually expanded, as was the church. The islet now reaches a total area of 3030 m2 (0.75 of an acre) . The beautifully decorated church is dedicated to the Assumption of the Virgin Mary and it accompanies the mariner’ shrine of Our Lady of the Rocks. The Croatian name of the church and the shrine, Gospe od Škrpjela, is derived from Montenegrin. In that language the word for rock is škrpio or škrpjel, and this in itself is derived from the Latin word for rock, skopulus.
The arduous building of the artificial islet and sanctuary occurred against a historical backdrop of constant anxiety over the proximity of the Ottoman border, plundering pirate attacks and earthquakes and storms. These building activities became symbolic to the people of Perast and to those of the bay of Kotor generally. In particular, they became an expression of the faith, culture and spirituality of the Croats of the Kotor region.
A celebration called fašinada that is held every July the 22nd commemorates the creation of the islet and the construction of the church and the other buildings on it. At dusk, on the celebration day, Perast residents and those of the surrounds row to the islet in boats loaded with stones, which they throw into the sea around it. Thus the centuries-old tradition of maintaining the shrine continues. There is also a special ceremony on the islet at the feast of the Assumption.
The present form of the architectural complex of the shrine was completed between the end of the 17th and beginning of the 18th centuries. The walls and ceiling of the church were painted by a Baroque painter from Perast, Tripo Kokolja. This according to the Archbishop of Bar, Andrija Zmajević from Perast, a theologian, writer and art historian. A painting of Our Lady of the Rocks adorns the main altar. Its authorship is attributed to a Croatian Gothic-Renaissance painter from Kotor, Lovro Dobričević.
Next to the religious buildings the ‘Guardian’s House’ was built. It accommodated the priest. Today it houses the museum that displays a diverse record of the maritime and cultural past of the bay of Kotor and especially of Perast. Opposite the church is the ‘Reconciliation Hall’, which was once a place of local reconciliation and conflict resolution.
The church and museum have preserved many valuable gifts, some large, which generations of people, especially mariners, from the Kotor region have brought to the sanctuary. Over the centuries, people, convinced of her miraculous powers and grateful for her mercy, have brought them in offering to Our Lady of the Rocks.