Saint Blasius day- a magical day in Dubrovnik

February 3, 2023 by
Marino Bebić

The oldest festivity in these regions begins on the eve of the ''Festival of Saint Blaise'', on the 2nd of February, or Candlemas, with a symbolic release of white doves - an image that is certain to sear into your memory. 
This tradition dates back to the 10th century and is based on the legend of the saint who helped the people of Dubrovnik in defending their liberty during the Venetian siege.
As a gesture of gratitude, he was proclaimed the patron saint of Dubrovnik, and the locals built a new, Baroque Church of St Blaise on the ruins of the original Romanesque church during the Middle Ages. The church became a focal point of the festivities in the saint’s honour for the locals, as well as for the inhabitants of the islands of Mljet and Lastovo and the area of Konavle, located south of Dubrovnik.

Why Saint Blaise?
Saint Blaise was a real historical figure born in ancient Sebaste in Armenia, far far away from Dubrovnik. On that cold night, in February 972, the Venetian fleet entered the waters of Dubrovnik and, despite their friendly manner, intended to conquer Dubrovnik by deception. Old priest Stojko could not sleep that night, and when he finally fell asleep, Saint Blasius appeared to him in his dream. A gray-haired old man with a stick in his hand warned him to organize the defense of the City against the enemy who is at the door! It is well known how much freedom meant to Dubrovnik and its population. After they successfully defended themselves, there wasn’t much of a choice - St. Blaise became the patron saint!

Day of Festival of Saint Blaise - 3rd February
The festivities officially begin by raising the flag of St Blaise in front of the church that is decorated for the occasion, and by carrying out a gilded relic of the saint, a statue of him holding a model of the town. A special honour is bestowed on the festanjuli, whose role is to lead the procession, while the trombunjeri take care of the most entertaining part of the festivities, firing antique guns in the town’s port. The procession makes its way down the beautiful main street of Stradun accompanied by the notes of the hymn “Čuj Sveti Vlaho naš” (“Hear us, St Blaise”). Alongside church dignitaries, the procession is attended by everyone regardless of age, including ever-growing numbers of tourists. Special attention is given to the lovely girls of Dubrovnik who wear traditional costumes, unparalleled in their richness. During the festivities, people from all over Dubrovnik Republic would come to this town at the foot of Srđ mountain. Just how much this saint was revered and how much the spirit of freedom was upheld is evidenced by the fact that everyone was welcome to attend the festival, even criminals, who were free from any form of prosecution during the two-day festival.

What we eat on that special day (Then and now)
In the very beginnings of Festa, we have records from rich houses. There, according to the old custom, a young pig was roasted on a spit for a festive lunch, with a bitter orange in its mouth.
Over time, the customs for the festive day would change.
Today, the Feast of St. Blaise cannot pass without "Šporki Makaruli". Handmade pasta with rich meat sauce. The rich sauce is always made the day before, so that everyone from home can go to honor St. Blaise. When the whole family returns home, the housewife cooks fresh pasta (makarule) and lunch can begin. Of course, we will share our grandmother's recipe with you, and you hurry to our city to try it together!

Ingredients (for the whole family): 
- Beef 1.60 kg, preferably beef shank
- Lard (pork fat)
- 3 big onions
- Red wine, 2 dcl
- Parsley
- Garlic
- Clove
- Cinnamon 
- Nutmeg, salt, pepper
- Tomato pure
- Goat cheese.
Cut the meat into 1.5 x 1.5 cm cubes. Saute the chopped onion in hot lard in a pan, and when it has turned golden, add one spoonful of preserves. After two to three minutes, add the meat. Let it simmer and then add the wine. When the wine evaporates, add garlic, parsley and all other spices. Let's reduce it, cook for a long time, occasionally pouring hot water in very small quantities. It depends on how old the meat is. It is known that there is no better meat than old domestic beef, but it should be noted that such meats are cooked on low heat, covered, for up to 4 hours. Perhaps that is one of the reasons why Dubrovnik housewives made it the day before. We serve it with cooked and strained ‘’makaruli’’ and cover it with melted fat. Mix everything together and let it rest for about 15 minutes before serving. If desired, sprinkle sheep's cheese on top.

- During the time of Archbishop Vital (Archbishop of Dubrovnik 1022-1057), the powers of the head of St. Blaise were brought to Dubrovnik in 1026, as evidenced by the chronicler Milecije.

- Saint Blaise in Dubrovnik is always shown holding the city in his left hand. 

- There are a total of 17 statues of Saint Blaise inside the Old Town. Also, there is one at each entrance to the city. As a reminder that you are inside under the protection of the good old man.

- At Ploče gate, east entrance in the Old Town, an inscription in Latin is carved on the stone: "Far away from here, savages! This fortress, which is warmed by the breath of a holy old man, is not afraid of anyone."

- This year, for 1051th time, Dubrovnik will again honour its patron saint with a traditional festivity, which was made a part of UNESCO's register of intangible heritage in 2009.

- When the rector in the Republic of Dubrovnik was elected, he would symbolically receive the banner of Saint Blaise and take an oath to serve the Republic.


Marino Bebić February 3, 2023
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