Our Lady of the Rocks

In 1997 I first visited these islands.  I have been back several times.  Here is what I wrote then.

June 1998

We visited the Church of Our Lady of the Rock which sits on an artificial island where the four arms of Kotor Bay meet.  The legend behind the church involves a reef, with just one rock that broke water off the town of Parast.  On July 22, 1452 someone found an icon of the Virgin Mary on the rock.  On that day, and every July 22 that followed, the people of Parast filled every boat in the town with rocks, rowed to the reef and dumped the rocks.  Sailors heading to sea dropped a rock on the reef for good luck.  By 1666 over 100 boats and ships had been scuttled on the reef and the persistent fishermen and sailors had built themselves an island, rock by rock.  Then they built themselves a church.  It is one of the most moving churches I’ve ever visited.

The paintings on the ceiling and above the doors are by a self-taught local artist who got better as he went along.  The guide book describes one of the early paintings; “the ambitious artistic conception is marred by insufficient skill.”  But by the end of his life the painter was quite good.  More interesting, however, are thousands of silver votive plaques.  Sailors with time at sea hammered rectangles of silver, making pictures of boats, rigging, cannons, battles, pirate raids. anchors, anything nautical.  Some were done by professional silversmiths on commission from more wealthy families.  Each was placed on completion of a successful voyage.  They fill the church.

Above and along the stairway leading to the second floor of the church, where the keeper lives, hang bits of rope, cork floats, fenders, splinters, cleats, chain and a ship’s figure head.  They are remains of wrecks.  Sailors who survived brought a piece of the wreck to the church to offer thanks for their deliverance.  Living on the sea, it is one of the most moving displays I’ve ever seen.  Finally there is a room where sailors bring treasurers to the Blessed Virgin.  On the wall are all manner of art and kitsch;  a fan from Japan, a Russian medal, a framed collection of postage stamps with boat pictures, a souvenir plate that says “Cardiff Wales” and another from Liverpool.  One sailor thought the Blessed Virgin needed a sewing machine, so a foot powered Singer sits in the middle of the room.

There is a second island, St. George (Sv. Djordje) nearby.  It is a natural island.  Our Lady is a Roman Catholic island, St. George is an Orthodox island.


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