The old Dubrovnik Republic had very good connections with the Popes, all of them, and we always wanted to demonstrate our loyalty to Catholicism. We did that by inviting powerful religious orders to the city, like the Franciscans, Dominicans and the Jesuits. There were so many churches in the Old town, big and small, tucked in the little alleys. It’s amazing that the history records mention a total of 47 churches before the big earthquake in 1667. So, which ones you should visit? Here’s our pick of the five most impressive!
1. Church of St. Ignatius
The approach to the church speaks for itself and it kind of gives you an idea what’s in store for you once you climb all those stairs! The staircase was designed by the Italian Pietro Passalacqua and it’s you stairway to heaven, or rather, to the colloquially called Jesuit square. Once you make it up there, your reward is the masterpiece of Roman baroque architecture from 1725, the work of Andrea Pozzo. Before you go inside to marvel at the frescoes painted by Gaetano Garcia on the main altar, depicting the life of St. Ignatius, stop for a moment and look at the front portal. You’ll notice there are no statues in the niches – the reason behind that is both sad and intriguing; they never actually made it to Dubrovnik. The ship that was carrying the statues from Italy was caught in a violent storm on the Adriatic and sank. Perhaps it was the will of God that the statues were never to make it to the church.
Once inside, sit down on one of the benches and just look at the main altar. When you’ve had enough of the baroque sacral art, walk to the small grotto in the right corner, close to the entrance. The shrine is dedicated to the Virgin Mary. The first altar next to the grotto has the cutest little detail that you weren’t expecting to find – a little angel that will nod his head in appreciation when you give him a small coin. Say a little prayer, or better yet, attend the service – holy mass in English is held every Sunday at 11 o’clock.
2. Church of St. Blaise
Well, this one is not hard to find – our patron saint’s church is on the main square, surrounded by popular cafes and restaurants. If you see it open, pop inside. The church was built in 1715 after the previous had burnt down in a fire. What’s curious is that the architect was Marino Gropelli, a man from Venice. Given the often complicated relations we had with Venice, it was a bit strange to have a Venetian, our rival, build our patron saint’s church. But, we gotta say, Gropelli delivered! Inside, you can find the mummified body of St. Sylvan, quite a curiosity. Look up and you’ll see the painted glass windows, the work of our famous 20th century artist Ivo Dulčić.
3. Church of St. Dominic
The Dominicans were the first order of the Catholic church to come to Dubrovnik. It was in 1225 when they made a stop in our city on their way to the Holy land. Upon hearing their passionate preachings the people of Dubrovnik asked them to stay. Before they build the monastery, they built the church – one of the most beautiful examples of Gothic architecture on the eastern Adriatic coast. The interior is dominated by the biggest painted crucifix in Europe, suspended above the main altar. This masterpiece of Paolo Veneziano spans more than five meters and it’s simply breathtaking.
4. Dubrovnik Cathedral
The first church by order of importance – this massive baroque building was built in 1713, after the previous had been destroyed in the 1667 earthquake. It’s dedicated to the Virgin and it’s full name is the Cathedral of the Assumption of the Virgin Mary. It’s actually the third church that was built on the same location, the previous two being the Romanesque church from the 12th century and one earlier, from the late 6th century, linked to the very foundations of Dubrovnik as a city. It’s not really ornate from the inside when compared to, say, the church of St. Ignatius, but the altarpiece is well worth checking out – it’s the work of none other but Titian himself! The great Venetian master with his students painted a massive altarpiece dedicated to the Virgin.
5. Church of St. Francis
Even before you go inside the church, there’s something that you cannot miss – it’s a small gargoyle to the left of the door, shaped like an owl, or at least that’s how it looked like originally. Nowadays, you’ll see lots of people trying to balance on it, competing for the applause of the crowd on the main street! The other entrance, just a bit further down is a true masterpiece. Look above the door to see the gorgeous Pieta, the work of Leonard and Petar Petrović. Once inside the church, notice the baroque altar designed by Celio from Ancona. Look around the church and if you want, visit the cloister, with the pillars decorated by master Mihoje Brajkov from Bar, see the famous painting showing Dubrovnik as it looked like before the big earthquake of 1667 and make sure to check out the museum which houses the inventory of the old pharmacy from 1317, the third oldest in Europe by the continuity of its work.