The following article by Dr. Miho Demović has been published in

Zlatko Pavetić (ed): The Journey of Paul the Apostle to Rome led over the Croatian Island of Mljet (Melita) / Put apostola Pavla za Rim vodio je preko hrvatskog otoka Mljeta (Melite), Proceedings of the academic conference held on Mljet (Melita) 15 October 2011 / Zbornik radova znanstvenog skupa odr\anog na Mljetu (Meliti) 15. listopada 2011., Zagreb, 2015., ISBN 978-953-58133-0-9, 356 pp, in English and Croatian, hard cover, with color photos and maps

We express our gratitude to Dr. Demović for his suggestion to publish this article on the web.


Dr Miho Demović


In the winter period, a long-lasting (sometimes for more than 10 days) and strong southern wind blows from the direction of North Africa towards the Alps and through the Strait of Otranto, bringing with it black rain clouds, lightning and thunder, and sometimes it is accompanied by notorious vortexes, so-called waterspouts. The Croats call it jugo, šilok, široko (Sirocco). It is so powerful that it whips up the sea, creating tall wave crests that whirl toward the shore of Dubrovnik and break on it with great force. During the Antiquity and the Middle Ages, when ships with sails crossed the Adriatic from the Balkan to the Apennine Peninsula and vice versa via the route from Durrės (Durrachium) in present-day Albania to Cape Santa Maria di Leuca in Italy, where the width of the Adriatic is narrowest, often would breaking, storm-induced waves force the vessel on this route to change its course and set sail to the open seas to the north. This forced change in the sailing route was perilous for many old ships, so if by chance they managed to avoid the risk of sinking in the open seas, storm-induced waves would shatter them, smashing them against the mainland with great force. Few were lucky enough to sail into the sheltered anchorage of the island of Lokrum near Dubrovnik, the old port of Dubrovnik or a sheltered bay in the water area surrounding Dubrovnik. Unfortunately, shipwrecks were common in the old days. Owing to the efforts of the historians, there are several accounts of those shipwrecks available, but the majority of them have not been recorded. In this dissertation, the author offers an overview of three major shipwrecks, more specifically, of three famous shipwreck survivors who managed to save themselves by reaching the Dubrovnik mainland. These are: St Paul the Apostle in 60 A.D., famous English king Richard the Lionheart in 1192, and the founder of the Franciscan order, Francis of Assisi in 1212 and 1219.


1/1 Term

The Adriatic Sea or, as Croats call it, Jadran (lat. Adria), looks like a large marine lake flanked by the coastlines of two neighbouring peninsulas, the Balkan Peninsula to the northeast and the Apennine Peninsula to the southwest. From the south it is bordered by the Strait of Otranto and from the north by the slopes of the Alps. The width at its narrowest part, located by the Strait of Otranto, is 40 nautical miles, and at its broadest part, located in the central Adriatic Sea, is some 120 miles. Its length, measured from Otranto to Aquileia, amounts to some 475 nautical miles. Its depth is greatest in the southern part and amounts to approximately 1330 meters.

1/2 Significance

The Adriatic Sea played a very important role in connecting mainland Europe with Asia and Africa during the Antiquity and the early Middle Ages because all sailing routes from Europe to those continents led through it. The navigational capabilities of old ships with sails were modest, and there weren’t any orientation devices available, so sailing always took place along the Adriatic coast of the Apennine and the Balkan Peninsula, and not out on the open Mediterranean Sea. One crossed from one to the other of those peninsulas at its narrowest part, i.e. off the Cape Santa Maria di Leuca to Durrės (Durrachium) or the island of Corfu and vice versa. The old sailing ships could sail across this distance in one day, provided that the horizon of the Apennine Peninsula was visible until they reached the halfway point on their sailing route; the same as the horizon of the Albanian coast, which became visible once they passed that halfway point.

1/3 Waterways

There were two navigational routes: the first one led from Aquileia to the north, along the eastern coast of the Adriatic Sea to Corfu, and the other one stretched along the Adriatic coast of the Apennine Peninsula, traversing the Adriatic Sea from Cape Santa Maria de Leuca to the island of Corfu or Durrės in Albania. Here the two routes merged into one route which the ships followed along the Peloponnese, continuing on along the coastline of Greek islands Crete and Cyprus towards Asia Minor, and then onwards along the coast of Israel to the African port of Alexandria, from which grain was transported to Europe on large wooden sailing transport vessels that took on chance passengers as well, especially Roman soldiers. Those were regular shipping lines, as we would call them nowadays, that connected Africa with the cities in Asia Minor and Europe. Sailing took place in the summer months, only during daytime. At night the ships rested, anchored in naturally sheltered harbours (bays), and the sailors would often secure them by drawing them onto the sandy shore. The journey from Africa to Rome took about a month in finest weather conditions. The ships were still able to get across the Adriatic to Italy from Central Dalmatia because one sailing route took them by Vis and Palagruža to Ancona.

1/4 Wintering of the Ships

The ships did not sail during the winter; they either rested or spent the winter anchored in natural harbours, sheltered from all winds. Polača was one such safe harbour sheltered from all winds, and it was located on the island of Mljet, in front of the eponymous monumental Roman edifice called the Palatium.

1/5 Navigational Capabilities

The ships were driven by the power of the wind, directed towards the big sail on the stern. There was also a smaller sail at the bow that could be used for making slight alterations to the turning of the ship. These ships did not have a built-in keel or a steady rudder. Therefore, their sailing direction altering capabilities were lacking because even when the sea was less rough, a clumsy turning of the ship could have resulted in tilting, rolling over and sinking. The vessels did not sail the open seas due to their inability to orient themselves. The ships that would stray to the open seas lost their ability to see the mainland horizon, so they usually wandered lost at the sea, until by some miracle the sailors saw land again. Hence, the saying in Dubrovnik area goes: "Praise the sea, but keep on land."

1/6 Danger of Navigation in the South Adriatic

The above-mentioned passage from the East to the West and vice versa was not always harmless, so in the past the ships affected by stormy weather were often forced to alter their sailing route on that spot in order to avoid sinking, letting the vessel be carried by the waves to the unwelcome expanses of the open Adriatic Sea. Besides the Strait of Otranto, in the past the sailing was dangerous in the entire southern Adriatic due to frequent storms, all the way to Dubrovnik; seeing as this was a stretch of the open sea and coastline devoid of any islands whose natural harbours could have provided ships with a safe anchorage. The Croatian part of the Adriatic coast is very indented and consists of 725 islands, both big and small, in addition to more than 426 islets and 82 reefs, but they are all located west of Dubrovnik. Only the island of Lokrum, an important natural breakwater of the old Dubrovnik port, is situated on its eastern side. It enables the ships to safely sail into the old Dubrovnik port, even during gale-force southern wind jugo. Owing to Lokrum, many ships were able to avoid sinking, and many sailors rescued themselves there in the past.

1/7 Nail from the Cross of Christ in the Adriatic

Holy Empress Helena, mother of Emperor Constantine, also experienced this harsh, inclement nature of the Adriatic on her return journey from Jerusalem to Rome, after having found the Cross on which Christ was crucified. As the legend claims, she tossed one nail from Christ's Cross into the sea in order to soothe the fury of the waves and subsequently, the sea calmed down. The famous Jewish writer Josephus Flavius also shipwrecked there during his journey to Rome in 61 A.D., on which he went to help release Jewish priests incarcerated in Roman prisons.

1/8 Shipwrecks as a Regular Occurrence in the South Adriatic

There were hardly any ships in the period of Antiquity and the Middle Ages that managed to avoid facing perilous sea storms. Many of them sank into the abyss of the open sea, and only a few managed to escape the inclement weather and sail into one of the naturally sheltered harbours in the water area surrounding Dubrovnik.

1/9 Shipwrecks Described in Povijest Dubrovnika (History of Dubrovnik) by Serafin Razzi

Italian Dominican Serafin Razzi (1531 – 1611) mentioned several other shipwrecks and shipwreck survivors in his book about the history of Dubrovnik besides the shipwreck of St Paul the Apostle and Richard the Lionheart, who saved themselves by reaching Mljet, i.e. Lokrum, respectively. The oldest among them took place in 828 A.D. – a Venetian merchant ship returning from the East, full of precious cargo. In the southern Adriatic it was seized by inclement weather and the wind swept it back and forth out on the open sea until it sailed into Dubrovnik. The sailors involved in this perilous situation vowed to build a church for a sum of 100 scudi at the location of their rescue, in honour of Our Lady whose picture they had on board. The sea did indeed calm down when they sailed to the islet on which the famous Dubrovnik citadel was built. Once they realized that they had avoided the peril and that the sea had calmed down, instead of disembarking in Dubrovnik and offering money to build the church, they sailed to Venice, not fulfilling their vow. However, the following night a gale-force adverse wind forced the ship to return back underneath the walls of Dubrovnik; so the sailors, who were scared to death, sailed into the old harbour of Dubrovnik and fulfilled their vow. This church is historically known as Sveta Marija od Kaštela (Saint Mary of the Citadel), and alongside it there was a female convent of the Sisters of St Benedict.

Razzi also mentioned this church in connection with the storm from 1534, describing how a fierce wind swept the church roof over the city walls into the sea, along with the bell tower and the bells. At the same time, it also sunk a ship carrying 1200 barrels in the port of Gruž, as well as a number of other ships out on the open sea.

Furthermore, Razzi claimed that on 10 April 1544, a Venetian ship carrying various goods worth 200,000 dukats sank after getting caught in a storm off the island of Mljet, as it tried to sail into one of the ports on Mljet while fleeing from the storm.

Razzi also stated that a year later, in January 1545, there was a great storm that sank 50 ships whose loads of various commodities were estimated at 100,000 ducats. It also sunk a merchant ship from Dubrovnik sailing along the coast of Calabria. Lightning struck it, splitting the ship in two, and it sank to the bottom, along with the cargo and the crew.

He also claimed that, in 1570, the ship of the papal fleet General, Marcantonio Colonna, returning from the famous Battle of Lepanto, got caught in a storm which buffeted it around in the southern Adriatic and smashed it ashore at Srebreno near Dubrovnik. There were many similar fates, but very few of them were recorded by chroniclers in their annals, like Razzi. In this dissertation, the author offers an overview of three most famous shipwreck survivors who managed to save themselves by reaching the Dubrovnik mainland and thus became an essential part of its cultural history. These are the shipwrecks of the vessel carrying St Paul the Apostle in 60 A.D., the warship of the famous English king Richard the Lionheart in 1192, and the vessel on which the founder of the Franciscan order Saint Francis of Assisi tried to travel to Syria in 1212.


2/1 The Motive for the Journey

In 60 A.D. after the birth of Christ, in the Israeli port of Caesarea Jewish leaders accused Paul of preaching the gospel of Christ, asking the Roman governor to sentence him to death. When the governor cleared him of guilt, these same leaders demanded that he again be lead to a court in Jerusalem, intending to secretly kill him during his journey. Paul thwarted their intention by making an appeal that as a Roman citizen he be tried in Rome. The Roman governor granted him his request and handed him over to centurion Julius who boarded him onto a transport ship carrying grain to Rome in the early autumn of 60 A.D. in Caesarea, in order to bring him before the Court in Rome as a detainee.

Thus began St Paul’s journey to Rome, which was, as is stated the Introduction above, supposed to follow the route along the coast in the north-eastern direction; first by Judea, then the mainland of Asia Minor, and then onwards along the coasts of Greek islands of Cyprus and Crete to Corfu, where they were supposed to change their direction so that they could cross the Adriatic along the route Corfu – Santa Maria di Leuca and Rome, i.e. reach the Roman port of Puteoli by sailing along the coast of south-western Italy.

2/2 Gale-Force Wind and the Shipwreck

However, St Paul's ship did not manage to sail along the outlined route because it got caught in a fierce wind off the small island of Cauda, situated in front of the north-western part of Crete. The ship was hurtled into the Adriatic, where after 13 days of getting swept back and forth by the storm, the waves ran it aground on the reef in front of one of the bays on the island, which St Luke called Melita. That was the old name for the island of Mljet, located just off Dubrovnik. After running aground on the reef, the crew and the passengers swam to the shore, where they were kindly received by the natives that St Luke called Barbarians, who first lit them a big bonfire so that they could warm themselves and dry their clothes. When collecting firewood, Paul was bitten by a poisonous snake which he cast into the fire, and to the amazement of the natives, remained healthy and unharmed. Paul was then received by the Roman ruler of the island named Publius, whose father Paul then miraculously healed. The rescued survivors of the shipwreck, all 276 of them counting Paul, spent three months on the island and then continued their journey to Rome on another Alexandrian ship that wintered in the famous natural harbour of Mljet called Polače. This harbour was sheltered from all kinds of winds, as was mentioned above, and in front of it there is a Roman building called Palatium (Polača), which is still partially preserved nowadays, along with two larger early Christian churches.

2/3 Appropriating the Shipwreck

Many of the events and personalities of the older cultural history are appropriated by several towns; for example, both Štrigova in Međimurje, Stridon near Grahovo in Bosnia and Zdrinj in Istria consider themselves the hometown of the Dalmatian St Jerome, the translator of the scripture into Latin. There is a similar situation regarding the birthplace of the greatest ancient Greek poet, Homer, who is appropriated by seven Greek cities: Smyrna, Rhodes, Colophon, Salamis, Ios, Argos, Atenai; and some sources even argue that he is appropriated by Chios, Chima, Ithaca and Pylos as well.

Something similar happened to the island where St Paul shipwrecked. Apart from the Croatian island of Mljet, two other places in the Mediterranean Sea bore the Greek name Melita: Malta in the eponymous country in the Libyan Sea, and Melita in Cephalonia on the Peloponnese peninsula, where the German biblical scholar Heinz Warnecke recently placed the shipwreck of St Paul. It was not the intention of this work to get involved in discussions with the authors who deny that the shipwreck happened on the island of Mljet. This topic is more thoroughly discussed in my treatise, which is a part of this Collected Works, entitled Two Millennia of the Tradition Regarding St Paul’s Shipwreck in the Waters of the Croatian Island of Mljet in the City of Dubrovnik.

The traditions which maintain that the shipwreck took place on Malta and Cephalonia are of a newer date that those from Dubrovnik and are consequently less credible. Maltese tradition is associated with the arrival of the Knights Hospitallers to Malta in 1596, and the one on Cephalonia appeared only recently.

2/4 Why Mljet?

Out of the ancient writers who considered the island of Mljet as the location where the shipwreck survivor Saint Paul saved himself, I will single out only the following ones:

1. Ananias of Sirak (591 – 636), who in his Geography, written in the period between 591 and 636 A.D., among other things noted in his description of Dalmatia that In the Dalmatian sea there are four large islands: Scadrona, Issa, Corcyra and Melaina, the last one being the rescue location of the 'Blessed Apostle' after his shipwreck.

2. Then there is the founder of European historiography, the oldest writer of medieval Mediterranean history, and quite possibly that of medieval Europe, Byzantine emperor and writer Constantine Porphyrogenitus (905 – 959) who described contemporary cities located on Dalmatian territory in his famous work, De administrando imperio (On the Governance of the Empire), and claimed that, on the island of Mljet, a venomous snake bit St Paul's finger, so he cast it into the fire.

3. After Porphyrogenitus, the previously mentioned historian of Dubrovnik, Italian Serafino Razzi, relayed the same rendition in the 16th century, describing Mljet in his work, Storia di Raugia, in the following manner: At the end of our report on the island of Mljet, I'll also mention that many serious writers believe, the venerable Cardinal Gaetano being one of them, that this very Mljet, an island just off Dubrovnik, was the rescue location of St Paul the Apostle after his shipwreck. There he was bitten by a venomous snake, as is written in chapter 28 of the Acts of the Apostles.

4. Out of the numerous writers from Dubrovnik, I will point out only the Benedictine historian, gifted poet and Abbot of Mljet, Ignjat Đurđević (1675 – 1737), who wrote a monumental work on the shipwreck of St Paul, entitled Divus Paulus Apostolus in mari, quod nunc venetus sinus dicitur naufragus, et Melitae dalmatensis insulae post naufragium hospes sive de genuino significatu duorum locorum in Actibus Apostolicis.Cap. XXVII. 27. Navigantibus nobis in Adria, Cap. 28. 1 Tunc cognovimus, quia Melita insula vocabatur. Inspectiones anticriticae autore D. Ignatio Georgio. Benedictino e congrgatione Melitensi Ragusina. Adjicitur brevis dissertatio eiusdem de catellis Melitaeis. Venetiis, apud Gristophorum Zane Superiorum permissum, ac privilegio MDCCXXX. The translation reads as: The castaway St. Paul the Apostle in the sea called the Bay of Venice, and after the shipwreck the Guest or on a dual interpretation of two places from the Acts of the Apostles in chapter XXVII, line 27 since we were chased (by the wind) to and fro around the Adriatic and in chapter XXVIII, line 1. Only once we were safe, we found out that the name of the island was Melite. Critical understanding of the author, Don Ignazio Giorgi, a Benedictine of the Dubrovnik congregation of Mljet with the addition of a discussion on the dogs of Mljet. Printed in Venice in the printing office of Christophor Zana, with the permission and recommendation by the superior in 1730. In this work, Đurđević categorically claims the following: I say and claim, in full responsibility, that before the noble Knights Hospitallers settled at Malta, i.e. until 1596, it was generally accepted that the glorious place where St Paul the Apostle was saved from a shipwreck was the Croatian island of Mljet.

Besides the historical, other sciences also suggest that the shipwreck of St Paul took place in the water area surrounding Dubrovnik. These are: climatology, which indicates that the air in the region of Dubrovnik is identical to that found in the description of the shipwreck of St Paul on Mljet, penned by St Luke; oceanography, indicating the occurrence of gale-force winds and turbulent waves that rush from Otranto toward the water area surrounding Dubrovnik during the winter period, breaking on the shore with great force, such as the ones described in the shipwreck of St Paul; navigation, that sheds light on the details of the construction and navigational capabilities of old wooden cargo ships and their sailing abilities, as well as the sailing routes of the Mediterranean in those days; which is all in accordance with the description and sailing capabilities of the vessel on which St Paul the Apostle travelled to Rome; zoology, that provides us with the data on the absence of poisonous snakes on Malta and on the strength of the poison found in snakes on Mljet; maritime archaeology, that has discovered the remains of wrecks and cargo from several ships dating from Antiquity precisely on the island of Mljet, which is commonly considered the greatest archaeological maritime find in the Adriatic Sea. We could also add literature and painting to this, seeing as they have, by way of lyrics and brushstrokes, passed on the tradition concerning the shipwreck of St Paul on Mljet and thus perpetuated the memory of his shipwreck. A particular indication of this tradition is the cult of St Paul and his disciple St Luke in the Roman Catholic Diocese of Dubrovnik, which is reflected in the construction of churches in honour of these two saints, usage of baptismal names Pavao (Paul), Paula and Luka (Luke), and particularly the surnames derived from the name of Paul, which appear in about hundred variants in Croatia. The natural result of combining everything outlined above is a clear and efficacious indication, which should be considered certain and credible evidence that the shipwreck of St Paul really happened on the island of Mljet.


3/1 The English King’s Motive

Historical tradition in Dubrovnik associates the shipwreck of the famous English king Richard the Lionheart (1189 – 1199) with the construction of a new Romanesque cathedral in Dubrovnik. There is a state official written version of that, worded in 1598, and entered in the archive book Diversa cancelariae no. 87, fol.103v – 104, which freely translated reads:

Since it is right and important to always provide testimony on the truth, the Prince and the Council of the Republic of Dubrovnik hereby proclaim to everyone, as well as the individuals that the matter pertains to or could pertain to in the future, that during the reign of Pope Alexander III of blessed memory, the English King Henry II, in order to dispel the suspicion that he gave the order to kill Blessed Thomas, the Archbishop of Canterbury, made a vow before the cardinals sent by the pope that he will make a pilgrimage to Jerusalem and wage war against the Saracens, enemies of the Christians. Since his death prevented him to fulfil his vow, his son and successor on the throne took over the obligation to personally fulfil this vow and has personally led the planned war. On his way back to England after the war, his fleet got caught in a sea storm, but he managed to sail into the Dalmatian Sea despite his great peril, and vowed to build a church for the sum of 100,000 ducats at the location of his rescue. And once he finally reached the island of Lokrum (which falls under our jurisdiction) near Dubrovnik unharmed, he immediately decided to fulfil his vow for the graces he received. At the request of our Republic, he revised it with the permission of the Apostolic See and built a church called The Cathedral, with the titular of the Blessed Virgin Mary, in Dubrovnik. The express condition of the king was that each year the Benedictines from Lokrum would celebrate evening pontifical ceremonies and the Masses on Candlemas in the newly-built cathedral. And so they did, with the approval of Pope Innocent III – their abbots used the pontifical staff and the mitre in the rites without any opposition; indeed, even in the presence of the ordinaries themselves who looked upon this graciously and with favour ever since that time until present-day, when the new archbishop, not without scandalizing the clergy and the people, tried to prevent them in exercising this right and to abolish it.

Therefore, since we reviewed and studied the documentation based on the records of our traditions and authentic historical sources, especially from our manuscript chronicles, both collectively and individually, we deem it necessary to certify this attestation of ours in writing, at the request of the Lokrum monks, so that no one can question this writing in the future, and we ordered our Chancellor to affix it with the state seal bearing the image of St Blaise that we normally use to seal and announce similar documents,
In Dubrovnik, in the year 1598 since the birth of our Lord Jesus Christ, indiction XI, on 20 February. Viktor Besaleus, public and sworn Chancellor of the Serene Republic of Dubrovnik.

The document shows that the reason the previously mentioned English king found himself in the tempestuous maelstrom of the southern Adriatic was his return from the Third Crusade he undertook from 1189 – 1191 in order to fulfil the vow made by his father, King Henry II (1087 – 1100), who was suspected of having ordered the murder of the Archbishop of Canterbury, Thomas Becket (1177 – 1170). The shipwreck occurred on his return journey from the Crusade in the October of 1192. In the Adriatic his fleet was affected by inclement weather, similarly to St Paul’s ship, threatening to sink the fleet. In his distress, the king vowed to build a church in honour of the Mother of God if he managed to save himself, at the location where his foot stepped on land.

3/2 The Account of the King’s Contemporary, Roger de Hoveden

The king’s contemporary, English chronicler Roger de Hoveden, claimed that the ship sailed to the island near Dubrovnik, and marked it with the word Gazere which served as a name for an island in the maritime dictionary of that time.

3/3 Chroniclers from Dubrovnik

In addition to the above-mentioned official record, ancient chroniclers from Dubrovnik also wrote about this event – Anonymous in the 15th, and Nikola Ranjina in the 16th century – but the name of the king and the year of the event’s occurrence they used were incorrect. It seems that the previously mentioned Italian Dominican Serafin Razzi used these sources while staying in Dubrovnik from 1587 – 1589 as vicar of the Dominican monastery. In that short period he wrote the history of Dubrovnik, among other things, and published it in the Italian city of Lucca in 1595, under the title Storia di Raugia. In it he described the royal shipwreck, citing the wrong year – 1116 – and the incorrect name of the king who, according to him, was named Louis. According to Razzi, the Prince of Dubrovnik hosted the king in the old town for a while and put a ship from Dubrovnik at his disposal, which he took to Ancona.  Most likely there were more records on the shipwreck in the archives of the monastery on Lokrum, particularly in the monastery chronicles that disappeared. It is also likely that the Dubrovnik Senate used some archival sources that we do not possess nowadays when preparing the above records, as is pointed out. Even though the record was drafted to defend the rights of the Lokrum Benedictines to hold worship services in the Dubrovnik Cathedral on the eve of the holiday dedicated to the patron of the old Dubrovnik state, a right challenged by the Archbishop Aurelius Navarre (1592 – 1602), there is no doubt that Richard the Lionheart stayed in Dubrovnik on his return from the Third Crusade, and that he endowed the church in Dubrovnik with a certain monetary sum.

 3/4 Painting of the Patron King
Until recently, the city cathedral in Dubrovnik also hosted a huge oil painting of the king holding a model of the church in his hands, which was said to represent precisely that the English patron king.


4/1. The Motive for the Journey

The reason why Francis of Assisi stayed in Dubrovnik is that the vessel on which he travelled to Syria as a missionary and a pilgrim was forced to sail into the water area surrounding Dubrovnik due to being affected by inclement weather. Unlike the two previously mentioned shipwreck survivors, St Paul the Apostle and the English king Richard the Lionheart, who stayed in the region of Dubrovnik once, historians believe that the founder of the Franciscan Order stayed there twice. The first time was in 1212, in the month of October, when he undertook said missionary journey to Syria, and the second time in 1219, when he travelled to Egypt with the same objective. The information on his first stay is found in many Italian sources, even though they do not directly mention the name of Dubrovnik but the land of Sclavoniae, i.e. Croatia in general, because that was the expression the Italians used for the area by the sea inhabited by the Croats. The notion that this was one of the bays found along the coast of Dubrovnik is not controversial because this is the area where the force of the storm-induced waves from the south Adriatic and the long-lasting southern wind drive the shipwrecks, drowned bodies and everything that floats on the open sea from Otranto to the west into the water area surrounding Dubrovnik. It is a centuries-old annual occurrence which the TV viewers from all around the world were able to witness two years ago when the TV network Croatian Radiotelevision filmed a tremendous amount of garbage carried by the south wind from Otranto into the bays of Dubrovnik and the harbours from Lokrum to Pelješac.
4/2 Start of the Voyage

We do not know from which Italian port the vessel carrying the pilgrim and missionary Francis of Assisi began sailing in the year 1212, but we can assume that it was Ancona or Brindisi, or any other port in the southern part of the Adriatic Italian coast.

4/3 Inclement Weather

The earliest biographer of St Francis and his contemporary, Thomas de Celano, claims that the storm engulfed Francis’ ship at a distance of 200 leuca of Ancona. According to his description, this happened abruptly. Suddenly, the sky got dark and high waves rose, and for a long time they threatened to sink the vessel, forcing the crew and the passengers to their certain deaths.

4/4 Rescue Harbour

They managed to save themselves by forcibly sailing into one of the ports on the Croatian coast (in partibus Sclavoniae), as was already pointed out. The same biographer claims that this happened in the sixth year after the conversion of St Francis and the founding of the Franciscan Order, but does not say in which part of the Adriatic it happened.  If we assume that the vessel crossed the Adriatic from the Apennine to the Balkan Peninsula via the route from Santa Maria di Leuca to Durrės and Corfu, we can conclude that this took place in its southern part, near Otranto. Therefore, the subsequent route that the vessel carrying St Francis was forced on was similar to that which led to the shipwreck of St Paul, the difference being that Paul saved himself by reaching Mljet and Francis by reaching Dubrovnik.

4/5 Miraculous Healing of a Child in Trsteno

According to a tale from oral tradition, written down by Vid Vukasević-Vuletić, this event happened in a small town near Dubrovnik, Trsteno. This place is well-known because the oldest botanical garden in Croatia is situated there, famous for its tropical plants whose seedlings have been brought to Dubrovnik by sailors from faraway regions in the past, and which is, among other things, adorned by three giant platanus trees that are hundreds of years old. Situated at the park’s eye-catching lookout that offers the view of the Elaphite islands of Dubrovnik is the castle-summer mansion of the noble family Gučetić which engendered a large number of eminent individuals in the past. Dubrovnik’s Government held their sessions on the terrace of the park in the summer, as evidenced by a stone table with a chair on which a scribe sat while writing down the conclusions from the session in the minutes. His back was turned to the senators, because there was a rule in force in Dubrovnik – "the person speaking is irrelevant, what is being said is important"– meaning that the scribe was not allowed to see the speaker’s face; he could only write down their words. Therefore, the arrival of Francis in Dubrovnik is tied into the aforementioned legend as follows:

At the time of St Francis a pious confessor named Theophilus lived in Trsteno, who was warned by the unexpected ringing of the bell from the "Witch Doctor’s Hill" during the night that the vessel carrying Saint Francis was approaching Trsteno. Theophilus got out of bed, put on a formal suit and hurried to meet the saint at the local port of "Srdopine". After disembarking, the saint stopped at a summer mansion of the noble family of Vukota Gučetić. On this occasion, Francis miraculously healed a dying child.

4/6 Francis' Visit to Dubrovnik

When the nobility of Dubrovnik heard that a saint came to their national territory, they invited him as a welcome guest in the city of Dubrovnik, and the saint accepted their invitation. A formal reception and entry into the City were personally led by the Prince, along with the senators and the Archbishop accompanied by the canons.

The scene depicting the reception is illustrated in the cloister of the monastery of the Friars Minor in Dubrovnik, on one of the numerous frescoes depicting the life of St Francis. The fresco depicts Saint Francis with two of his fellow brothers coming out of the vessel, and the Archbishop, accompanied by the canons, is rushing out to meet him with open arms, along with the prince and 4 senators. There is the canopy in the background, and the honour guard of Dubrovnik's soldiers is positioned around it. One of them is a standard-bearer who carries the banner of St Blaise in his hand, raised high. The legend states that on that occasion the saint prophesied that the Republic of Dubrovnik will preserve its independence for as long as it faithfully served the Catholic faith.

4/8 Stay in the Church of St Margaret

 Another legend claims that the saint first entered the city as a poor man and took refuge in the church of St Margaret, which still exists today in the courtyard of the Diocesan Seminary. Apparently, a board was set up in the church that bore the inscription detailing the stay of St Francis. It was subsequently moved to Austria to the church Of Sigurata where, after forgetting about the importance of the fact that St Francis stayed in Dubrovnik at such an early time, the builders destroyed it by encasing it in the pavement.
4/9 The Resurrection of a Young Man on Šipan

Francis is also attributed with the resurrection of a young man on the island of Šipan during his stay in Dubrovnik. The young man was killed during grape harvest by a large stone that suddenly came rolling down to the vineyard where the harvest took place. This miracle is mentioned by St Bonaventure in his biography of St Francis, and the poet from Dubrovnik, Matej Sorkočević (Sorgo), wrote poems about it in 1828, when the Catholics celebrated the ascension of the body of St Francis in Assisi. This commemorative poem reads:

Vix tua te Virtus Francoisce evexit ad aras
Mirifice nostra in vota vocatus ades.
Tu exanimem puerum confractum pondere saxi
Incolumen reddis Jauridis agricolae.
Auspicis tua nunc quum laetis ossa resurgunt
Condita quae ignoto delituere loco,
O iterum loca respice nota, atque undique fractum
Sacra loci dominum o eximat urna malis.
Urna ignota diu qua inventa sidera tanto
Nunc melius faustis te feras auspiciis.

(Because of your virtues, today we elevate to the altar
Your holy bones, fortunately found
That remained hidden for so long.
Once again, look to our horizons as you did before
And answer the prayers of the people that pray to you,
As you did with winegrower Jurid, whose son
Lost his life during harvest to the massive stone
That separated from the rock and dealt him a strong blow
And you brought him back using your miraculous powers
Returning him unharmed to the happy winegrower.
Do so now as well, when your holy powers
Rise to the glory of the altar
Kindly look to this region and the City
In which you once had a pleasant stay
Offered to you by your many admirers
Therefore, do not forget those old locations
But protect them now as well, for they are, even more so than before,
Surrounded by numerous perils).

4/10 Elegy Portraying the Stay in Dubrovnik

In addition to this song of praise, there is a lengthy elegy written in 1667 by the poet Vinko Petrović, which was preserved in the form of a transcription made by Serafin Crijević (Cerva). It contains a description of all the events from the life of St Francis, with special reference to the above-mentioned ones related to the stay of St Francis in Dubrovnik, written in very beautiful Latin verses.

4/11 Synthesis of the Records

When we combine what was mentioned above with many of the records written down in the old Dubrovnik chronicles that were not presented here due to the limitations posed on available space, it becomes obvious that St Francis really stayed in Dubrovnik. There is no doubt about this, especially when we take the firmly developed cult of Saint Francis in Dubrovnik into account, as well as the fact that all sailing routes from north to south and vice versa led through the water area surrounding Dubrovnik, and that ships stopped in Dubrovnik to pick up water, food and other necessities of life. Also, their captains would often deliver and retrieve mail and perform many commercial transactions along the way. Bearing in mind that the vessel carrying St Francis was caught in a storm 200 leuca away from Ancona and that it was hurtled towards the Croatian coast, it should be deemed certain that the event took place in the water area surrounding Dubrovnik, as was upheld in the tradition of Dubrovnik all the way to the present day.


Because of the political role it had in the past and the immense, global-scale cultural heritage bequeathed to it by its inhabitants, Dubrovnik is well-known in the world as a beautiful and famous city. Many of the particulars from various scientific and artistic fields that make up the treasury of Dubrovnik’s renowned cultural history attest to its fame. One piece of its mosaic are the many shipwreck survivors who managed to save themselves by reaching the area surrounding Dubrovnik, which is still an under-researched topic to date. The three previously introduced shipwreck survivors were certainly among its most famous ones: St Paul the Apostle, Richard the Lionheart and Francis of Assisi. All three shipwreck survivors were extremely famous historical cosmopolitan personalities with whom our forefathers of the time consorted with in ancient Dubrovnik, a fact we are nowadays proud to point out. The most famous of them is certainly St Paul the Apostle, whose shipwreck should not be regarded as a miraculous event, but as a regular occurrence that many experienced in the water area surrounding Dubrovnik, including the English King Richard and Francis of Assisi. It is our obligation to commit these events to memory and pass them on to new generations, which is something that our brief dissertation will contribute to.

  •  Cf.: Ničetić A., Povijest dubrovačke luke, Dubrovnik, 1996, p. 29.
  •  Cf. Cambi N., Apostol Pavao na moru, Brodolom Apostola Pavla u vodama hrvatskog otoka Mljeta, Zagreb, 2009, pp. 220–221.
  •  Cf. Razzi S., Storia di Raugia, Lucca, 1595, pp.18, 81, 102, 104, 114.
  •  Cf. Acts of the Apostles, chapters 27–28.
  •  Cf. Entry entitled Jeronim in Enciklopedija Jugoslavije 4, Zagreb, 1960, p. 487.
  •  Cf. Majnarić Nikola, Izbor iz Homerove Ilijade i Odiseje, Zagreb, group of authors, Odyssey, p. V.
  •  For more information on this, please see: Warnecke Heinz, Die tatsächliche Romafarht Apostels Paulus, Stuttgart, 1987.
  •  Cf. Diversa Canclariae 87, fol. 1o3v - 1o4v. in the Historical Archives in Dubrovnik.
  •  For more information on the Archbishop Thomas Becket, please see: Le Goff J., Srednjovjekovna civilizacije Zapadne Europe, (Translation by Dobrila Stošić), Beograd, 1974, p. 614.
  •  For more information, please see: Niko Štuk, Rikard lavljeg srca u Dubrovniku, list Dubrovačke biskupije XXX, Dubrovnik, 1920, p. 81; Vinko Foretić, Povijest Dubrovačke Republike I, Zagreb, 1980, p. 49.
  •  Cf. Razzi S., Storia di Raugia, Lucca, 1595, p. 33.
  •  For more information, please see: Liepopili A., Slike Dubrovačke katedrale, Dubrovnik, 1939, p. 11.
  •  Cf. Jurić F., Je li sveti Frano bio u Dubrovniku, Dubrovnik, 1934, p. 9.
  •  Cf. Christofani A., Vita sancti Franciosci versificata, Prato, 1882, p. 168. Leuca is a medieval length measurement unit. 1 leuca "Gallica" was 1,500 steps, and one leuca anglica (English) 3000 steps.
  •  Cf. Celano de Th., Vita s. Francisci I, Romae, 1906, p. 57.
  •  Apart from Dubrovnik, the Croatian cities of Rijeka, Zadar, Split and Zagreb also claim to be the locations where St Francis stayed. (Cf. Mandić Dominik, Boravak sv. Franje Asiškoga u hrvatskim krajvima, Nova revija jubilarnio izdanje), Makarska, 1926, pp. 223–119).
  •   Cf. Jurić F., Je li sveti Frano ... p. 23.
  •  For more information, please see: Jurić F., Je li sveti Frano ... pp. 15–17.

The shipwreck of St Paul the Apostle on Croatian island of Mljet

Croatian Science

Croatia, An Overview of Its History, Culture and Science