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Notes, Ecclesiological and Picturesque, on Dalmatia, Croatia, Istria, Styria, with a Visit to Montenegro


by the Rev. J. M. Neale, M.A.,
Warden of Sackville College.

London: J. T. Hayes, Lyall Place, Eaton Square.



I HAVE no design of writing the very interesting history of Ragusa. Wilkinson and Paton have anticipated such a task. I have only, after reminding the reader that it never yielded to the dominion of Venice, to recount what it possesses in the way of ecclesiology. Its freedom from the Queen of the Adriatic, is curiously recorded by the two slips of Turkish ground, which intersect the Austrian territory to the right and to the left of that which was the ancient republic. The road through these strips is neutral ground; the country on each side, even down by the sea, belongs to the Turk. That to the south, runs down by a place called Xvigne; that to the north, a little above Gravosa.

The steamers do not go into Ragusa, but into the bay of Gravosa, which lies on the northern side of the promontory on which the town itself stands. This, with its adjunct, the Val d’Ombla, is (with the exception of Cattaro) the most lovely scenery in Dalmatia. Wilkinson well says:—

"The entrance of the Val d’Ombla is a short way to the N.W. of Gravosa; and an hour’s row bring you to the end of that picturesque valley. At the first village, on entering it, is a sulphurous spring, very similar to that of Spalato. Advancing up the estuary, or loch, the beauty of the scenery increases; and, as its course is winding, a diversity of views present themselves. The lower part of the hills is covered with a variety of foliage; amidst which the dark green of the cypress contrasts well with the grey olive, that thrives here, and bears much fruit; and rock and wood, hamlet and villa, mingled together and reflected in the water, with the circle of mountains above, form a succession of beautiful pictures; a principal feature of which is the Church of the Franciscan Convent, standing on a point of land near the end of the valley; where the river expands into the loch,

This river is the ancient Ario or Arion."

A mile and a-half through a series of villas and their ruins: the suburbs of Ragusa having been entirely ruined by an expedition of the Montenegrins in 1805. In the times of their glory, when the word argosy spread the fame of the merchant republic to every sea, the principal men of the state had their country houses along the road we now pass; it commands a lovely view of the bay, with the islands of Daxa and Calamotta; and here, more luxuriantly than anywhere else in Dalmatia, the palm tree flourishes.

Ragusa, in Illyrian Dubrovnik (the wooded city,—from Dubrava, wood), in Turkish, Paprovnik—cannot be expected to offer much in the way of ecclesiology. It had already suffered from earthquakes in 1520, 1521, 1639; when on the 6th of April, 1667, a more tremendous convulsion occurred, by which the city was almost destroyed. "It was only announced by the sudden shock itself, which destroyed every building except the fortress, the lazaretto, and some edifices of solid construction. The sun had scarcely risen two hours; the inhabitants were mostly in their houses, or at prayers in the churches; and 5,000 individuals were in an instant buried beneath the ruins. The crash of falling walls, the rocking of the earth, the groans of the dying, and the tears of those who had escaped, presented a scene of horror and dismay. The ships in the port were dashed against each other, the sea rose to an unusual height, the wells were dried up, and a dense cloud of sand filled the air. No one felt secure; the dread of a second shock appalled the boldest; and fear only subsided to give place to grief, for the death or sufferings of relatives and friends. All had to lament the loss of some one who was dear to them; and the deaths of the Rettore Ghetaldi and other distinguished citizens were felt to be a public misfortune. Nine tenths of the clergy were killed; and a whole school of boys, who some days afterwards were heard to cry for water, beneath the fallen walls, perished miserably, without the means of rescue. Smaller shocks continued at intervals; many persons fled to Gravosa; and so great was the fear of approaching the ruins and tottering walls, that none thought of extinguishing the fires, that had been kindled among the fallen rafters of the houses and the public ovens. A strong wind springing up spread the flames in every direction; and no sooner had the fire ceased, than a band of Morlacchi, who had come to the market, began to pillage whatever the fire had spared; while the inhabitants, intent upon their own safety, or engaged in assisting their friends, were unable to interfere; and those who ventured to oppose them were murdered, for defending the property they had saved.

The Senate, in the meantime, neglected no duty of humanity required at such a moment; and every effort was made to check disorder, and repair the calamity. The gates were shut, to exclude other bands of Morlacchi, who were coming from the hills; and measures were immediately taken, to rescue the wounded from the ruins.

Confidence was at length restored; and the people, encouraged by the advice and consent of the nobles, having overcome the first impulse of fear, which had suggested the abandonment of their city, made every effort to rebuild their habitations. Four families only followed the example of the archbishop, who, with some monks, and numerous nuns, fled to Ancona." Earthquakes, more or less violent, are felt every twenty years; the last occurred on the 14th of September, 1843.

Passing through a pleasant faubourg, where, under a group of lofty trees, vehicles [A curious change since the time of Wilkinson, who says (vol. i. p. 372) "Ragusa has neither carriages, nor draught horses, everything being carried by porters."] ply for hire, we entered by a gate, the first which did not bear the Lion of S. Mark, but has instead the tutelar image of S. Biagio (S. Blaise) we put up at the Corona d’Ungheria.

Alas for the Cathedral! it would have been, but for the earthquakes, of the greatest interest, having been founded by our Richard Coeur de Lion, on his return from the East. But it utterly perished; and the present building of S. Biagio is an Italian building, entirely worthless. The city was originally under the protection of SS. Sergius and Bacchus, to whom a Cathedral was erected by Paulimir, in 691; but the head of S. Blaise having been brought over from Armenia by a pilgrim priest in the tenth century, and that priest having been warned by the Prelate, in a dream, of an impending attack by the Venetians, the inhabitants, out of gratitude for their deliverance, assumed the Asiatic Bishop as their Proper Saint. The architect was Angelo Bianchi; the building was finished in 1713. The sacristy contains a collection of inestimable value to the student of mediaeval goldsmith’s work. The reliquaries which hold the head of S. Biagio, procured as above-mentioned; his left arm, given by Venice, in 1346; his right arm, a present from Thomas Palaeologus, despot of Peloponnesus, in 1459, seemed to me, as well as I could see in their dark recesses, to display the most exquisite art. But there must be forty different pieces at least, brought hither for safety from imperilled monasteries in Bosnia and Herzegovina, of first-rate importance. I could have cried with vexation at being separated from so invaluable a treasure by only an iron screen; but no entreaties, no bribes, though I offered twenty florins to be allowed to see them but for one hour, could prevail on the sexton to open them. The Bishop himself, he said, could not give me permission without a capitular act. It was the only time the Imperial recommendation failed.

The Ragusan moonlight is celebrated all over Europe; and, certainly, as we came back late at night, from our first visit to the city, and saw the bay of Gravosa quivering under its sweet influence, and the white monastery of Val d’Ombla beyond the water, glimmering from its grove of pines and cypresses, I did think that nothing in the world could be so lovely.

It was on my second visit to Ragusa that I explored the Dominican Convent. The church itself is perfectly modernised—a mere oblong room—though with bits here and there, which shew it to have been, like the monastery, First-Pointed. The east end is square; the Chancel domed. There are a good many old fragments behind the High Altar: I copied from a small slab at the east end—

Hic requiescit
dns Ursacius dicerevc
cum suis heredibus
die primo Elmo.

the last line of which I cannot understand. I observed also an approximation to the usage of the Eastern Church, in the number of crowned pictures suspended round the walls of the building.

The cloisters are far more interesting. They form a tolerable sized quadrangle, of five bays each way. They are First-Pointed; each division contains three arches; the shafts are circular with square Corinthianising cap, and circular, or square, base. Between each two, above a small quatrefoil, is a very elegant ornament of three intersecting triangles.

I have called this work First-Pointed. Yet from its identity with other work in this same city, which we know to be of Third-Pointed date, from a certain leanness and baldness of its mouldings, and from a refinement very unlike the rude honesty of the undoubtedly First-Pointed work at Curzola and in other of the islands, I am almost inclined to think that this is in truth Ragusan Third-Pointed, giving way to one of the tricks, not unusually played in that style; and on which Mr. Webb has some excellent remarks, in his Continental Ecclesiology, page 376. I am the more inclined to believe this, from the arcading of several of the shops which surround the Cathedral; and which bear no token whatever of the remote antiquity which they would at first seem to promise.

In the monastery we were received, as usual, with great courtesy; and thought the greater part of the library was sold by the monks at the French invasion, there remain about fifty manuscripts of considerable value; and I spent several hours in copying sequences from them. Hence we visited the Franciscan Monastery which, except for the library, has little of interest. The quadrangle, though very much mutilated, is at least pretty with its variety of semi-tropical plants, which trail over its walls. The church itself is entirely modern: its lower tower is lofty, of four stages, its upper ones with baluster windows, and the whole surmounted by an octagonal cupola. In a somewhat elaborate Flamboyant south door, the tympanum has a well carved Mater Dolorosa.

I had a great desire to visit the first Turkish village, Bertano, only three miles from hence. My companion preferred to explore, at leisure, the treasures of the Dominican Convent. I went, therefore, with Dundich, to the Boschetto, a pleasant little grove just outside of the southern gate—this gate, by the way, like all the others, is flanked by square mediæval turrets, and possesses no real strength;—and from the bazaar there, we hired two miserably lean horses, and were informed that no passport was necessary. The road immediately began to ascend, curving round the gulf of Brenno, just by a place called Porte Plocce, and then by zig-zags ascending the hill. Behind us lay the old city girt in by its curious mediæval fortifications; beyond it, the lovely Val d’Ombla; to the immediate right, the gulf of Brenno, with the little island, sometimes called Croma, sometimes S. Marco. On this latter, the Archduke Maximilian has laid out, we were told, 30,000 florins, partly on a fortification, partly on a Franciscan house. Across the bay, lay the decayed village of Ragusa Vecchia, the ancient Epidaurus; beyond this, fenced in by high cliffs on either side, and stretching towards Cattaro, the valley Ville Ligna; and to the north of the latter, snow-capped Mount Sniegsizza. As soon as we had surmounted the highest zigzag, Bertano lay immediately on the opposite side of the glen; and the first minaret that I ever saw, was at that very moment capped with a horribly black thunder cloud—no bad emblem of a race sitting in darkness, and the shadow of death. The village itself was as wretched and filthy as most of those in Herzegovina, though nearly a moiety of the inhabitants are, I believe, Greeks. Neither in the orthodox Church, nor in the Mosque, is there anything of the slightest interest.

We returned to Gravosa through a second lovely evening. The nightingales were singing from every bush by the wayside; and the mixture of these with fireflies, palm-trees, hoopoos, and the aloe, seemed to us a strange yet beautiful confusion of England and the tropics. At Gravosa, we hired a boat, and crossing to Val d’Ombla, visited the neat little Dominican convent there. It has nothing in the way of architecture to interest the traveller, any more than the smaller house of the Jesuits, on the opposite side of the bay. But I never saw anything more lovely, as we walked the quarter-deck late at night, than the gradual rising of the moon over the mountains, the darkening shade of the cypress groves, and the beautiful reflection of the white convent in the unruffled lake.

At 8 o’clock the next morning, having in the night coasted the outside of Meleda, and run between Curzola and Lagosta, we found ourselves rapidly passing Lesina, the ancient Pharos, by a corruption of which name it is called, in Slavonic, Hvar. In primitive writers it has won the title of Sancta, on account of the great number of its martyrs. It may be forty-two miles in length, while it varies in breadth from two miles to seven and a-half. We cast anchor off the town of Lesina, at the western extremity of its island, at 8. A.M. A very picturesque place it is, with its Venetian lines of architecture, and the rich creamy yellow colour of its houses. In its steep steppy streets, and their excessive narrowness, it reminded me strongly of Curzola.

Santo Spirito

was the first church; a very small, rude, Romanesque building. The apse is circular, the nave of three bays, the roof very acutely pointed, and clearly later. There is a miraculous image of S. Mary, which has acquired considerable celebrity. The west door is square-headed, under a pointed arch of construction. The shafts of the doorway are voluted, with heads at the upper angles. In the tympanum is an ancient figure, under a trefoiled arch; and in the apex of the western facade, a ten-leaved rose, each lead trefoiled.

Higher up the hill is the Cathedral,—a building sadly modernized, yet not without its interest. The choir seems divided into two portions, the eastern quite modern, the western in three bays, like Santo Spirito. The floor is of red and white marble. The seven stalls on each side with subsellae are much admired by the natives: they are fair Flamboyant work. The ambones are more remarkable. Each is octagonal, supported on four shafts; the shafts themselves circular, with octagonal flowered capitals, and circular, on square, bases. They are still used and vested. Besides these, there is, at the entrance of the choir, a stone desk, supported by a circular shaft, which proceeds from the back of a lion,—the whole a very singular composition. The nave, which is modernized, has four bays: the pictures which ornament it, have the Greek type very strongly. West of the south aisle are some singular frescoes: highest of all, the Madonna; under that, S. Catherine and S. Lucy; under these, two figures with a lamb and a book, and another with an open book; under these, the Twelve Apostles. The tower, to the west of the north aisle, has five stages; the upper pierced with four, the next with three, the next with two, and the next with one, circular light. Nor far from this, near the centre of the Quay, are the Loggie, built by San Michaeli, and bearing S. Mark’s lion. Near to this is the Venetian tower of S. Mark, the church of which was destroyed by lightning some years ago.

This is the last church with which the reader will be troubled.

On leaving Lesina, we immediately passed the island of Lissa, celebrated from the victory obtained by Captain Hoste, over a French squadron, and which I cannot describe better than in Mr. Paton’s words:—

"This French force consisted of four frigates of 44 guns, two corvettes of 32 guns, and three sloops, with 700 infantry on board. That of Captain Hoste, off Lesina, consisted of the ‘Amphion,’ 32; the ‘Active,’ 38; the ‘Cerberus,’ 32; and ‘Volage,’ of 22; or 880 Britons to 2,500 French and Italians. What’s in a name? Wonders. With such appalling odds against him, the gallant Hoste felt that something was necessary to produce a moral effect in so critical a moment; and the telegraphic word, ‘Remember Nelson!’ thrilled through every heart, while prolonged cheers echoed from deck to deck of the little squadron.

"Close to the eastern shore of Lissa, the ‘Amphion,’ Captain Hoste, with the ‘Active,’ ‘Volage,’ and ‘Cerberus,’ in close order, awaited the enemy, who bore down from the north-east. Dubourdieu, in the ‘Favorite,’ led the van; and marking the ‘Amphion,’ which lay next the shore, for his own, he prepared to board her, while his other frigates and small craft might make easy work of the ‘Active,’ the ‘Volage,’ and the ‘Cerberus.’ A crowd of seamen and marines thronged the forecastle of the French vessel (‘Favorite.’) Dubourdieu himself stood forward to direct and encourage his men; and so close was the ‘Favorite’ to the ‘Amphion,’ that eager expectation could be read on the countenances of the men. The grappling tackle was ready, the cutlass was drawn, and the pike was prepared; but just when a few yards separated the two ships, off went a five-and-a-half inch howitzer with 750 musket-balls from the quarter-deck of the ‘Amphion;’ and as if Death in his own person had swept his scythe from gunwale to gunwale, Dubourdieu and his boarder were prostrate in an instant. Foiled in the attempt, the Captain of the French frigate, who now took the command, attempted to pass round between the ‘Amphion’ and the shore, and thus place Hoste between two fires; but so nicely and narrowly had the ‘Amphion’ chosen her position, that the ‘Favorite’ got ashore in the attempt, and was thus in a great measure hors de combat. This important incident gave such a turn to the struggle as the French never recovered; but the odds being still against the English, the contest was prolonged for several hours. The British squadron now stood on the larboard tack; but the ‘Cerberus,’ in wearing, got her rudder choked by a shot, which caused a delay; but the action continued. Captain Hoste, in the ‘Amphion,’ being now galled by the fire of the ‘Flore,’ 44, and the ‘Bellona,’ 32, closed with the former, and in a few minutes the ‘Flore’ struck; but having received by mistake some shots of the ‘Bellona,’ which were intended for and went past the ‘Amphion’ after she had struck, an officer took her ensign, and, holding it over the taffrel, threw it into the sea. Hoste now crossed to the ‘Bellona,’ and compelled her also to strike at noon, just three hours after the action began; but no sooner was this accomplished, than the ‘Flore,’ belying her surrender, was seen crowding sail to escape, pursuit by the ‘Amphion’ being by this time impossible, her foremast threatening to fall, and her sails and rigging rendered unserviceable from the cross-fires she had sustained. The rest of the Gallo-Venetian squadron, upon this, attempted to escape; but the British ‘Active,’ pursuing the Venetian ‘Corona,’ compelled her also to strike, in a running fight, at half-past 2 in the afternoon; thus terminating one of the most gallant actions on record. Three 44-gun frigates, including the escaped ‘Flore,’ and a 32-gun corvette having struck to the British squadron.

"Lissa thenceforth became to the end of the war an English possession. Colonel Robertson was civil and military Governor. Twelve natives formed a legislative and judicial council. A small fort was constructed, and the towers to this day bear the names of Wellington, Bentnick, and Robertson."

Thirty-six hours later after leaving Lesina, we came once more in sight of the southernmost promontory of Istria. It was a calm, lovely summer night; a glossy, leaden hue on the still waters. As I walked the quarter-deck during its earlier hours, first I made out the bay-entrance of the harbour of Pola; then I caught the Compline or, probably Matin, bell from Santa Catherina; then light behind light, at Grongera, at Rovigno, at Parenzo, flashed along the darkening shore. There I bade farewell to beautiful Istria; and once more, at 7 o’clock the next morning, we found ourselves at the quay of Trieste.

That night—a night of storm and rain—we crossed the Adriatic, and had our first view of its Queen on Whitsunday morning. Hence, giving a few days to that glorious city and to Milan, we arrived at Turin. And so, over Mount Cenis, to S. Jean de Maurienne. Here I would recommend the little Cathedral, still curious, though modernized, and its singular Sacraments-house, to the traveller with a vacant hour. Here, also, I heard the bitter complaint of the inhabitants at their proposed transference to France,—a transference to take place in the week immediately succeeding that of my visit.

Thus, by Chambery and Macon, to Paris; and our old route via Calais and Dover, closed a very happy, and (to me at least) instructive, tour.


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