Perast – Lady of the Rocks

A church on an island built by local seamen dropping rocks at the same spot every time they return safely from a voyage? A tapestry woven using the weaver’s own hair? These are the captivating stories from the village of Perast in Montenegero. Nestled at the foot of St Elijah Hill on the Gulf of Kotor, you only have to be distracted by your phone for a few seconds and you would have driven past this idyllic sea-faring town.

Perast Bay dr sze wey lee

The two islands in Perast. From the left is the island of St George which is not open to visits. The island on the right with the blue church dome is the Lady of the Rocks.

Petar, our guide of course, made sure we missed nothing of it. Stopping our van suddenly in what seemed like just the side of the main road, he marshalled us down some 20-30 stone steps before we reached what seemed like a square facing the bay. Then from here, there are boats that will more than happily ferry you across the bay to the only man-made island in the Adriatic.

Our Lady rocks Dr Sze Wey Lee

The Lady of the Rocks framed against the mountains of Montenegro.

So, what’s with the island? Well, legend has it that in the 15th century, two Venetian sailors from Perast discovered a painting of the Virgin Mary and Child on a crag jutting out from the ocean after a long journey at sea. Seeing it as a sign, they dropped some rocks over board at the spot where they found the painting. It came to pass then that whenever seamen returned safely from months at sea, they would do the same. Over time, this little crag became an islet whereby subsequently the first church was built in 1452. Today, the little islet has become the island Our Lady of the Rocks due to the efforts and generosity of these seamen and inhabitants of Perast.

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(True to form, this folklore has more to it which our guide happily added. It seems when the Venetian sailors found the painting, they dutifully returned it to the church in Perast. But the next day it would disappear from the church and reappear on the crag! This happened three times before the sailors understood that this is where the painting wanted to be. Hence, the beginning of their efforts to build an island for it.)

Perast Dr Sze wey Lee church

Inside the Lady of the Rocks church which is richly decorated. Notice in addition to paintings, the two walls are filled with silver votives.

 

Our Lady of the Rocks

The silver votives (above the paintings) are donated by seamen to the church for bringing them safely back home from their journeys. A lot of them are pictures of ships.

To commemorate this, every year on July 22nd, the town of Perast celebrates Fasinada. This is a festival unique to Perast, where locals, many of them descendants of famous seafarers and prominent citizens, sail out to the island in boats garlanded with poplar branches and loaded with rocks. They set out at sunset tied together in a convoy. Upon arriving at the island, they then drop their rocks around the island to honour the vows of their ancestors. Fittingly, there is also a regatta on the day and everyone competes in their sailboats for a chance to inscribe their names onto a plaque that is situated on the lighthouse at the island.

donations perast

More donations of paintings to the church displayed around the Montenegro coat of arms.

Now what about the tapestry? Well, this remarkable gift starts with Jacinta Kunic from Perast. Whilst waiting for her husband to return, she started a tapestry which eventually took her 25 years to complete. As she used her own hair in the embroidery, the end result traces this amazing timeline as you can see her hair turning gray then white in the work itself! Gifted to the church in 1828, this is one of the iconic pieces housed here. Did her husband return? The guide didn’t exactly say but we prefer to believe that he did!

Tapestry Perast Dr sze wey

The tapestry of Jacinta Kunic. Amongst the gold and silver fibres, she also used her own hair. See the hair of the angels. Some of them are brown whilst others have turned white!

Votive tapestry perast

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