Though a very young country, Montenegro has a rich culture, one that is ready to be shared with the world. The name Montenegro translates to ‘black mountain’, which reflects an adaptation of the Venetian Montenegro. Yes, the mountains are dark but so incredibly beautiful. My tour guide told me that the Bay of Kotor is nicknamed ‘the southernmost fjords,’ and I understand why. Montenegro declared independence from Serbia June 3, 2006, and has since made its impression on the world.
One of the best-known legends of Montenegro surrounds Our Lady of the Rocks, a little church built on a tiny, man-made island in the Bay of Kotor.
On July 22, 1452, Sailors from Perast were leaving the Bay when they noticed something strange: a painting of Madonna and Child was placed on a rock jutting out of the water in the middle of the bay. The sailors thought this was a very auspicious sign and took the painting back to Perast. They hung it in the local church. The next day, July 23 * this happens to be my birthday :D*, the sailors were leaving the bay, and again they spotted the painting on the same rock. After the pattern repeated a third time, the sailors and townspeople took it as a sign and built a church to display the painting at that very location.
In order to build the church, an island had to be made. The sailors kept an oath; after every successful voyage, they would add a rock around the original rock. People of Perast sunk old ships and tossed rocks around the original rock, slowly building an island throughout the centuries. Eventually, an island emerged from the sea and the church was finally completed in 1632.
The custom of throwing rocks into the sea is still practiced today. Every year on the sunset of July 22, the people of Perast celebrate fašinada. Local residents take their boats in a long procession around Our Lady of the Rocks and toss rocks into the sea, continually widening the surface of the island.
Inside the Church
I had the chance to visit Our Lady of the Rocks last October, and it instantly took my breath away. My aunt and uncle had planned a private driving tour of Kotor upon our early morning arrival. Our Lady of the Rocks was our first stop, which was expertly planned by our tour guide because as we were leaving what was currently an empty church, hoards of tourists were unloading off boats and waiting in line outside of the church and the bathrooms.
The coolest part about the church was the fact that you are literally standing on an island made by the ancestors of the people still living in Perast. As soon as you enter the church you can see the original painting hanging on the wall opposite of the door. If you are adventurous and don’t mind tight spaces, you can actually walk into a narrow space behind the painting. It’s super dark and really cramped, but if you choose to pass through, you can stick your hand in an ominous hole and feel the actual rock that the painting was found on. How cool is that?!
The church also houses a collection of silver votive tablets and a famous votive tapestry embroidered by Jacinta Kunić-Mijović from Perast. It took her 25 years to finish the tapestry while waiting for her beloved sailor to come home. Eventually, she became blind while making the tapestry. She used golden and silver fibers to make a vast majority of the tapestry, but what makes this tapestry so famous is the fact that she also embroidered her own hair in it.You can see the change from brunette to gray hair as she grew older. The tapestry was so awe-inspiring, you can feel the love for her beloved emanating from it.
I need to go back to Montenegro. You need to visit. I only scratched the surface and I am dying to go back. Honestly, I am not sure why I loved Montenegro so much. Yes, it’s beautiful, but I have seen a lot of beautiful places. Maybe it’s because it’s such a young country, with so much potential. Or maybe because it reminded me so much of home, even though it’s completely different. It’s hard to explain, so just go.