Monday, November 19, 2012

Letters from the Underworld: The Cursed Island of Lokrum

An archaeologist's favorite mysterious places
It was a few days before Halloween. My husband and I had just arrived in Dubrovnic, an historic, walled city on the coast of Croatia. Strolling down the ancient cobblestone walkways on our way to dinner, we admired the flickering torches that stood outside of each restaurant, their flames lighting up the night sky. Choosing a place not far from the harbor, we took a seat by the door where we could feel the evening air wafting in off the sea. As we checked over the menu, we asked our waitress if she had any recommendations for excursions the next day. Like the small, wooded island we had noticed just off the coast.

She set our water glasses on the table and leaned in. That's Lokrum, she told us, then added in hushed tones: legend says that it is cursed.

Many years ago there was a monastery on that island, she said. In 1023 Dubrovnic burned in a fire, and the inhabitants made a vow to St. Benedict to build a monastery in his name if the city was spared. When the fire extinguished almost immediately, the grateful citizens built a monastery and church on the island. But when a French army general ordered the monastery to be closed, that's when the legend of the curse began, she went on. 


The local aristocratic families were forced to tell the monks they had to leave their beloved island. The monks did everything in their power to stay, but when all else failed, they served one last Mass and then proceeded to don their hooded cloaks.


Setting out in small boats, they circumnavigated the island single file three times, which took all night. Holding lit candles out above the water, they turned the candles upside down, leaving a trail of wax and chanted the words of a curse:

Whosoever claims Lokrum for his own personal pleasure shall be damned!"

We later learned that the curse immediately began to take effect. One of the Dubrovnic aristocrats was said to jump out a window, another drowned in the sea on the way to Lokrum and a third was killed by a servant.

Today, perhaps in fear of the monks' curse - warning away anyone who might claim the island as their own - no one lives on Lokrum. Yet during daylight hours only, visitors can take a small boat from Dubrovnic harbor and stroll around the ruins of the monastery as well as a botanical garden with 500 different species of exotic plants. While many today don't believe in the curse, the locals still tell tales of people who have gone to the island at night and have never come back, and fishermen whose boats have disappeared. 

On our trip, this is as close as we got to the island. 


Dubrovnic is a place of ghosts, both ancient and modern. Every corner you turn there is mystery, so it is only fitting that our visit coincided with Halloween, or Samhain; the time of year when the veil between the living and the dead is thinner. In a city that has suffered so much both in ancient and modern times, let's hope that this lush and beautiful island with a tragic history has earned a well deserved measure of peace.

21 comments:

  1. I love old legends that cling to places over hundreds of years. They add aura and mystery to these locations and make a visit so much more worth-while.

    ReplyDelete
  2. What adventure. Thank you for the inspiration to search for alike stories over here.
    Please have you all a wonderful time.

    ReplyDelete
  3. So how come you all didn't go out to the island Amanda? jk
    I worked for a little while with a woman from Dubrovnic and she showed me some of the most gorgeous photos of her home. She very much missed home and could talk of little else. Judging from her photos, I could see why. It is indeed a very beautiful place.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. i admit my lapsed catholic self was dubious about visiting when i learned a bunch of monks cursed the island but i read ruth's reply below and appreciate her idea for cleansing it~

      Delete
  4. I would like t visit Dubrovnik itself some day-never enought time to see everything. It seems that you enjoyed good weather taking into account the part of the year!

    Blog about life and travelling
    Blog about cooking

    ReplyDelete
  5. Loved the post! I so love Croatia :-)

    ReplyDelete
  6. What a deliciously creepy tale! I loved it! Of course, you could never ever get me to step foot on that island, no way!

    ReplyDelete
  7. Dubrovnic. The name speaks a sad tale of war in 1991-92. Though the place looks good, I'm sure it has had a lot of rebuilding.

    The story of the island sounds fascinating. Is anyone living there now, or is it totally uninhabited?

    Bear is heading for the underworld. Hibernation is the winter wont of us Bears. See you in the spring.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. as far as i know, no-one lives on the island - it is a day trip destination for those interested in seeing the gardens or - interestingly enough - visiting a nude beach. after the war i believe half or more of the rooftops had to be replaced from the bombing - we learned a lot about that difficult time period from our host who lived through it.

      peaceful winter slumber r-bear! xo

      Delete
  8. The images are gorgeous, but I am so disturbed by this tale of monks cursing the island. How could messengers of God be harbingers of hate? Well, it happens all the time, I guess, so why am I surprised. Makes me want to circumnavigate the island three times with upright candles and cleanse it.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. sooooo true ruth - how could messengers of God bring such hate? but it does happen all the time. makes you wonder how things would be different in our world if so many religions didn't shut women up and out. i love your idea of how to cleanse the island!

      Delete
  9. Amanda, I rather love the idea of a modern ghost. When we pass over the veil, would you like to come back and sport with those coming up behind us? We modern ghosts.

    I also enjoyed the still sobriety of the waitperson I felt on the back of my neck with the hushed confidence that Lokrum was cursed ...

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. suze, i always wonder why some souls remain attached to this world and others move on very quickly. i think it has something to do with unfinished business. as per the waitress, one wonders if those working in that fair city have a stake in perpetuating its mythology...

      Delete
  10. Dear Amanda, I truly enjoyed this wonderful post.;) I know Dubrovnik well, as during the Communist era, growing up in the east bloc, the former Yugoslavia was always a destination for our holidays. To this day I find the Croatian coastline one of the most beautiful ones in the Mediterranean.;)
    Thank you also for your recent comment, such wise and comforting words.;)
    Hope you had a lovely Thanksgiving.;)
    xoxo

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. i would love to know how the city was different when you were growing up and visiting this region - i heartily agree with you that the croatian coastline is one of the world's most stunning.

      Delete
  11. HIghly intriguing, but probably wise to not venture forth on that island. Some things, some places, are better left alone. Yet... I know I'd be tempted! Wonderful story, Amanda. :)

    ReplyDelete
  12. Wow what a tale to share...these old stories add character and interest even though I must admit I got a chill down my back when you described the Samhain, "the time of year when the veil between the living and the dead is thinner". eeeek..I'm off to hide under the covers.heehee.
    Hope all is well dear friend,I miss stopping,and wish I could find more hours in the day... but know that your wonderful words,and your friendship is always in my thoughts.
    xoxo
    Cat

    ReplyDelete
  13. Glad to visit again and read your lovely words. How strange that such curses, while most probably not affecting their subjects, are capable of turning bad co-incidences into further fear among believers (and the undecided) Like Jayne, i would be tempted. as in 'when's the next boat' Nicked the picture of you a safe distance from the island for my people collection. Προσεξε αγαπι μου, Bob

    ReplyDelete
  14. The Island is beautiful with spectacular views and tracks.Locate a quiet spot and just chill out. It was exciting to hike up to the fort. The trails were a little bit rough. some were closed with very little observed.More Photos: http://www.worldfortravel.com/2013/06/23/island-of-lokrum-croatia/

    ReplyDelete
  15. The legend around Lokrum adds such a mystical feel to it...what do you think?
    We loved our day at Lokrum..it was so peaceful when compared to he bustling old town area of Dubrovnik - both have their own charm though.
    Here is the link to our piston Dubrovnik
    http://www.tickingthebucketlist.com/2014/09/dubrovnik-day-trip-to-lokrum.html

    ReplyDelete
  16. Please correct your text to the proper spelling of Dubrovnik with a K. Thanks !

    ReplyDelete

Thank you for visiting♡