Let the bells ring out!

Published in Highlights

Church bells are part of daily life all over Croatia. Splitska on Brač Island is one of the few places where the bells are rung by hand and not electronically controlled.

Jure, Splitska's bell-ringer Jure, Splitska's bell-ringer Photo: Vivian Grisogono

Jure Čeprnić is the last remaining regular bell-ringer on Brač Island. He is on duty all day every day, waking the village at 6 am, sounding noon, and signalling the end of the day at 20:30 in the summer, earlier in the darker days of winter. In anticipation of Mass or any religious ceremony in the church, he rings the bells every quarter of an hour from an hour and a quarter beforehand. Visitors to Splitska are usually startled by the early-morning wake-up call, but then adjust surprisingly quickly to sleep through it, if they so wish. Some years ago one parish priest wanted to reduce the bell-ringing during Mass to just special occasions such as Christmas and the Assumption, but this decision was reversed by the more recent parish priests, so Jure rings the bells at the appropriate moments during services, as is the custom throughout Croatia..


Jure ringing the Splitska Church bell. Photo Vivian Grisogono

Splitska's charming little church, dedicated to St. Mary, was first built in the 13th century. It has a loyal congregation, some of whom attend Mass almost every day. The village celebrates the Feast of Our Lady's Assumption in magnificent style every year. There is a celebratory Mass, followed by a Procession around the village with a statue of Our Lady taking pride of place. Later on, the evening erupts with live music on the grassy square at the end of the Riva. There is much singing and dancing, and the opportunity for local entrepreneurs to sell their wares from specially erected stands.

Splitska Church, main altar. Photo: Vivian Grisogono

Jure has special duties on Splitska's Feast Day. There is a full peal of bells before the celebratory Mass, rung by his father Vladimir, who is 76, with their cousin Pero Barbarić. Jure rings the bell at the appropriate moments during the Mass. Then, late in the evening, tradition has it that he sings in a special guest spot with the band on the main stage. He fulfils all his duties with apparently limitless energy. Indeed, from the time he took on the bell-ringing, having been taught by his father, he has only missed one full day's work, when he had 'flu. Sometimes when he is away visiting other parishes the bells are rung by a reserve bell-ringer, or - very occasionally - electronically. Now 47 years old, Jure first rang the bells when he was about eight.

Jure in action. Photo: Vivian Grisogono

Splitska is an ancient settlement, best known as the source of the stones for Diocletian's Palace in Split. Some of the exceedingly steep small streets leading down from the top of the village to the waterfront served in Roman times as slides, down which massive blocks of stone were propelled on wooden rollers. After the 13th century, the village was abandoned due to the constant threat of attacks by pirates from Omiš. In 1577, Mihovil Cerinić (Cerineo) built a small citadel near the church, as protection against the Ottoman danger. Descendants of the Cerinić family are still present in Splitska to this day. Other houses were also built in the 16th century in the core of the village, which has expanded in the succeeding centuries.

Splitska Church side altar, featuring Madonna and Child. Photo: Vivian Grisogono

Jure takes pride in looking after the church and the needs of the parishioners. He helps distribute the Catholic newspaper Glas Koncila, and looks after the flower display provided by the local Council at the foot of the steps leading up to the church.

Jure also looks after the flowers decorating the entrance to the Church. Photo: Vivian Grisogono

He receives a minute stipend for his labours. In January, he receives a bonus from the parishioners' contributions when the Blessing of the Houses takes place. Jure is obviously not in it for the money. He feels passionately that the bells should sound in the traditional way, and would not give up his duties for anything.

The view from Splitska's churchyard. Photo: Vivian Grisogono

Splitska has seen many changes over the centuries, but Jure's valiant bell-ringing defies the march of modernity - long may he continue!

Splitska sunset - timeless romance. Photo: Vivian Grisogono

© Vivian Grisogono 2016

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