Summer's major feast: Vela Gospa

Published in Highlights

The Feast of Our Lady's Assumption (Vela Gospa in Croatian) is a major festival in the Catholic calendar, and is a public holiday throughout Croatia.

The Statue of Our Lady borne through Splitska on the Vela Gospa feast day. The Statue of Our Lady borne through Splitska on the Vela Gospa feast day. Photo: Vivian Grisogono

In Splitska on Brač Island, Our Lady is the patron saint of the village, so the feast of Vela Gospa on August 15th is a very special day. As with most Catholic feast days, the celebrations start with the religious part, homage to the patron saint through a Mass and Procession. As this is the height of the summer, the Mass is always scheduled for the early evening.

Splitska Church main altar decorated for Vela Gospa. Photo: Vivian Grisogono

As usual, the Mass is preceded by the church bell being rung every fifteen minutes as from an hour and a quarter before it starts, with the difference that all three bells are rung in a full peal, struck manually by experienced bell-ringers up in the lofty heights of the belfry.By long tradition, the manual striking of the bells in the belfry is done by 76-year-old Vladimir Čeprnić and his cousin Pero Barbarić. The task requires excellent physical fitness. Climbing up to the belfry is not easy, and getting the heavy bells to move and chime, especially the big one, is a matter of strength and stamina. In the lead-up to the Mass, the bells sound for several minutes. During the Procession which follows the Mass, they are rung continuously for the whole duration of the walk round the village, which takes over half an hour.

Vladimir Čeprnić taking a break in the lull between peals. Photo: Vivian Grisogono

The little church is always full to overflowing for the Mass, with many participating outside the main door. Many more join the Procession following the service. During the Mass, the church bell is rung at the key solemn moments by Vladimir Čeprnić's son, Jure, Splitska's regular bell-ringer. The Procession sets off up the hill in the evening sunlight, with the statue of Our Lady and Child carried by four young men of the village, with parish priest don Marko Plančić following in the entourage.

Emerging from the church at the start of the Procession. Photo: Vivian Grisogono

The side altar which nirmally contains the effigy of the Virgin and Child is festively decorated in expectation of the statue's return.

The side altar without its statue. Photo: Vivian Grisogono

The Procession turns left out the church door, instead of going down the main steps to the water-front, and heads up the hill to skirt round the main part of the village. It is led by two standard bearers, with the flag honouring Our Lady in first place.

The standard-bearers leading the Procession. Photo: Vivian Grisogono

Behind the standard bearers there is a group of men, followed by young girls dressed as little angels carrying flower petals. Older children in festive garb walk behind the statue-bearers, followed by parish priest don Marko walking in isolation.

The Procession heaading back to the church. Photo: Vivian Grisogono

Having circled round the northern upper side of the village, the Procession comes down to the waterfront and turns right towards the church. It passes by the main entrance to the church, going straight along the waterfront to pass the entrance of the Cerineo/Cerinić villa, where it turns to head for the church. As there are always cars parked along the road, there can be quite a bottleneck as the Procession turns back on itself, but to date this minor inconvenience has always been negotiated without mishap.

Klapa Rišpet. Photo: Vivian Grisogono

By the time the Procession comes to an end, it is already dusk. There is then a lull, while people have supper or mill around the waterfront stands buying balloons and novelty toys for the children. At 21:00, the merriment starts. In 2016, the well-known group Klapa Rišpet opened the proceedings with their wonderfully varied repertoire of songs, some a cappella, most accompanied by instruments. The crowd sang along enthusiastically, and the group responded promptly to requests for favourite songs. Uninhibited children danced tirelessly, parents took pictures, adults grouped themselves for conversation, some ate the sausages or pancakes sold on the fast-food stands, soft drinks and beer were consumed in quantity. At intervals, children made incursions on to the stage, to be drawn back by adults concerned about the electric wires which might harm them. A shapely young lady in hotpants jumped up in front of the group, and it looked as though what little she was wearing might be removed in a sequence of sexy moves, to the delight of a raucous section of the crowd. No conclusion was reached, however, as a fearsomely burly minder dressed menacingly in black leathers moved forward and yanked her expertly back down to earth.

Jure taking centre stage. Photo: Vivian Grisogono

Somewhere towards midnight, Klapa Rišpet left the stage, to be replaced by a popular singing duo who perform regularly on Splitska's feast day. But there was impatience in the air: the annual highlight of the stage performances is the appearance of bell-ringer Jure Čeprnić.

Jure and his enthusiastic audience. Photo: Vivian Grisogono

Primed by a group of friends, Jure takes to the stage every year to perform several songs, which always go down a treat with his devoted fan club of loyal locals.

Jure in fine voice on stage. Photo: Vivian Grisogono

In 2016, the young lady whose striptease act had been cut short by the burly bouncer re-appeared on stage alongside Jure, to enthusiastic applause from the audience. She kept her clothes on this time, but did perform some very raunchy moves, not at all suitable for the many young children still present. Fortunately most of the youngest were asleep in their parents' arms by then, and I suppose many of the slightly older children will have seen it all before on TV and the internet anyway.

Jure and the avid 'Miss Hotpants'. Photo: Vivian Grisogono

Spurred on by the example of 'Miss Hotpants', two more, -  younger and more decorous - dancers sprang up on stage to join Jure, so the atmosphere of gaiety was multiplied both among the performers and the public. To complete her image of relaxed sophistication, 'Miss Hotpants' lit a cigarette, and gyrated carelessly among her little plumes of smoke.

Jure and his young backing dancers. Photo: Vivian Grisogono

Jure took the incursions in his stride, smiling happily and continuing with his set of songs. Towards the end, he was rewarded with a peck on the cheek, after which 'Miss Hotpants' sprang off the stage - using my head and the person next to me as springboards.

A rewarding kiss for Jure. Photo: Vivian Grisogono

After his performance, Jure was feted by the audience and congratulated from all sides as he made his way grandly along the waterfront.. Jure's moment of glory was over for another year, another great success was notched up. The singing duo, fired by Jure's example, sang with gusto until 2am, when the village relapsed into its normal level of relative silence, apart from a few noisy isolated groups of vociferous drinkers.

Splitska's big bell in action for Vela Gospa. Photo: Vivian Grisogono

All credit to the local waste collection service and all the organizers: the stage and almost every last bit of rubbish and litter were removed by the following morning.

Virgin and Child, focus of piety. Photo: Vivian Grisogono

Vela Gospa: a major feast for Catholic Croatia, and in Splitska (probably elsewhere too) a fine mixture of piety and hedonism, perhaps accurately reflecting the contrasts inherent in the Dalmatian way of life.

© Vivian Grisogono 2016

Related items

More in this category: « Let the bells ring out!
You are here: Home highlights Summer's major feast: Vela Gospa

Eco Environment News feeds

  • Cactus flowers, a former circus bear and a baby elephant are among this week’s pick of images from the natural world

    Continue reading...

  • Research programme will send aerosol injections into the earth’s upper atmosphere to study the risks and benefits of a future solar tech-fix for climate change

    US scientists are set to send aerosol injections 20km up into the earth’s stratosphere in the world’s biggest solar geoengineering programme to date, to study the potential of a future tech-fix for global warming.

    Continue reading...

  • Malaysian activist Bill Kayong fought to save forest lands from logging and oil palm development. Like a troubling number of environmental campaigners around the world, he paid the highest price, reports Yale Environment 360

    Environmentalists at risk: read part one in this series

    It was 8.20am on 21 June 2016. Bill Kayong, an up-and-coming political activist in Miri, a coastal oil town in the Malaysian state of Sarawak, was 15 minutes into his morning commute, waiting in his pickup truck at a traffic light across from a shopping mall. Suddenly, two bullets shattered the side window and struck him in the head, killing him instantly.

    Kayong was one of dozens of people killed while defending environmental and human rights causes in 2016. His life was taken just one day after a report from the human rights group Global Witness revealed that the previous year had been “the worst on record for killings of land and environmental defenders”, with 185 people around the world killed while taking a stand against development projects ranging from dams, to mines, to logging, to agricultural plantations.

    Continue reading...

  • Collection will help scientists piece together a large branch of insects’ family tree and be a resource for scientists who study natural controls on the environment

    In two rooms of Charles and Lois O’Brien’s modest home in Tucson, Arizona, more than a million insects – a collection worth an estimated $10m – rest in tombs of glass and homemade shelving. They come from every continent and corner of the world, gathered over almost six decades; a bug story that began as a love story.

    This week, the O’Briens, both octogenarians, announced that they would donate their collection, one of the world’s largest private holdings, to Arizona State University.

    Continue reading...

  • Meteorologists have consulted the International Cloud Atlas since the 19th century – now, updated with crowd-sourced images and newly categorised formations such as wave-like asperitas, it’s going online. Readers have been sharing their images via GuardianWitness

    Continue reading...

  • President ushers in ‘new era of American energy policy’ Friday as environmental activists denounce revived oil pipeline as a ‘disaster for the planet’

    Donald Trump announced a “new era of American energy policy” as he signed the presidential permit allowing TransCanada to build the Keystone XL pipeline.

    “It’s going to be an incredible pipeline. Greatest technology known to man. Or woman. And frankly, we’re very proud of it,” said Trump in the Oval Office on Friday morning.

    Continue reading...

  • Exclusive: Draft regulations seen by the Guardian reveal the European commission wants to prohibit the insecticides that cause ‘acute risks to bees’

    The world’s most widely used insecticides would be banned from all fields across Europe under draft regulations from the European commission, seen by the Guardian.

    The documents are the first indication that the powerful commission wants a complete ban and cite “high acute risks to bees”. A ban could be in place this year if the proposals are approved by a majority of EU member states.

    Continue reading...

  • A plan to halve carbon emissions every decade, while green energy continues to double every five years, provides a simple but rigorous roadmap to tackle climate change, scientists say

    A new “carbon law”, modelled on Moore’s law in computing, has been proposed as a roadmap for beating climate change. It sees carbon emissions halving every decade, while green energy continues to double every five years.

    The carbon law’s proponents are senior climate-change scientists and they argue it provides a simple, broad but quantitative plan that could drive governments and businesses to make urgently needed carbon cuts, particularly at a time when global warming is falling off the global political agenda.

    Continue reading...

  • Extent of ice over North pole has fallen to a new wintertime low, for the third year in a row, as climate change drives freakish weather

    The extent of Arctic ice has fallen to a new wintertime low, as climate change drives freakishly high temperatures in the polar regions.

    The ice cap grows during the winter months and usually reaches its maximum in early March. But the 2017 maximum was 14.4m sq km, lower than any year in the 38-year satellite record, according to researchers at the US National Snow and Ice Data Centre (NSIDC) and Nasa.

    Continue reading...

  • Massive fine reflects change in sentencing as previously low penalties failed to deter water firms from polluting England’s rivers and beaches

    Thames Water has been hit with a record fine of £20.3m after huge leaks of untreated sewage into the Thames and its tributaries and on to land, including the popular Thames path. The prolonged leaks led to serious impacts on residents, farmers, and wildlife, killing birds and fish.

    The fine imposed on Wednesday was for numerous offences in 2013 and 2014 at sewage treatment works at Aylesbury, Didcot, Henley and Little Marlow, and a large sewage pumping station at Littlemore.

    Continue reading...

Eco Health News feeds

Eco Nature News feeds