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

You are here: Home highlights Summer's major feast: Vela Gospa

Eco Environment News feeds

  • Mount Etna, India’s ship graveyard and trees in Africa are among the images captured by European Space Agency and Nasa satellites last month

    The Mackenzie river system is Canada’s largest watershed, and the 10th largest water basin in the world. The river runs 4,200km (2,600 miles) from the Columbia icefield in the Canadian Rockies to the Arctic Ocean. If your vehicle weighs less than 22,000lb, you can drive the frozen river out to Reindeer Station. The bitterly cold ice road runs for 194km between the remote outposts of Inuvik and Tuktoyaktuk. White, snow- and ice-covered waterways of the east channel of the Mackenzie river delta stand out amid green, pine-covered land. The low angle of the sunlight bathes the higher elevations in golden light. The pond- and lake-covered lands around the river are home to caribou, waterfowl, and a number of fish species. Several thousand reindeer travel through this area each year on the way to their calving grounds.

    Continue reading...

    • Interior secretary to review past presidents’ national monument designations
    • Designation of monuments could be ‘rescinded, modified or resized’

    Donald Trump is triggering a review of protections that cover more than a billion acres of US public land and waters in a move that could potentially rescind the designation of several national monuments declared by previous presidents.

    Trump will on Wednesday sign an executive order relating to the Antiquities Act, a law introduced by President Teddy Roosevelt in 1906 which gives presidents the ability to name areas of federal land and waters as national monuments. The order will direct Ryan Zinke, the secretary of the interior, to review about 30 national monuments that are larger than 100,000 acres and have been declared since 1996.

    Continue reading...

  • Wildflowers have erupted across California deserts in the past month in a phenomenon known as a ‘super bloom’. After heavy rainfall ended months of drought, the flowers carpeted such vast areas that the transformation was visible from space

    Continue reading...

  • Constitutional experts say government is on ‘very dodgy ground’ claiming election purdah forces it to postpone publishing pollution strategy

    The government’s attempt to delay publishing its air pollution strategy because of the election is “dishonest” and leaves ministers on “very dodgy ground”, according to constitutional experts.

    The government had been under a court direction to produce tougher draft measures to tackle illegal levels of nitrogen dioxide pollution, which is responsible for thousands of premature deaths each year, by 4pm on Monday. The original plans had been dismissed by judges as so poor as to be unlawful.

    Continue reading...

  • The new cycling and walking investment strategy is the first legislation of its kind to legally bind the government to long-term funding for cycling and walking provision

    Unless you’re an avid transport campaigner, it’s likely that among the rush of government announcements made last week, you will have missed one very important one: the publication of the cycling and walking investment strategy (CWIS),

    The government’s intention to launch a CWIS was first announced in January 2015. It took more than two years, but we now have the first legislation of its kind in England to bind the government with legal commitments to invest in cycling and walking provision.

    Continue reading...

  • Scientists reveal unique, intimate form of communication between humpback mothers and calves as well as silent method to initiate suckling

    Newborn humpback whales and their mothers whisper to each other to escape potential predators, scientists reported Wednesday, revealing the existence of a previously unknown survival technique.

    “They don’t want any unwanted listeners,” researcher Simone Videsen, lead author of a study published in Functional Ecology, said.

    Continue reading...

  • Global index reveals 60% of asset owners are now taking some action, but warns there is still ‘enormous resistance’ to managing climate risk

    For the first time a majority of global investor heavyweights recognise the financial risks of climate change, according to the results of a major global index rating how investors manage such risks.

    But despite the advances, the Asset Owner Disclosure Project chairman, John Hewson, has warned there is still an “enormous resistance” to managing climate risk.

    Continue reading...

  • Planners claim that a dual carriageway under the prehistoric monument will ease congestion. But campaigners warn that it will have a disastrous impact on one of the world’s most fascinating landmarks

    Solstice Park is “a strategically located development opportunity”. That’s what its promotional blurb says, anyway – but put more prosaically, it is a clump of offices, distribution centres and retail and hospitality businesses on the A303, just under 10 miles from Salisbury. It symbolises two things: government attempts to help the economy of south-west England, and the tourist industry centred on Stonehenge, a few minutes’ drive away. As if to somehow complement the monument’s antiquarian wonders, there is a faux-ancient statue outside the Holiday Inn, of a 22ft figure giving thanks to the sun. Inside, double rooms go for just short of £100.

    It’s 8am on a misty Wednesday morning and a group of people here are very anxious about the latest proposal for this historic patch of England: a 1.8 mile tunnel containing a new dual carriageway, its entrance and exit sitting inside the Stonehenge world heritage site, and which may also involve a new flyover. After years of proposals for a tunnel being knocked back and forth – a similar plan was ruled out in 2007 – the latest scheme was announced by then chancellor George Osborne in 2014. Soon after, David Cameron and Nick Clegg staged separate photo opportunities on the same day at Stonehenge, in an attempt to sell the economic benefits of a tunnel and widened road to locals. Give or take consultation processes and concerns about the costs, work is due to start in 2020.

    Continue reading...

  • Emperor penguins are perfectly adapted to survive harsh Antarctic conditions but their habitat is threatened due to climate change. To celebrate World Penguin Day, the WWF has chosen its top 10 emperor penguin facts

    Continue reading...

  • Shell-sponsored group says wind is ‘increasingly the cheapest form of electricity’ and urges Tories to review ban on subsidised onshore windfarms

    Conservative opposition to windfarms risks the UK missing out on one of the cheapest sources of electricity, according to the head of a Shell-funded industry group.

    Adair Turner, chair of the Energy Transitions Commission, said wind and solar power costs had fallen dramatically globally and urged the government to rethink its ban on subsidised onshore windfarms.

    Continue reading...

Eco Health News feeds

Eco Nature News feeds