The legend is associated with the founding of the Benedictine monastery
on the island of Lokrum. According to this legend, a great fire erupted
in Dubrovnik somewhere around the year 1023. The inhabitants of Dubrovnik
made a vow to Saint Benedict that they would construct a monastery in
his name if the city would be spared. The fire was extinguished instantly,
and the thankful citizens of Dubrovnik then built a Benedictine monastery
and church on Lokrum, which they dedicated to the Blessed Virgin Mary.
In reality, the fact remains that the Benedictine monastery
was founded in the year 1023, for real copies of the original documents
dating to the 13th century do exist. Further, the fact remains that in
1023, and precisely on the Day of St. Benedict, most of Dubrovnik was
consumed by fire, as it was mostly constructed out of wood. Some even
insist that the archbishop's palace was also destroyed.
The establishment of the monastery and the donation of
the land on Lokrum were decided on by the Dubrovnik archbishop Vital
and by the preses, the latin term for the head of the city of Dubrovnik,
Lampridija, together with all the aristocracy. The Benedictine founders
were the monk Peter from St. Mary's Monastery in Tremit near Puglia,
and the Dubrovnik priest Leo, who took the vows of a Benedictine
monk at this time. A direct link was established with the Benedictine
seat in Monte Cassino, immediately after the establishment of the
The Benedictines also had a monastery and church in Rožat
in Rijeka Dubrovaèka by either the end of the 11th or the beginning of
the 12th century. Desideria (1058-1087), the Abbot of the Benedictine
monastery in Monte Cassino, ordered the fabrication of the church doors
for the monastery in 1066. The doorposts were covered with silver plaques
that depicted the names of all the churches belonging to the monastery.
Later, the Abbot Oderizia II (1121-1126) added on sixteen more plaques
with the names of new churches, which also lists St. Mary's Church in
Rožat. The Benedictines abandoned the monastery during the 12th century.
The descendants of Count Savin in Dubrovnik took advantage of this and
appropriated the monastery with its entire property. The Lokrum monks
protested sharply against this move, as Savin's bequest indicated that
the monastery would belong to the monks if there were no Benedictines
from Monte Cassino in the regional monastery in Rožat. On this basis,
the Dubrovnik consuls passed a decision on April 09, 1198, whereby the
monastery with its church and property in Rožat became the property
of the Benedictine monastery on Lokrum. The Pope's legate, Ivan, who was
the curate of the Apostolic Succession, threatened anyone who would oppose
this with a curse.
However, from 1295 to 1321, the Benedictines gradually
abandoned Rožat, moving completely to Lokrum. In the Dubrovnik region,
there was one more male Benedictine monastery, the "St. Andrew of
the open seas" (in pelago). In the 12th century, they owned the entire
island of Mljet with its monastery and the Church of St. Mary. Mention
should be made of the notable cultural workers in the Benedictine order,
the poets Mavra Vetranoviæ and Ignjat Ðurdeviæ, as well as the historian
The legend of the Lokrum curse originated when a French
army general ordered the closure of the monastery and the expulsion of
the Benedictines. The Dubrovnik aristocratic families Gozze, Pozza and
Sorgo were chosen to convey these orders s to the monks.
According to legend, the monks were aghast with the French
general's order and did all they could to remain where they had resided
for centuries. When all else failed, one night they went to the Church
of St. Mary to serve one last mass to God on the island. The monks donned
their hooded cloaks and proceeded to circumnavigate the island in a long
and solemn, single-file procession. Symbolically, as a curse, they turned
their lighted candles upside-down towards the earth, so that the flame
licked the wax, which left a melted trail.
They went around the island this way three times, which
took the entire night, ceremoniously chanting the terrible and harsh words
of the curse:
"Whosoever claims Lokrum for his own personal pleasure
shall be damned!"
At dawn, dead-tired, they embarked on a boat and left the island, never
once looking back. And, nevermore did they return.
The legend says that the curse laid on the island soon
began to take effect. One of the three Dubrovnik aristocrats jumped out
of a window, the other drowned in the sea on the way to Lokrum, and a
servant killed the third.
Captain Tomaševic became the owner of the island
following the fall of the Republic. He was an extremely wealthy man, but
he suddenly became bankrupt soon after having purchased the island, which
forced him to sell Lokrum. It was sold to the archduke Maximilian, the
younger brother of the Austrian Emperor Francis Joseph I.
Maximilian discovered Lokrum by chance in 1859 when the ship "Triton",
following an explosion, sank in front of Lokrum. As Navy Commander of
the Austro-Hungarian Monarchy, he had to honor the dead seamen. On this
occasion, Maximilian set foot on the island for the first time. He saw
the ancient Benedictine monastery from the 11th century, which had been
damaged in the earthquake of 1667. After the whirlwind of Schonbrunn,
he was impressed by the silence of the thick aromatic forest. He decided
to purchase the island and to turn it into his summer manor already during
the first night that he spent in a monk's cell of the old monastery. He
added on a belvedere, placing his initials everywhere, even on locks and
keys, so as to emphasize his ownership of Lokrum. He had no idea that
his actions only further provoked the curse that was directed against
the personal ownership of Lokrum. Maximilian, as the owner of a paradise,
enjoyed marking pathways throughout the forests of pine, bay, palm, cypress,
aloja, oleander, orange, lemon, lilies and roses, all around the island
and up to its peak, to the fortress "Fort Royal" built by Marmont
in 1806, when his troops entered in Dubrovnik. He settled colonies of
canaries, parrots and peacocks on the island. He planted vanilla and Indian
fig trees. Here, he read verses by Heine out loud, while his Belgian wife,
princess Charlotte, embroidered silk pillows. So close, yet so far from
Europe and court scandals, they thought themselves to be the happiest
married couple on earth. Looking on all of this intoxicating and moving
beauty, Charlotte would write letters to her cousins and friends about
the happiness that she and Maximilian enjoyed, after having spent hours
playing the piano long into the night.
Then, duty, or most probably the Benedictine curse, took
him to Mexico, where he was chosen emperor in 1864. After only three years,
he was taken prisoner by the soldiers of the rebellious general Juarez.
He was shot in Quereteri on June 19, 1867.
The island was then offered for sale to the Dubrovnik
County. Legend says it would not buy it even for the trifle sum of 20,000
silver coins. Awhile later, it was bought by Dujmovic from Poljica, who
originated from a family that had once received the title "conte
de Polisa" from Venice. He also met with quick and complete financial
disaster. The island was then purchased by the lawyer Dr. Jakopovic from
Budapest, who was renowned for managing some of the business affairs of
the emperor Francis Joseph I. However, shortly after having purchased
the island, it was discovered that he had quite illegally assigned himself
the title of Doctor of Legal Sciences, and that he was in fact - a barber!
The investigation, which had caused a huge scandal in Viennese and Budapest
societies, revealed that he adopted this title from a dead soldier following
the revolution in 1848. His property was not confiscated, thanks to the
Emperor's intervention, in an effort to lessen his own personal shame,
but he was totally ruined morally. Thrown out of the society that he was
accustomed to, he died shortly, unappeased and shamed.
His nephew, a young Hussar officer, inherited the island.
Already on the first day of his arrival, a very strong wind overturned
his boat between Dubrovnik and the island, and he drowned. The Habsburg's
then reappeared as the owners again. Rudolf, the heir to the throne and
the only son of the emperor Francis Joseph I, and the empress Elisabeth
of Bavaria, took a liking to Lokrum. He invited his wife, Stefanie, to
Lokrum. They stayed there for a time, adding exotic plants to the island's
park. However, Rudolf soon fell in love with the beautiful mistress Maria
Vecer. Together, in the Mayerling palace, they committed the sensational
double suicide, which was never quite explained.
The empress Elisabeth (1837-1898), prompted by stories
of the curse, decided that the royal family had to rid itself of this
island. Before leaving for Corfu, she offered it to the Benedictines,
in the hope that the curse would thereby be lifted. However, they remained
faithful to the vow made by their brothers previously that they would
never return to this island and turned down the offer from the royal court.
The emperor's family, obsessed with the fear of losing yet another member,
after having already lost two, gave its money to the Dubrovnik Dominicans
for them to purchase the island as the new owners, under the condition
that any of the Habsburg's could re-purchase the island when and if they
And so, there really was a femme fatale found to do this.
At the auction that was announced for the sale of Lokrum, the bishop Josip
Juraj Strossmayer appeared with an offer of 30,000 forinths through an
intermediary, Mihovil Pavlinovic. However, a telegram ordered the auction
to be stopped. The assumption that "someone from the emperor's household
wished to buy Lokrum" proved to be true. It was the granddaughter
of Francis Joseph I, Princess Elizabeth Windischgratz, who was the
daughter of Rudolph, the heir to the throne. She persuaded him to buy
Lokrum, which he did on October 01, 1879. Five years later, on May 27,
1888, he registered the island under his name. Shortly after her grandmother,
the empress Elisabeth, returned to Geneva from Corfu in 1898, she was
killed by the Italian anarchist Lucceni, in a case of mistaken identity.
And... the end of the Habsburg's is well-known. The eldest
son of the archduke Francis Ferdinand who was killed in Sarajevo on June
18, 1914, finished as an agronomist: The princess Windischgratz fired
shots in a nightclub in Prague at some dancer who was the mistress of
her husband, and was then disinherited by her royal parents. Finally,
in 1918, after exactly 700 years, the Habsburg's lost their crown as well.
But, this is not the end. The above-mentioned constitutes
only a part of the story that ties the Lokrum curse to historically renowned
persons. However, superstition also surrounded Lokrum. It expanded the
legend of the Lokrum curse with countless stories and tales that were
colored by metaphysics to such an extent that the historically true events,
which were further warped and twisted by superstition over the centuries,
resulted in a certain inexplicableness known as - the mystery of Lokrum.
The superstition became so widespread that no one could
be found to live on Lokrum for a very long time. The palace servants would
not on their life venture into the palace gardens at night, for demons
would cut off the heads of their lovers in a dark erotic rage, and would
sew their hearts onto their dresses. Stylish aristocrats, seeking change,
loved to mix even with their male servants, so that they very carefully
kept up this legend. Under its protection, they could rendez-vous freely
at night in the garden of love.
Fantasy wove a number of mysterious stories around the
Lokrum caves as well, where the seas rage during storms. Its echo resounds
as earth's harsh blow to the cover of a coffin. According to old documents
in the Dubrovnik archives, criminals were cast into the sea from the steep
Lokrum cliffs during the Middle Ages, otherwise famous for its cruel punishments.
A well-known legend describes how the ship of the English king, Richard
the Lion-hearted, was cast upon the Lokrum cliffs during a fierce storm.
The legend says the Bosnian king, Tvrtko, also found sanctuary amid the
walls of the Benedictine monastery. But, Lokrum knew how to be merciful
towards the unfortunate as well. In 1859, the Austrian ship "Triton"
exploded in the Lokrum canal. Only one survivor remained after the tragedy
- a prisoner who was imprisoned in the bowels of the war ship for some
crime. The whirlwind of the fierce explosion expelled the unfortunate
wretch with remnants of the chain onto the shore, completely unharmed,
while the rest of the crew perished. The Austrian Admirality entrusted
the investigation of this catastrophe to a commander of the imperial fleet
- Maximilian. He fell in love with Lokrum, purchased it and so started
the wheel of fortune that led him to such a tragic end. During his stay
on Lokrum with his wife Charlotte, the enamored Maximilian engraved a
heart containing the first letters of his and Charlotte's name into a
huge oak dating to the 14th century, located next to the palace. According
to romantic legend, he thereby incurred hostility, as it was a historical
oak, under which the Dubrovnik Senate met frequently. A storm appeared
before he returned to the shores of Lokrum. Lightning struck this oak
tree and the engraved monograms disappeared, leaving only the heart. This
was considered as a sign of impending disaster.
After Maximilian's death, Charlotte visited Lokrum in
the company of a count - her admirer. On approaching the island, she barely
managed to avoid death, as her yacht overturned inexplicably, sinking
quickly. Coral hunters saved her. According to legend, the same ones that
cursed her while Maximilian was still alive. Legend has it that she experienced
this misfortune because she was wearing a necklace made of the coral taken
from the sea depths near Lokrum. According to tradition, the poor coral
hunters had for centuries followed the perilous trade of their fathers
in the hope that they would eventually come across a secret underwater
cavern with a reef containing beautiful coral, and so become rich. After
a long time, one day they really did find this reef, but it contained
only one coral. Disappointed, they then cursed the aristocrat that would
The new owner of Lokrum became Rudolf, the heir to the
throne. He spent his honeymoon here with his Stefanie. The story goes
that Mount Srd shook when the young couple disembarked on the island shore.
This small earthquake, it is said, was a forewarning of the misfortune
to follow at Mayerling.
Queen Elisabeth, wife of the emperor Francis Joseph I,
once visited the island. However, due to superstition, she refused to
spend the night there. The archduke Francis Ferdinand and his wife Sophia
intended to spend the summer of 1914 on the island, but were prevented
by an assassin's bullets in Sarajevo.
Today, Lokrum is a quiet excursion site for tourists,
and all these legends have contributed perhaps to the steadfastness of
the citizens of the ancient Republic in keeping true to their own motto
- famous and free.
Source: "Dubrovnik - between history
Author: Dr. Marko Margaritoni
The book " Dubrovnik - between history
and legend " with many more fascinating and interesting legends
and tales, is currently available in English and Croatian and can
be ordered by contacting the author himself.
For orders please contact:
Dr. Marko Margaritoni