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 »  Home  »  History  »  St Paul the Apostle spent three months on Croatian island of Mljet
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St Paul the Apostle spent three months on Croatian island of Mljet
By Darko Žubrinić | Published  08/3/2015 | History , Education , Religion | Unrated
Armenian scholar Ananias of Shirak confirms this is his book Geography written already in the 7th century

Ignjat Đurđević, 1675-1737, Croatian writer, poet, historian and
benedictine monk at the Veliko jezero (Great Lake) abbey on the island of Mljet, Croatia.

Drawing in Ignjat Đurđević's book from 1730 indicating that the shipwreck of St Paul
happened on the island of Mljet, and not on Malta.

Description of St Paul's shipwreck on the island of Mljet.
Note a drawing of St Paul throwing a poisonous snake into the fire.

Saint Paul the Apostle had shipwreck on Croatian island of Mljet, and not on Malta. This is the subject of the monumental book written in elite Latin language by Ignjat Đurđević, published in Venice in 1730. Ignjat Đurđevic was Croatian Baroque writer from the city of Dubrovnik. The island of Mljet is not far from Dubrovnik.

Until recently it was believed that the first person to identify the location of Saint Paul's shipwreck near Mljet was the father of European historigraphy, the Greek emperor and historian Constanine Porphyrogenitus (905-959) who, describing the south Dalmatian islands in his work "On Administering the Empire", wrote the following:

Another big island is Mljet. It was described by Saint Luke in the Acts where he calls it Melita. Saint Paul was there bitten by the viper but he shook it off into the fire where it was burned.

However, scholars have recently discovered new information in The Geography of distinguished Armenian scholar Ananias of Shirak, written between 592-636 AD, which confirms that Saint Paul stayed in Dalmatia following a shipwreck that happened on the Adriatic island of Melita (Mljet).

The bendictine Abbey of Sv. Marija (St Mary) on an islet on Veliko jezero (Great Lake) near the island of Mljet. Photo by Nikola Piasevoli.

The island of Mljet in Croatia was called Melita in Ancient times.

The island of Mljet is one of Croatian National parks.

Great Lake (Veliko jezero) on the island of Mljet

After Porphyrogenitus (10th century), the 16th century Italian historian of Dubrovnik (Ragusa) Serafino Razzi, Dominican and for a while Vicar of Capitular of the Ragusan Metropolitan see, claimed the same. He set forth the following:

At the end of this presentation on the island of Mljet, I shall tell you that many serious writers think that this Ragusan Mljet was the very island where Saint Paul the Apostle escaped after the shipwreck and there he was bitten by a viper as written in chapter 28 of the Acts. One of them is the honorable cardinal Gaetano.

Razzi thought that the shipwreck couldn not have taken place in Malta because Malta was situated in the African, instead of in the Adriatic Sea.

Đurđević claimed at the beginning of his book the following

I say and I claim that before the chivalrous Hospitaller Order of St John moved to African Melita, the glory of Saint Paul's shipwreck site had been granted, without any hesitation or doubt, to Illyrian Melita.

It is interesting that while Malta was under the Spanish government, Đurđević was supported in his views by both English and French scholars. However, when Malta came under the English protectorate, the circumstances changed and the English writers stood up for the Maltese option. Something similar happened to the French writers when Malta was conquered by Napolen Bonaparte.

The following important scholarly book dealing with the shipwreck
of St Paul the Apostle on the Adriatic island of Mljet has been published in 2015:

Zlatko Pavetić (ed): The Journey of Paul the Apostle to Rome led over the Croatian Island of Mljet (Melita) / Put apostola Pavla za Rim vodio je preko hrvatskog otoka Mljeta (Melite), Proceedings of the academic conference held on Mljet (Melita) 15 October 2011 / Zbornik radova znanstvenog skupa odr\anog na Mljetu (Meliti) 15. listopada 2011., Zagreb, 2015., ISBN 978-953-58133-0-9, 356 pp, in English and Croatian, hard cover, with color photos and maps

Those interested inpurchasing this book can write to

Selected articles from the Proceedings:

Dr Miho Demović: PREFACE



St Paul visited Croatian island of Mljet on his journey to Rome

Miho-Demovic: Two millenia of St Paul's shipwreck near the Croatian island of Mljet

Ignjat Djurdjevic St Paul was on the island of Mljet in the Adriatic for three months

Dr. Antun Ničetić o plovidbi svetoga Pavla, Vatikanski Radio 7. kolovoza 2012., [MP3]

The spine of the book represents the Mljet viper. It is probably the unique such book in the world.

The following article by Dr. Miho Demović has been published in

Zlatko Pavetić (ed): The Journey of Paul the Apostle to Rome led over the Croatian Island of Mljet (Melita) / Put apostola Pavla za Rim vodio je preko hrvatskog otoka Mljeta (Melite), Proceedings of the academic conference held on Mljet (Melita) 15 October 2011 / Zbornik radova znanstvenog skupa održanog na Mljetu (Meliti) 15. listopada 2011., Zagreb, 2015., ISBN 978-953-58133-0-9, 356 pp, in English and Croatian, hard cover, with color photos and maps

We express our gratitude to Dr. Demović for his suggestion to publish this article on the web.


Dr Miho Demović

(The article has more than 60 pp, appearing on pp. 109-174). Below, we provide concluding pages only, pp. 171-174.)


At the end of this work, and on the basis of the presented evidence, I hold it my obligation to ask the publishers of the Bible throughout the world not to allow the interpreters to translate the name of the island where St Paul was shipwrecked as Malta but with the name of the Croatian island of Mljet, or at least with its old name Melita in the future. Similarly, the expression syrtis should not be written as a proper noun because it is a general noun with the meaning of reef or ridge. Subjective interpretation of those and other expressions should in the future be made in the notes (footnotes) so that the translated text does not contain words of doubtful trustworthiness.


The tradition in Dubrovnik about the shipwreck of St Paul the Apostle in the waters of Croatian Island of Mljet is almost two millennia old. Its earliest origin could be taken as the year 60 AD when the Illyrian inhabitants of Mljet, named Barbarians by the author of The Acts of the Apostles, warm-heartedly welcomed 276 shipwrecked victims from a large merchant vessel transporting wheat from Alexandria to Rome, that was carried away by gale-force wind before reaching the island of Mljet and breaking into pieces stranded onto a reef.

St Paul the Apostle who was allegedly brought before the Imperial Court in Rome, was also aboard, as a prisoner. Memories of what the natives of Mljet had seen then has been conveyed from generation to generation saying that St Paul was saved on the island of Mljet and the tradition has survived for two millennia, to this very day. This tradition is widely spread not only in Croatia but also throughout the Christian world. Thus some serious biblicists consider the Island of Mljet a true site of St Paul's shipwreck.

Many prominent scholars have written on this subject, and a significant national and foreign literature followed. Memories in connection with this dramatic event from St Paul's life are numerous, longstanding, versatile and multilayered, national and international, so we can truly say that it is a Croatian issue which equally attracts the attention of local and foreign scholars.

This event was reflected in Croatia not only in scholarly writings but also in literary works and visual arts. Attempts were also made in the past, especially by the Order Of Knights of St John of Malta, to silence the Ragusan tradition of St Paul's and declare it nonexistent. That was the reason why the author decided to carry out research into its past and publish the results of his research in this work entitled 'Two millennia of the Ragusan tradition of St Paul's shipwreck in the waters of the Croatian Island of Mljet.'

Discussion is divided into two time periods: The First Millennium and The Second Millennium.

Description of the shipwreck by Saint Luke in The Acts of the Apostles, chapters 27 and 28, which is analysed by usual scientific method served as a starting-point to the author's historically radical defining of the significance of all key words in the text. Analysis, according to the author, suggests that all scenes are entirely in accordance with historical, geographical, meteorological, oceanographical and navigational characteristics of the island of Mljet and there is no doubt that the event really took place in the waters of the island of Mljet. In consistence with the above he completely rejects the possibility that this event took place in the waters of Malta which lies between Sicily and Africa, since all the key description words are contradictory to its historical-mapping and oceanic and navigational characteristics.

Namely, a gale-force wind described in the Acts of the Apostles, could not throw a ship by natural forces without navigator's assistance, neither does it lie in the Adriatic Sea, nor had the Barbarians lived there, or vipers bred there. Therefore, all efforts by those advocating the theory of the said shipwreck to adapt key words to the historical and geographical characteristics of the Island of Malta, lack scholarly support and should be rejected as such.

Agreement in the description of the shipwreck from the Acts of the Apostles with the natural and historical features of the Island of Mljet is supported by tradition and written records in the Dubrovnik region, passed from one century to another continuously through two millennia. At the beginning, memories were transferred by the word of mouth in the form of stories and legends, and since the 6th century onwards by written records of historians, men of letters, visual artists and other scholars. First of all, the author tells several stories that he had been told by the locals of Mljet, not only to himself, but also to some other scholars who had even recorded some legends in writing. For example, the story of the reef where the ship was wrecked, places where St Paul was then fed by the natives of Mljet with barley bread, and quenched his thirst with the local wine, about the stretch of the sea abounding in a variety of fish, blessed by St Paul after the shipwreck, etc. Tradition also has it that an early Christian church in the vicinity of Korita had existed. Foundations have recently been unearthed by archaeologists, who established that it had been built on the foundations of a Roman villa rustica. In addition to this church of St Paul's, several foundations of other early Christian churches, undoubtedly a number of them, had existed there, since the same had been mentioned in a last will from the beginning of the 7th century, preserved in Milan.

The Armenian, Ananias of Shirak, also stated in his Geographia from the beginning of the 7th century, that St Paul had been shiprwrecked near the Island of Mljet. Likewise, the Byzantine emperor historian from the end of the 9th century in his renowned work 'On Administring the Empire' also mentioned the same fact. Both these ancient writers maintain categorically that St Paul's shipwreck took place in the waters of the Island of Mljet. St Paul's stay in the Illyricum, together with his disciple St Luke were mentioned by the first Christian writers, St Jerome (345 – 42), St Gregory of Nazianzus (330 – 390), and some others. Widely developed cult of St Paul and St Luke in the Dubrovnik region suggests that dedication of congregation of former bishoprics of Epidaurum and Ston are not habitual, and not to be encountered elsewhere in the Catholic world, which also recalls the roots of St Paul's stay in the area. It seems that St Paul himself had nominated the first bishops in those two ancient Roman cities of the province of Illyricum. At the time of destruction of Epidaurum and Ston, St Paul's image in the sacral visual arts accompanied St Blaise, the patron saint of Dubrovnik, the new seat of bishopric. Thus, goldsmiths engraved images of St Paul and St Luke in enamel onto the precious reliquary of the arm of the patron saint of Dubrovnik. They also adorned the Saint's vestments with enamel images of St Paul. Likewise, they presented St Paul next to St Blaise, their patron, on the polyptich of a renowned Ragusan Renaissance painter, signifying that it was not under protection of St Blaise alone, but also, by St Paul. A town quarter of Ston, called SUPAVO, treasured the cult of St Paul, as it stands near Mljet, facing the site of St Paul's shipwreck. The small church of Our Lady, named OUR LADY OF ST PAUL, most likely as a church of St Paul must have been located, the foundations of which are still searched for by archaeologists. A similar toponym, is to be found in hinterland of the ancient Epidaurum, the modern Konavle called PAVLJE BRDO (Paul’s Hill) with the church built on foundations of a former early Christian church.Memories of the shipwreck on Mljet are also carried by poets such as Junije Palmotić (1607 – 1657) and Jerononim Kavanjin (1641 – 1714) who through their lofty verses in their historical epics recall memories of St Paul's shipwreck as for example the following verses from the Palmotić's drama Pavlimir:

“On the end of the green island of Mljet
This is a port , my king renowned,
from the wicked and accursed sea
Saint Paul has already sheltered
on this very island.
Into the righteous flames he shook off
the aggressive venomous viper,
that had fastened on his hand.”

When the Maltese knights showed aspirations to take over the legend of St Paul’s shipwreck and transfer it from the island of Mljet to Malta, a number of scholars reacted disputing their theories as for example the historian of Dubrovnik Serafino Razzi (1531 – 1606), the archaeologist Jakov Salečić of Korčula, and writer and scholar Ignjat Đurđević (1675 – 1737), then Stjepan Šuljaga (1719 – 1790), a philosopher and in modern times Vicko Palunko (1842 - 1921).

They have all left valuable treatises. Ignjat Đurđević, undoubtedly the most prominent among them, created quite a storm on the European cultural scene by his work 'Divus Paulus apostolus'. Apart from the Croatian writers, many world biblicists had made their contribution to the tradition of St Paul's shipwreck on Mljet, so that although the Maltese knights succeeded at their time in imposing their invented statements that Malta was the site of St Paul's shipwreck, there still are some European scholars who come forward with their support for the Mljet theory of his shipwreck.

It is worth mentioning that St Paul's cult had its reflection in music, so that liturgical Sanctoral Musical Items of The Commemoration Mass of St Paul in the Beneventan Missal of the Ragusan Cathedral dates from the 12th century. We also have a composition Sanctae Paule Apostole by the contemporary Dubrovnik composer Marin Santor. The proceedings published in this Compendium from the scientific conference which took place from 10 to 13 November 2008, could be taken as a strong contribution to the credibility of the Dubrovnik tradition of St Paul's shipwreck in the waters of Mljet.


For more information see St Paul the Apostle spent three months on the island of Mljet in Croatia

Dr. Miho Demović, distinuished Croatian scholar, looking at the island of Mljet on the left.

Island of Mljet, Croatia, paradise on the Earth. Photo by Nikola Piasevoli.

Mrs. Pavica Šperk Šundrica, a financial supporter of the project, and Dr. Miho Demović, initiator of the project,
 in the Convent of Minor Brothers in Dubrovnik, June 30th 2015.

Formated for CROWN by Darko Žubrinić
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