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Miho Demovic: Two millenia of St Paul's shipwreck near the Croatian island of Mljet
By Prof.Dr. Darko Zubrinic | Published  12/21/2009 | History | Unrated
Strong credibility of the Dubrovnik tradition of St Paul's shipwreck in the waters of Mljet

Miho Demović (ed.): Shipwreck of St Paul in the waters around Croatian island of Mljet, collection of scholarly articles

From the presentation of Ignjat Đurđević's monumental book dealing with St Paul's shipwreck, in Croatian translation from elite Latin original, organized in the hall of the Scientific Library in Dubrovnik in November 2008. Dr. Miho Demović, editor in chief of the project and the author of the accompaning scholarly study, is in the middle. On the left dr. Niko Kličan and between them dr. Juraj Batelja.

Dr Miho Demović, distinguished Croatian musicologist and historian, is the editor in chief of important collection of articles from a scientific meeting organized in 2008, dealing with "Ignjat Đurđević and the Dubrovnik tradition of St Paul's shipwreck tradition in the waters around Croatian island of Mljet."

After the publication of Ignjat Đurđević's monumental book, a new important monograph written by top Croatian scholars has been published in Zagreb in 2009, 418 pp, containing contributions from the 2008 scientific meeting.  The monograph provides convincing arguements that the shipwreck of St Paul the Apostle occured around the Croatian island of Mljet, and not near Malta. Those interested can see the description of the  shipwreck in the Bible, in the The Acts of the Apostles.

Below we provide a summary of the article written by Dr Miho Demović entitled Two millenia of the Ragusan tradition on St Paul's shipwreck in the waters around the Croatian island of Mljet, pp. 81-147. We provide the list of contributors and the titles of their articles:
  • mons. dr. Želimir Puljić: Paul - apostle of the nations, traveller and missionaryDanijel Farlatti
  • Danijel Farlatti (1690-1773): On Dalmatian islands
  • Vicko Palunko (1842-1921): Melita - the island of shipwreck of St Pauil is the island of Mljet in Dalmatia
  • dr. Miho Demović: Two millenia of the Ragusan tradition on St Paul's shipwreck in the waters around the Croatian island of Mljet
  • dr. Antun Ničetić: Storm described by St Luke in the Acts of the Apostles could not have thrown St Paul's ship by natural forces anywhere but to the seas of the island of Mljet
  • dipl. ing. Miloš Brajović, Ivica Đurđević-Tomaš: The most famous shipwreck positioned on the island of Mljet
  • academician dr. Nenad Cambi: Paul the Apostle at sea
  • dr. Stjepan Krasić: Polemics of Ignjat Đurđević with some scholars of his time concerning the site Apostle Paul's shipwreck
  • dr. Niko Kličan: Stjepan Šuljaga Grmoljez's book on the shipwreck in the seas around the island of Mljet
  • archaeologist Ivica Žile: St Paul's church at the Crkvine site above the village of Korita on the island of Mljet
  • dr. Juraj Batelja: Discussion between Vicko Paulnko and Rudolf Vimer about the site of St Paul's shipwreck - on Malta or on Mljet?
  • dr. Slavko Kovačić: Father Frane Bulić, archaeologist and on the Mljet or Malta controversies on the iste of St Paul's shipwreck
  • dr. Niko Kličan: The Greek island of Cephalonia - the site of St Paul's shipwreck in works of Heinz Warneck
  • dr. Antun Ničetić: Contribution to the above discussion of dr Niko Kličan
  • dr. sc. Jozo Marević: Ignjat Đurđević's Latinity
  • dr. sc. Vinicije B. Lupis: The Benedictine sacral heritage in Đurđević's environment on the island of Mljet
  • archaeologist dr. Zdenko Žeravica: Churches of St Paul in the area o f early Christian bishopric of Epidaurum and Ston
  • dr. Miho Demović: Bibliography concerning the shipwreck of St Paul
  • dr. Miho Demović: Music contribution

Dr. Miho Demović, Dubrovnik

Two millenia of the Ragusan tradition on St Paul's shipwreck in the waters around the Croatian island of Mljet

Summary of the article

The tradition in Dubrovnik about the shipwreck of St Paul the Apostle in the waters of Croatian Island of Mljet is almost two millenia old. Its earliest origin could be taken as the year 60 AD when the Illyrian inhabitants of Mljet, named Barbarians by The Acts of the Apostles, warm-heartedly welcomed 276 whipwrecked victims from a large merhant 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 alegedly 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 nonexistant. 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 millenia 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 Millenium and The Second Millenium.

Description of the shipwreck by Saint Luke in The Acts of the Apostles, chapter 27 and 28, which is analysed by usual scientific methods, served as a starting-point to the author's historically radical defining of the significance of all key words in the text. Analysis, according tho the author suggests that all scenes are entirely in accordance with historical, geographical, meteorological, oceanographical and navigational characteristic 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 theory of the said shipwreck to adapt key words to the historical and geographical characteristic of the Island of Malta, lack scholarly support and should be rejected as such.

Agreement in the descriptin 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 on from one century to another continuously through two millenia. At the beginning memories were transferred by 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 varity 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 foundation 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 shipwrecked near the Island of Mljet. Likewise, the Byzantine emepror historian [Porphyrogenitus, D.Ž.] from the end of 9th century in his renowned work "De Administrando Imperio" 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 (345-420), St Gregory of Nazanius (330-390), and some others.

Image of St Paul (Santus Paulus) in enamel on the precious reliquary of the arm of Sv Vlaho (St Blaise), the patron saint of Dubrovnik

Widely developed cult of St Paul and St Luke in the Dubrovnik region suggests that the dedication of congreagation 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 these 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 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 Balise, their patron, on the polyptich of a prominent Raugusan Renaissance painter [Nikola Božidarević, D.Ž.], signifying that it was not under protection of St Blaise alone, but also by St Paul.

The Dubrovnik Triptich by Nikola Božidarević 1460-1517, distinguished Croatian painter from the period of Renaissance. On the left St Vlaho (St Blasius), protector of the City of Dubrovnik, and St Paul the Apostle.

A town quarter of Ston, called SUPAVO [ie St Paul, D.Ž.], 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 the 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 with the church built on foundation of a former early Christian church. Memories of the shipwreck on Mljet are also carried by poets such as Junije PalmotiĆ (1607-1714) who through their lofy 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 venmous 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 Kročula, and writer and scholar Ignjat Đurđević (1675-1737), Stjepan Šuljaga, a philosopher of modern times Vicko Paulnko (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. There still are some European scholars who come forward with their support for the Mljet theory of his shipwreck.

Title page of the original book by Ignjat Đurđević (Ignatio Georgio), published in Venice in 1730.

A sketch of St Paul's shipwreck near the island of Mljet from Đurđević's book.

A gravure from Ignjat Đurđevic's book from 1730, indicating that St Paul had shipwreck in Mare Adriaticum (Adriatic Sea) near the island of Mljet.

It is worth mentioning that St Paul's cult had its reflection in music. So tha liturgical Sanctoral Music Items of The Commemoration Mass of St Paul in the Benevantan Missal of the Ragusan Cathedral dates from the 12th century. We also have a copsition Sanctae Paule Apostle by the 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.

Translated from Croatian by prof. Pave Brailo, Dubrovnik

Formated for CROWN by prof.dr. Darko Žubrinić
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