November 19, 2020 - The celebration of the feast of Our Lady of Health, November 21, which in Boka is celebrated not only by Catholics but also by believers of other confessions, is a real example of this area's ecumenical characteristics.
On the same day, Orthodox believers celebrate the day of the Holy Archangel Michael, and Kotor and Tivat commemorate the Municipality's Day in honor of their liberation from the occupying power in the Second World War. It is unlikely that Our Lady of Health will impact the epidemiological situation on her day, but this year it may be more than usually relevant to recall her cult in Boka, which arrived through Venice.
The cult of Our Lady of Health is related to the plague epidemic that reigned in the Middle Ages, which killed many people and devastated the economy. The health and economic situation in the context of the time is therefore in some ways comparable to our current circumstances. Then, Venice asked the Mother of God for help, and when the plague stopped, the Senate decided to build a church on the Grand Canal called Santa Maria Della Salute, i.e., Our Lady of Health, for the Blessed Virgin Mary, who pulled Venice out of its horror.
The cult spread to Dalmatia, where one of the most beautiful churches of Our Lady of Health was built in Zadar. Later history connected it with Boka - Vicko Zmajević from Perast built a central altar in the 18th century, which still adorns this church. Churches of Our Lady of Health exist in Split, Dubrovnik, and Kotor.
The Church of Our Lady of Health at the Fortress of San Giovanni in the minds of the citizens of Kotor then, and today, remains extremely important and is a kind of pilgrimage church that is part of the collective consciousness of the whole of Kotor and the Bay.
"This is still one of the most beloved shrines of Our Lady in the Diocese of Kotor. On the feast of Our Lady of Health on November 21, hundreds of believers make a pilgrimage there, which is a lot considering that this does not include those who want to, only those who can"- it was pointed out on the occasion of the promotion of the book "Kotor Votive Shrine of Our Lady of Health" by the late Vicar of the Kotor Diocese, Don Anton Belan.
The Church of Our Lady of Health in Kotor, located halfway to San Giovanni, dates from the 15th century but was rebuilt over time. It is first mentioned in archival documents in 1518.
It has a deep open narthex in the shape of a Gothic arch and is vaulted with a Gothic vault. The rest of the building belongs to the Baroque period. It has a small gothic rosette on the front. The entrance door is made of wrought iron and was mentioned as early as 1745. The Church of Our Lady of Health has modest dimensions of 9.75 x 4 m, and the narthex 3.06 x 4.65 m. It is paved with red and white stone from Đurić near Kamenar, from which part of the pavement in the church of St. Mark in Venice was built. The church has a sacristy with a stone vault, mentioned in the 18th century. Five steps raise the altar space.
Our Lady of Health Church, Painting by Nedeljko Simanić
The Church of Our Lady of Health watches over the city, completing nature and man's magnificent architecture. The bell tower was completed on March 10, 1727, when Bishop Hyacinth Zanobetti gave St. Gaudencia and Veneranda relics to be placed at the foot of the cross of the bell tower. The bell tower contains three bells made in 1930 in the famous bell foundry De Poli from Vittorio Veneta (Italy), founded in 1453. The bell tower is 18 meters high with a newly erected cross. It has an octagonal stone dome with prominent ribs.
The church is dedicated to the Presentation of the Blessed Virgin Mary in the temple. It is celebrated in a particular way as Our Lady of Health on November 21. In the church, there is the tomb of the famous Kotor family Bolica, and under the narthex is the tomb of another Kotor citizen, Count Anton Luković.
The Church of Our Lady of Health can be reached by a picturesque path that is adorned by four small chapels, with 520 steps to climb.
"The Church of Our Lady of Health warned, and in a way still does today, that the mighty walls and courage of the defenders alone are not enough to protect the city, but God's protection is also needed with her motherly intercession," the Kotor diocese said.
At the end of this story of the famous sanctuary of Boka's people, we can indeed tell you: whether you are believers or not, whether on the occasion of November 21 or at some other time - head to San Giovanni and find this church. While enjoying the atmosphere of Our Lady of Health's spacious porch, in the archives also called Our Lady of Rest, you can appreciate one of the most beautiful views of the Bay of Kotor. It is also an opportunity to pause for a moment to feel the history of the ancient city and its citizens' destiny through time.
Cities with archives that preserve the teachings of centuries, such as Kotor, know that ugly times come and go. Kotor has defeated numerous epidemics in the past. Some will say this is thanks to the intercession of Our Lady of Health. If that is indeed true, may her feast bring us some help also this year.
Source: Kotor Diocese