The hidden fairy-tale island of Our Lady of the Rocks is unique in the world for its history and beauty.
Located in the heart of Boka Bay, standing proudly opposite Old Town of Perast, the astonishing island is globally famous for its surreal beauty and legendary origin.
The original name of the island is Gospa od Škrpjela. “Škrpjel” is the old name for a sea island, reef – cliff – a stingy gift of nature around which the people of Perast have helped nature for centuries to create what it is today.
The Origin Legend
Our Lady of the Rocks is a man-made island. Its foundations in the depths of the bay are hidden by hundreds of worn-out sailing ships, which were filled with stone and sunk, so that the island would still stand above the water.
Legend has it that the island was formed somewhere at the beginning of the 15th century. The story goes like this:
Once upon a time, two fishermen from Perast, the Mortičić brothers, were returning from a fishing trip. It was dark, by it appeared there was a light shining on a small reef near Perast. The brothers decided to get closer and investigate.
When they got closer, they saw an icon depicting the Mother of God. The brothers took the icon and brought it to the church in Perast. However, the icon disappeared from the church the very same night. The next day, it appeared back on the spot where the fishermen first found it.
Several times, fishermen tried returning the icon to the church, but it inexplicably disappeared overnight and miraculously appeared at the top of the same ridge the next day. The people of Perast understood that as a sign from heaven and vowed to build a church in honor of the Mother of God in that place.
People started throwing stones around the reef. Other sailors also began to drop rocks on the reef as they headed out to sea, hoping this will grant them divine protection while they were away. Locals also deliberately used the spot around the reef to sink old boats no longer used, until an island suitable for building a church was finally formed.
A Living Tradition
As the legend goes, thirty years after the fishermen found the icon, there was an island with a chapel on it. They managed to snatch about 3000 square meters from the sea, make an island and build a church on it.
Stone-throwing around the church is still practiced today on the day of St. Mary Magdalene – 22 July, and on that day the people of Perast, and the inhabitants of the surrounding places, circle around the island and throw stones around it for the sake of the church, the island and future generations. The custom is called “Fašinada”. If you plan to visit Perast, this would definitely be the right day to do so!
You might have noticed that there is a great number of ancient churches scattered around the Bay of Kotor, but none of them tell such a unique story like the on on this island.
The church was originally built in 1630. Unfortunately, the building suffered significant damage in an earthquake in 1667. The church had to be reconstructed, and in 1722 it got its final shape in the Byzantine style. The decorations inside the church were made by Tripo Kokolja, a well-known painter from Perast. The most prominent is a large mural representing Death of the Mother of God.
The famous Genovese artis Antonio Capelano sculpted the fascinating center altar from Carrera marble. It hides a legend of its own. According to local lore, if you put your hand on the Madonna rock that’s behind the altar, the Holy Mother will grant you a wish.
Inside the church, there are more than 2500 plates of gold and silver. On each of these plates there is a dates of departure and arrival of a certain sailor. If there is only one date, it means that the sailor did not return.
That is how Jacinta Kunić waited for her sailor husband all her life. For 25 years she waited and during this time she made an icon using strands of her own hair. In the beginning, the hair was dark, but towards the end it turns gray. Her husband did not return, and the icon remains in the church on the island.
Weddings are often held in this church because the icon is believed to help newlyweds.
The museum stretches across two floors in the building right next to the church. You can enter it from inside the church. It houses a really interesting collection of items from this area, which range from the Illyrians to the modern day.
In the lapidarium you can see rocks with Illyrian inscriptions and also a collection of Neolithic objects. Especially interesting are the arrowheads from the Spilja Cave above Perast.
There is also a large collection of weapons, traditional dress, modern art and paintings of ships battling storms or pirates – themes that dominated life for the people of Perast for hundreds of years.
Good to Know
Entrance to the church and museum requires a ticket which you can buy at the spot. Visitors can get a guided tour through both church and museum that takes about 30 minutes. This is enough time to hear all about the island origin legend, history, culture and the artifacts displayed in the church.
You will also find a small souvenir shop on the island.
There are several options when it comes to transfer to the island depending on your starting point. If you happen to find yourself in Perast you can take a small boat that will get you from Perast to the island. The trip takes less than 10 minutes.
In case you are visiting Kotor Old Town we recommend you take a Private Lady of the Rocks and Perast tour with Limitless Speed Boat Kotor. This way, you can avoid all the traffic and instead get to enjoy the view of the whole Boka Bay on your way to the island. Plus, our experienced skippers will tell you the history and legends connected to the places you visit.