History

Located on the northern tip of the island, the Franciscan monastery of Our Lady of the Cave, commonly known as Gospa od Špilice, has been overlooking Lopud for centuries. The founding of the monastery of Our Lady of the Cave was in the interests of both the Observant branch of the Franciscans and the secular government of the Republic of Dubrovnik. Several monasteries in the territory of Ragusa belonged to the Dalmatian province governed by the Republic of Venice, and the government of Dubrovnik was eager to eliminate the potentially dangerous influence of these friars. Therefore, the ultimate aim of Dubrovnik’s government was to unite all Franciscan houses in its territory into an autonomous administrative unit. The founding of the Franciscan monasteries Our Lady of the Cave on the island of Lopud (1483) and Our Lady of the Snow in Cavtat (1484) fulfilled the conditions needed for forming an independent vicariate, under the heavenly protection of Saint Francis.

Establishing an independent province meant strengthening the republic’s influence in its territory, especially on the islands closer to the border. The monastery’s church was originally dedicated to the Birth of the Virgin Mary; it is, however, popularly known as the monastery of Gospa od Špilice. Špilica means “rocky hill cave” in a local dialect. The monastery complex is built on a cave that has been turned into a route leading to the sea directly from the monastery. This route can be approached from the western corner of the building, next to the old kitchen, and one can easily locate a small door in the sea wall when approaching Lopud harbor. It is believed that this is where the cave, or špilica, once was.

  • 1212

    Saint Francis of Assisi, one of the most venerated and charismatic religious figures in the history of Christianity, founded the Franciscan Order on the principles of dedication to poverty and compassion toward all living entities. The history of the Franciscans in Dalmatia dates back to the thirteenth century. Thomas of Celano, Saint Francis’s biographer, wrote about the saint’s visit to Dalmatia while traveling to Syria in 1212.

  • 1317

    In 1317 the city of Dubrovnik decided to demolish the existing Franciscan monastery of St. Thomas (1235) to prevent its use by the enemy in a potential case of siege. In the same year the new monastery of Friars Minor was founded inside the walls close to the Pile Gate. Thanks to their influence and close connection to ordinary people, Franciscan friars in medieval Dubrovnik played an important role in raising awareness of the republic’s political interests.

  • 1358

    In 1358 Republic of Ragusa (Republic of Dubrovnik) gained independence on the Republic of Venice. For the following 450 years this small aristocratic state wedged between the Republic of Venice and the Ottoman Empire, with a population of between thirty and fifty thousand people, defended its independence and sovereignty. Lopud island belonged to the political unit of the republic and until the second half of the nineteenth century it was called Isola di Mezzo (the middle island), indicating its position within the Elaphiti Islands group.

  • 1483

    The origins of the Franciscan monastery of Our Lady of the Cave date to the year 1483, which is engraved on its facade next to the entrance door, although there are no archival resources explaining whether that was the year when the monastery was founded or when the church was built or perhaps consecrated. The monastery’s construction was most likely funded in part by donations from the wealthy citizens of Lopud and Dubrovnik, which was often the case with monasteries of this type.

  • 1592

    The development of the fortress began in 1592, when the Senate, as the highest institution of the Republic of Dubrovnik, permitted the fraternity of Gospa od Šunja (Our Lady of Šunj) to build a coastal fortification next to the monastery garden. Thanks to its sweeping view over the sea, the fortress once protected the security of the island’s inhabitants, providing shelter and a means of defense against the attacks of Ottoman pirates.

  • 1613

    In order to strengthen the fortress’s function in the midst of escalating armed conflicts in the area, in 1613 the fraternity approached Dubrovnik’s authorities to ask for permission to upgrade it. Two walls were added to the existing corner of the parapet wall in order to create a space that closes off into a square, and three new bastions were built.

  • 1667

    On April 6, 1667, Dubrovnik, the city of luxurious Gothic and Renaissance palaces, churches, and monasteries containing all of its rich history, crumbled to the ground, due to a short but brutal earthquake that may have measured as much as grade 9 or 10 on the Richter scale. The devastating earthquake, which killed half of the city’s population, marked the beginning of the end of the Republic and also heavily damaged the island of Lopud. The monastery was most likely partially repaired thanks to a loan from the local fraternity of Gospa od Šunja, as a payment schedule throughout the eighteenth century suggests.

  • 1822

    In 1820 the guardian of the monastery requested to be relocated to Dubrovnik friary because the building was no longer in habitable condition, which means that Franciscan friars were still living in the monastery. Although the initial response was for the guardian to stay, the correspondence with the provincial minister that followed reveals that the keys to the church and the monastery were finally handed over in 1822 to a local resident named Matteo Jakšić, who was entrusted with the responsibility of opening the church for mass when needed. This indicates that it was most likely around this time that the monastery was abandoned.

  • 2006

    In 2006 restoration of Lopud 1483 started. After numerous analyses and extensive consolidation of the structure with the Karlsruhe Institute of Technology, the restoration of Lopud 1483 was conceived and spearheaded by Arcus Dalmatia d.o.o.

  • 2018

    One of the original roles of Franciscan monasteries was cultural development and education, and this function was revived, in contemporary form, in 2018, when the monastery opened its doors to the public. Visiting this beautiful, tranquil place offers numerous unique experiences. Thanks to a sensitive approach by the Arhitektri studio, the monastery has been adapted to a contemporary space that can host art, symposia, retreats, and many other types of cultural events.