The first Dubrovnik Cathedral was built on the southern part of the Isle of Laus in the 7th/8th century in late antique and Byzantine style. It was dedicated to the Assumption of the Virgin Mary and named the Assumption Church. In the 12th century a Romanic cathedral was built on the same spot.
According to a legend, the English King Richard the Lion Heart had it built on his way back from Palestine in 1.192 AD, having suffered a shipwreck in which he only just managed to save himself on the Isle of Lokrum. He made a vow to build a church on the isle in honour of the Virgin Mary, yet the wise people of Dubrovnik persuaded him to build it in the City instead. Thus a luxurious basilica was built on the remnants of the previous cathedral decorated with valuable artifacts and works of art. Unfortunately, the cathedral was badly damaged in the disastrous earthquake of 1667. What remained were only the foundations and parts of the walls 1 metre high.
The present baroque church was built from 1673 - 1713 on the initiative of the respected citizen of Dubrovnik Stjepan Gradic, the head of the Vatican Library in Rome and the Pope's counsellor in his relationship with the Dubrovnik Republic. He raised the funds and found architects in Italy (A. Buffallini and P. Andreotti), who, together with local masters, constructed a three-nave basilica with a huge dome on the naves' intersection. The roof of the church is adorned with the statues of ten saints, and an alla romana steeple with three bells rises above the sacristy.
The interior is plain with side chapels, on whose altars are paintings by local masters from the 17th - 19th century such as Petar Matei-Matejevic, Benko Stay and Carmelo Reggi, a naturalized citizen of Dubrovnik. There is also a famous renaissance painting of the miraculous Our Lady of Porat, once kept at the Od Sigurate Monastery on Prijeko. For centuries on Assumption Day the painting was carried in the consecration procession through the harbour and the City. The most valuable work in this representative baroque building is Titian's painting The Assumption of the Virgin Mary in the apse behind the main altar. The precious painting, actually a poliptych, was commissioned for St. Lazarus Church at Ploce, outside the city walls. The church used to be the centre of the Dubrovnik bourgeois brotherhood of rich merchants and seamen called Lazarina. After the big earthquake and upon the Cathedral's restoration, the Dubrovnik Senate decided to ask this important brotherhood to give away the above-mentioned poliptych to the newly built church, which they did. Being so precious, the painting's place was believed to be in the Cathedral, whereas a copy was made for St. Lazarus' Church. The apse's walls are adorned with four paintings on Biblical themes from the 17th century made at the Padovanini workshop, and the Brocardo's 16th century painting of St. Matthew is to the right of the apse. The citizens of Dubrovnik used to buy those valuable paintings in well-known Italian painting workshops and donate them to their Cathedral. Several paintings of great value from the 13th - 16th century are also kept in the Cathedral's treasury, whose walls and ceiling were painted by the already mentioned Petar Matei Matejevic in the 17th century.
However, the most important part of the treasure collection are the numerous liturgical gold and silver objects partially made in the Dubrovnik workshops. Although only a small part of the Cathedral treasure has been preserved, having survived earthquakes, fires and plundering, these works of art conjure up the wealth and taste of this small community, which found its purpose in faith and simplicity. Relics of heads, legs and hands of saints, including those of St. Blaise, the City's patron saint, as well as many of the finest liturgical utensils are also exhibited in the sacristy. Having being brought from the Holy Land for centuries, the relics were placed in the minutely detailed beds from the 14th - 18th century showing elements of all European art styles. Made in the style of similar models from all over Europe with floral, figural or ornamental decoration, they show the artistry of both local and foreign masters. An international art centre, Dubrovnik was connected with many other European art centres, therefore the art objects kept in its Cathedral belong to the same circuit. Exceptionally rich investments and many pieces of jewllery, which the congregation donated to the Cathedral, are also kept in the sacristy. The surviving art objects of the Assumption of the Virgin Mary Church and the Church's importance as a Catholic stronghold both remind us of the important role that Dubrovnik once had in Dalmatia, Croatia and the whole of Europe.
Author: Vedrana Gjukić - Bender, Welcome