Mir­a­cle in Mon­tene­gro

Touch the Madonna rock and have your wishes come true … or so they say

The Guardian (Charlottetown) - - DESTINATIONS - BY STEVE MACNAULL

Not a re­li­gious nor su­per­sti­tious man, Ilija Pa­jovic nev­er­the­less puts his hand on the Madonna rock be­hind the church’s al­tar and makes a wish.

Two months later, his wife is preg­nant with the son they’ve longed for for eight years.

“I’m just say­ing, it seems like a mir­a­cle to me,” said Pa­jovic. “You can see for your­self.” So, my wife, Kerry, and I pile into Pa­jovic’s 22-foot Quick­sil­ver speed­boat and race off to Our Lady of the Rocks, a small man-made island in the sparkling Bay of Ko­tor, just north of Mon­tene­gro’s cap­i­tal of Ko­tor.

The island is home to the Catholic Church of Our Lady of the Rocks, where the al­tar is set so close to the wall we can only squeeze be­hind it sin­gle file.

The Madonna rock is set in the mid­dle of the al­tar’s back and can be touched only by crouch­ing and stick­ing your hand in the small open­ing.

Pa­jovic shines the flash­light from his cell­phone so we can nav­i­gate and tells us to make a wish.

In our 50s with two grownup kids, my wife and I cer­tainly don’t want to con­ceive a baby, so we wish for health and hap­pi­ness for our fam­ily.

We check out some of the 68 paint­ings in the tiny church by 17th Cen­tury Baroque artist Tripo Kokolja and then re­turn out­side to the sun­shine to hear the tale of the island from Pa­jovic.

Af­ter some lo­cal sailors found the icon of Madonna and Child on a rock in the bay on July 22, 1452, they and ev­ery­one else who passed the site in a boat would add a rock as a homage and thanks for safe voy­age.

Even­tu­ally an island emerged from the sea, a church was built on it and the orig­i­nal Madonna rock was in­stalled in the al­tar.

The tra­di­tion of hurl­ing rocks into the wa­ter at the site con­tin­ues ev­ery year on the an­niver­sary of the dis­cov­ery, July 22, with a fes­ti­val called Fasi­nada.

Pa­jovic hangs out every­day in Ko­tor’s City Park with his boat of­fer­ing 90-minute jaunts to the island for 60 Eu­ros through Mon­tene­gro Sub­ma­rine & Speed­boat Tours.

It’s cer­tainly handy he has a mir­a­cle con­nec­tion to the coun­try’s top tourist at­trac­tion. But we don’t doubt. Pa­jovic seems straight-up and he shows us a photo of his son, Luca, now aged four, on his phone.

My wife and I ar­rived in Ko­tor aboard the new lux­ury cruise ship Vik­ing Sky.

Ko­tor is rel­a­tively new at host­ing cruise ship pas­sen­gers, but it’s quickly be­com­ing a cov­eted Balkan port sand­wiched be­tween Croa­tia and Bos­nia & Herze­gov­ina to the north and Al­ba­nia to the south.

The cap­i­tal is spec­tac­u­larly set at the end of a 30-kilo­me­tre­long in­let, con­sid­ered Europe’s south­ern­most fjord, that links to the Adri­atic Sea.

Tow­er­ing lime­stone cliffs back each side of the fjord and the city of Ko­tor is nes­tled on the east in­cline, an ex­panse of red ter­ra­cotta roofs be­hind a UNESCO World Her­itage Site wall that dates back to 1420.

With only a day in this won­drous lo­cale we make the most of it.

Be­sides mo­tor­ing to Our Lady of the Rocks with Pa­jovic, we vow to climb the 1,355 steps along the city wall to the moun­tain­top St. John’s Fortress.

But the day is hot and the steps steep, so we make it only half-way to the 1518-era Church of Our Lady of Rem­edy, where an en­ter­pris­ing woman is sell­ing cold wa­ter.

On the way down, we meet some tourists who did make it to the top and com­ment a ven­dor there re­warded them with beer.

We mo­men­tar­ily feel bummed un­til we re­al­ize we’ll shortly be back in the city and can sip ex­cel­lent Mon­tene­gro Crnogorski rose wine at al­fresco Luna Rossa with the char­cu­terie and salad we or­der.

The Vik­ing Sky’s Em­pires of the Mediter­ranean cruise from Athens to Venice will also take us to the Greek is­lands of San­torini and Corfu, Dubrovnik and Koper, Slove­nia.

Vik­ing may have got­ten its start with river cruises ply­ing Europe’s net­work of in­land wa­ter­ways, but it has now taken the ocean by storm with three el­e­gant mid-sized, 930-pas­sen­ger ships and three more ships to come later this year and next.

All state­rooms have bal­conies, there’s an in­fin­ity pool on the aft deck and the semi-allinclu­sive set up means meals and snacks at the buf­fet, main din­ing room and spe­cial­ity res­tau­rants are in­cluded with beer and wine at lunch and din­ner and one ex­cur­sion in ev­ery port is also in­cluded.

Check out Vik­ingCruises. com.

STEVE MACNAULL PHOTO

Tour guide Ilija Pa­jovic has a mir­a­cle con­nec­tion to Our Lady of the Rocks island, which is to the right in the back­ground.

STEVE MACNAULL PHOTO

Hik­ers ap­proach the Our Lady of Rem­edy church along the city wall of Ko­tor, Mon­tene­gro.

SUB­MIT­TED PHOTO

Re­porter Steve MacNaull and his wife, Kerry, take a break while hik­ing along Ko­tor’s city wall.

STEVE MACNAULL PHOTO

The ter­ra­cotta rooftops of Ko­tor.

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