Our Lady of the Rocks

[Image: Via montenegro.com].

Somehow this morning I ended up reading about an artificial island and devotional chapel constructed in Montenegro’s Bay of Kotor.

“In 1452,” we read at montenegro.com, “two sailors from Perast happened by a small rock jutting out of the bay after a long day at sea and discovered a picture of the Virgin Mary perched upon the stone.” Thus began a process of dumping more stones into the bay in order to expand this lonely, seemingly blessed rock—as well as loading the hulls of old fishing boats with stones in order to sink them beneath the waves, adding to the island’s growing landmass.

Eventually, in 1630, a small chapel was constructed atop this strange half-geological, half-shipbuilt assemblage.

[Image: Via Skyscraper City].

Throwing stones into the bay and, in the process, incrementally expanding the island’s surface area, has apparently become a local religious tradition: “The custom of throwing rocks into the sea is alive even nowadays. Every year on the sunset of July 22, an event called fašinada, when local residents take their boats and throw rocks into the sea, widening the surface of the island, takes place.”

The idea that devotional rock-throwing has become an art of creating new terrain, generation after generation, rock after rock, pebble after pebble, is stunning to me. Perhaps in a thousand years, a whole archipelago of churches will exist there, standing atop a waterlogged maze of old pleasure boats and fishing ships, the mainland hills and valleys nearby denuded of loose stones altogether. Inadvertently, then, this is as much a museum of local geology—a catalog of rocks—as it is a churchyard.

In fact, it doesn’t seem inaccurate to view this as a vernacular version of Vicente Guallart‘s interest in architecturally constructing new hills and coastlines based on a logical study of the geometry of rocks.

Here, the slow creation of new inhabitable terrain simply takes place in the guise of an annual religious festival—pilgrims assembling islands with every arm’s throw.

11 thoughts on “Our Lady of the Rocks”

  1. Apropos of nothing, this reminds me of Coconut Island in the bay near Kaneohe, Hawaii – which was used as the stand-in for Gilligan's Island. Over the years, the size of the island was doubled in area by land fill, and now houses a marine biology center.



  2. I've been there a couple of times {in fact I was christened in Kotor when I was a child}. It is a truly stunning building in the most amazing setting.

    One of the things I was particularly taken by inside this church was an exquisitely intricate embroidery by a local woman. I will never forget it. She made the embroidery using her own hair waiting for her sailor husband to return from the sea. The embroidery was made over the period of 30 years and in the process the woman went blind and eventually died, without ever seeing her husband.

  3. Mass-wasting by the masses – but at least somewhat more romantic than pumping sand around Dubai!

    But I found your link really intriguing – I followed up on Guallart's work, and , in looking at "Howtomakeamountain," discovered a number of Mont Blanc illustrations by the extraodinary nineteenth century French architect, Viollet-Le-Duc. I had come across his exuberant restorations at Mont St Michel and Carcassonne, but had no idea that he had made careful observations of the geometry of mountains and its relationship to architecture.

    As a geologist, I find these kinds of connections fascinating and will have to look further into this. Many of his illustrations are exquisite observations of geology and landscape – see, for example,


    Thanks for stimulating this line of enquiry!

  4. I just spent 5 minutes looking for an alcohol ad that's been running in theaters. It features a group of party-ers on boats who start tossing rocks into the sea, resulting in an island for awesome party times.

    I can't remember the brand, which says something about the overall effectiveness of it, but the image as a frenetic version of the more gradual ritual you describe here holds a nice contrast.

  5. Sadly Tim, my mind went to the same advertisement..not all this wonderful talk about history and geology! The ad is for Bacardi – I only know that because I too wasted 5 minutes searching and failed. Then I just asked my secretary and voila – the answer!

    link to a page with the ad

  6. I spent last Summer in Montenegro, making a film that blurs the lines between fiction and documentary. The film takes its name from this island chapel.

    You can see a plot outline and some stills here http://www.this-ness.com/PROJECTS

    Very much looking forward to completing the film, currently in the edit stage.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.