Our Lady of Zečevo (Gospa od Zečevo)

The Our Lady of Zečevo celebration connects the Holy Mother of God with the oldest Croatian Christian town of Nin.  Nin is the central Marian shrine in the Archdiocese of Zadar, and one of the oldest Marian shrines in Croatia. (A Marian shrine marks the location of an apparition or other miracle ascribed to the Blessed Virgin Mary.)

The name of this celebration is derived from the name of the tiny island of Zečevo of the same name.  It is located north of the town of Nin, approximately 7km by sea and 10km by road. The road leads to the islet directly through the town of Vrsi. It is a short drive to reach the island from Nin, but it is customary to walk to the shrine as a pilgrimage. It is part of the covenant by which residents of Nin and all well-wishers pay homage to the Mother of God. More detailed historical facts and chronology can be found in the archives of the archdiocese of Zadar, where, among other things, the ecclesiastical and birth records of the old diocese of Nin.

The story of Our Lady of Zečevo began as far back as 1335, when the island was first mentioned in the writings by monks who lived on the island.

Through the 15th century, the first attacks of the Turks took place in the territories of northwestern Dalmatia. This directly affected the function of the city of Nin and its population. The greatest invasions had taken place from 1468 up to the year 1500. In 1493, a bloody Battle of Krbava took place, defeating the Croatian nobility, and the once famous Croatian land was burned to no remains. But, in the year 1500, the Turks were suppressed in the vicinity of Nin, and as they departed, they took revenge by invading the very island of Zečevo and killed the monks and demolished the church chapel which was built there. The statue of Our Lady of Zečevo, which had already been erected there in worship, had been taken away by the Turks.

In the nearby village of Jasenovo, not far from Vrsi,  there lived Jelena Grubisic, widow of Marin. She was an ordinary woman and lived as a shepherd surrounded by livestock and agriculture, and used to bring her cattle to graze on the islet of Zečevo. During the repeated Turkish attacks in the early 16th century, Nin somehow resisted the Ottoman monster. At that time, the widow Jelena first experienced the vision which is directly connected with the Zečevo celebration. On the night of April 9, 1516, a monk showed up at Jelena’s house. He ordered her to go to the Church of Our Lady of Zečevo, where she would receive instructions to proclaim Our Lady’s honor, so that God would not punish Christians.

But at the time, Jelena thought it was just some story, and decided to remain silent about it. But God’s providence was to be completed. Specifically, on May 5, 1516, an apparition appeared to Jelena by Our Lady herself on the island, with the message: “I left complete forgiveness of sins in the church at Zečevo every Monday. But that is why one should fast on Monday on just bread and water and hold mass at St. Jakov Church, in which I am honored to be worshiped, just as you did in the church on Zečevo island.”  Jelena decided to break her vow of silence and went to Nin to repeat everything to Bishop Divnic. Shortly after, by some miracle, the statue returned to the islet of Zečevo, back to the chapel which the bishop had declared to be restored.

The end of the 16th century saw even more difficult times for Nin. During the Cyprus War of 1570, Nin was burned to the ground. The statue disappeared again, but by 1587, the statue had returned back to Nin.During the Candia War (1645-1669) on the island of Crete, Nin was burned again.  On April 16, 1646, all powers from Nin were transferred to Zadar. The Archdiocesan Church in Nin was demolished. By 1673, the Archdiocesan church was rebuilt and the powers from Zadar were returned back to Nin. Since 1674, the residents of Nin and other local peoples have honored Our Lady of Zečevo, as a token of gratitude that Nin and the people of the Nin’s region were saved from the Turkish invasions.

In recent times, Nin residents and all guests worship Our Lady of Zečevo every year on the second Monday in May.  The celebrations begin with on Sunday, and traditional pilgrimage to the island itself on Monday.  Residents of Nin and other locals usually perform the pilgrimage with small boats through the bay of Nin and the statue of Our Lady is transported in one of the leading boats.

In honor of the apparition of Our Lady of Zečevo to widow Jelena Grubišić and on the occasion of Victory and Homeland Thanksgiving Day, the pilgrimage also takes place in Nin each year on August 5.

The pedestrian pilgrimage by land usually begins at 6:00 in front of St. Anselmo’s church in Nin, from where the pilgrims will proceed to the island of Zečevo, passing through Vrsi.

The boat procession which carries the statue of Our Lady from St. Anselmo’s Church, will start at the pier of Our Lady in Nin, and will continue to the island of Zečevo, where a Solemn Mass will be held.  One day earlier at 19:00, a Holy Mass is held to bless the pedestrian pilgrims, who will embark on the journey to Zečevo the next morning at dawn.