10 days into our Croatian holiday, we visited the small sleepy town of Ćilipi. There was nothing remarkable about the place, although there was a rather large church in the town square, looked over by the little café with one customer. It was here where we were introduced to the Elephant in the Room, which we had largely missed so far.
Ćilipi was unremarkable in that, like many other towns in the area, it had been pounded by mortars and invaded by soldiers on many occasions during the Croatian war. 80% of the houses had been largely rebuilt in the last twenty years, which went some way to explain why everything looked so new, and (frankly) not very good.
An invading army had tried to raze the church to the ground. They didn’t approve of the locals’ religion, and wanted to destroy their oversized place of worship. They failed; it was too well-built. So they went inside and set about vandalising it instead. They beheaded the statues of the holy family, but when Mary’s head failed to come off, they just poked out her eyes instead. Two of the three altars were destroyed, but the third altar was watched over by a painting of Saint Nicholas, who was apparently okay.
Croatia became an independent country in 1995, twenty years ago, and they began to rebuild. With this in mind, everything I’d seen so far started to make sense. What would the UK look like after 5 years of civil war? I shudder to think.
We learned all about the Croatian War of independence from a local woman, who volunteered her time to talk to visitors in the church. It was pretty obvious that wounds were still healing, as she occasionally fought back tears during her recounting of the hostilities.