The Franciscan Monastery

  • ✝ Monastery

Next to the curch of the Holy Saviour there is a small and narrow street through which one enters the Franciscan monastery which, like the Dominican monastery, the citizens erected immidiately next to the entrances to the City for defence purposes.

In case an enemy managed to enter the City, then the monks would be the first to defend it because they were unmarried and therefore had no wives and children to protect.

The Romanesque cloister of the Monastery - a cultural, artistic and historical legacy of the Dubrovnik Republic - with the oldest working pharmacy and most vauable library in Croatia, is a delight to visit!

Franciscan Monastery Photo by Rkl4life /Flickr

A brief History

One of the most numerous orders in the Catholic Church, the Franciscan order, was established by St. Francis of Assisi. The arrival of Franciscans in Dubrovnik is connected with two of his visits to the town - one during his journey to the Holy Land and the other, on the return from his second visit to the Holy Land in 1220. when he must have stayed in the area on his way to Venice.

The Franciscan monastery Male Brace lies under the protections of the city walls and unconquerable Minceta fort. The old monastery was once situated outside the city walls, approximately where now Hotel Hilton Imperial stands. It was called the monastery of St. Thomas and was a very suitable site for the Franciscan mission - vineyards were around, a leprosarium was nearby and the small road from the old town lead trough them. But, due to threats of war in the early 14th century (King Uroš II Milutin of Serbia announced a war in 1317.), the Franciscans were forced to move within the city walls. The old monastery was demolished to prevent the possibility of invaders taking over such a fortified complex just outside the city.

Pope John XXII issued a permission in 1318. that another monastery can be built - but, a monastery had already been built. A text dating 1309. confirms the existence of a newly built monastery and church within the walls: "The friars were given 6000 marks in silver (38000 ducats). Thus, the church was built at the expense of the state administration and cost 12000 ducats. Four steps were kept in front of the church portal for a path to the entrance and the monastery. The church was decorated with beautiful paraments, altars, crosses, chalices and other valuables...." The work on a monastery contiunued throughout centuries.

Legend of the name "Friars Minor"

Legend tells of mariners from Dubrovnik, who amassed their wealth by sailing the world seas, which was "for the good of the Republic" and knew to last for several years. This story is about a young mariner family. Just after the wedding, captain had to sail away and leave his pregnant wife in Dubrovnik. When the birth time came, wife gave birth to not one, but four sons! In those times, that was a strange and unusual phenomenon. In her worry not to be laughed at, wife decided to keep one son. Other three were to be locked in a chest and a servant was to throw the chest into the sea.

Captain suddenly came back to Dubrovnik and on his way home he recognized a servant carrying a chest. Interested in content of the chest, he was persistent until the servant told him the whole story about his wife, birth and the chest. Captain took the chest with his three sons and carried them to the nearest monastery where he promised to nuns that he would cover all expenses related to raising his three sons. The servant wasn't allowed to mention anything to captain's wife.

Years have passed by, captain was visiting his sons and covered their expenses and the son at their home believed that he was the only child.

After a long journey, captain came back to Dubrovnik and brought home four beautiful boy's suits. One he left at home and other three he gave to nuns and asked them to put them on his sons. He took his three sons home, sat them next to the fourth son and commanded his wife to recognize her son! Wife was mad because she couldn't recognize her "only" son.

The captain told her everything and since than all four sons lived at home. Years passed by, they grew and got educated, became sea captains, traveled the world and became rich.

Many years have passed, and when everyone finally met at home, grateful to their destiny that saved them and raised them they decided to build a grand church inside of the city walls. People of Dubrovnik decided to name that church after them - Friars Minor.

Franciscan monastery pharmacyPhoto by R Gasman /Flickr

The Pharmacy

Still operating within the monastery is the pharmacy, founded in 1317 making it one of the oldest in Europe (it was the third by the time of establishment)and very possibly the oldest in Europe when talking about its continuity of operation. In 1901 the pharmacy was moved to the more accessible place at the entrance.

Hint: They produce lovely creams from home grown and local ingredients according to traditional recipes (the rose cream is wonderful!). You can sample a selection at the pharmacy.
Franciscan monastery pharmacyPhoto by Dubrovnik tourist board


The monastery complex is a large space that goes up all the way to the Northern parts of the city walls. Over the centuries many bits were added and caved in.

In 1667, when the "Great Earthquake / Great Wednesday" divided the history of Dubrovnik into two parts, one of the richest churches at the time was completely destroyed. The monastery itself resisted the earthquake but the fire that followed up did the damage. It had 24 silver and gold altars that melted during the fire.

Gold and silver seeped from under the ruins and ran down the street. All that was preserved after the catastrophe were the southern doors vaulted with a sculpture of the Pieta - a masterpiece of exceptional artistic value, which today still testifies the lost beauty.

Photo by Anosmia /Flickr

The Cloister

The monastery of the Friars Minor is famous for its cloister, situated between the church and the monastery, as much as it is for its pharmacy.

The cloister is in the shape of a rhomboid. The surrounding colonnade form a quadrant area which is in itself divided into four parts. The arched ceilings of the 16 traveja hold up the four-winged terrace which is also supported by twelve half columns and sixty slender double columns which are decorated with leaves, figurative heads and feet. In the middle we have two areas which have been planted with an array of vegetation.

Because of the diversity of decorative motives the cloister of the Friars Minor is according to some the most interesting medieval monument left in Dubrovnik as well as the most important work from the transitional period from the Romanesque to Gothic style.

The library and archives

The monastery library is considered to be one fo the most significant in Croatia. It is the second most important area in the complex and has already been mentioned in the 15th century. The library today contains more than 70 000 manuscripts and books from all sources in various languages, covering many fileds of education. Most of the works are in Croatian, Latin and Italian though. It also houes 216 incunabula and 22 volumes of choral books from the 15th until the 18th century.

In the middle of the 17 x 9 meter library, arranged around a table, are the chairs of the Smaller Council of the Dubrovnik republic, preserved since the fall.

The well arranged archives of tge monastery are divided into two parts: the manuscript department and the music archives.

The manuscript archives houses more than 3000 works, of which very valuable parchment fragments from the 10th and 11th century. Many works of Kasic, Gundulic and Cekinic can be found here.

The musical archives contain over 7000 compositions printed or in manuscript. They are all available to the general public and more than a thousand still haven't been catalogued. More than a 100 works are unique in the world.

Franciscan monastery DubrovnikPhoto by Sitomon /Flickr

Address & contact details

The Franciscan Monastery cloister; Photo by rkl4life

Entrance fee

  • adults: 30,00 kuna
    children: 15,00 kuna

Working Hours

  • Museum - daily:
  • Winter: 09:00 - 14:00
  • Summer: 09:00 - 16:00

Last updated on

Sunday, 18 February 2018
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