Centuries of Croatian past have brought many moments, people and movements to its history books. Statues for almost every part of Croatia’s history can be found somewhere around the country. Even the giant of Salez is in a way a monument to torture and humiliation as it was practically used as a pillory 300 years ago.
But there are other, more humane statues out there to see. Some of them being literal masterpieces of statuary art, such as Ivan Mestrovic’s sculpt of Gregory of Nin (Grgur Ninski), frequently visited by Croats and foreign visitors alike. There is a reason for it, but we’ll come to that.
Gregory was an influential Croatian bishop who lived in 10th century. He governed the Church in Nin, a town which served as a capital of Croats at the time Zagreb was not even founded. He was at odds with the rest of the Catholic hierarchy, promoting the idea that masses should be performed in local languages rather than in Latin. As such, historians see him as a protector of Croatian identity and political interests, while artists perceive him as a symbol of patriotism and focus on his love for his homeland. Ivan Mestrovic, probably one of the most well-known artists Croatia has ever produced, shared such vision and constructed several statues of Gregory, half-joking that they are guardians of nation’s spirit and glagolitic culture. The statue in Split is the most popular one.
The Statue of Gregory was initially stationed on Diocletian Palace’s peristyle. Yet during World War II, Italian occupying forces removed the statue, recognizing its meaning to the population. Once Split was back under Croatian control, Gregory was returned, this time outside the Palace’s northern entrance, entitled “Golden Gate”. Almost every person entering Diocletian’s ancient city from that point stops and spends a few moments next to the statue.
The Statue of Gregory is very impressive and monumental, but if you take a closer look, you will notice that Gregory’s thumb on one of his feet shines with a unique color. It is not made of different material, and the feature doesn’t seem like it was a part of artist’s original plan, yet there it is.
Why is it so, you ask? Because of a belief that rubbing the toe while saying a wish will actually make that wish happen. And naturally, as with millions of other similarly bizarre and unproven beliefs, people massively accepted it and rub the toe of poor Gregory as if it is a lucky charm.
There were rumors that authorities wanted to protect the thumb from extensive rubbing and forbid the practice. Even surrounding the thumb with a fence, or putting it under the plastic bell were considered to protect it but neither ever came into existence.
Local souvenir makers were desperately trying to promote the idea that touching the tiny thumbs of their miniature Gregory replicas have the same effect as touching the real thumb. One of them argued that this is so because his replicas were made from stone of Nin quarry–“The same stone the real bishop was walking over with his thumb”.
But no matter the skepticism, there were cases in which Gregory’s thumb actually granted wishes. Some girls got married, others got pregnant, certain high school students received good grades on their exams, and gas prices didn’t skyrocket two days before one’s family decided to go on vacation. With such great marvels, it is difficult to distinguish which cases of miraculous wish-granting might have happened thanks to Gregory and his thumb. Who knows how many unreported good fortunes were a result of Mestrovic’s statue.
Will it work for you? I can’t say for sure. You should try rubbing, and if something happens perhaps that means you’re a good person with good karma, or the statue had a strong itch on the toe and decided to thank you in some way. Although with the number of people rubbing it, the itch is not a likely option.
In any case, rubbing the toe or not, visiting Split through the Golden gate will bring you up in front of Gregory’s gaze. Despite his strong stance and monumental appearance, you will feel a sense of being welcomed, and as if the ancient bishop is pulling away a curtain that will allow you to discover Split’s numerous charming streets.
PS: It is important to know that, according to experts in lucky thumbs, the statues of Gregory in Nin and Varazdin are also bringing good luck and granting wishes. So if you visit those places, be sure to check out their local Gregory’s thumbs as well.