The most recognizable symbol of the lake is the Church of the Mother of God on the Lake with its long and diverse history, however the lush greenery also hides other interesting island buildings, like the bell-tower, church, chaplain's house, provost's house, small hermitage and some mysterious legends.
History & architecture
In the ancient times, polytheism prevailed in this area, which is why the island included a temple of the pagan goddess of love. After the local population was converted from paganism to Christianity in 745, they were forced to replace their goddess Živa with the Christian Virgin Mary. The ancient Slavic temple was replaced with the church consecrated to the birth of the Virgin Mary. A small Mary's chapel was also built to make locals pray to her.
In 1465, a single-nave Gothic church was built on the island. Its special feature was the 52 m high free-standing bell-tower made of porous stone known also as buckwheat grain. The church gained its present Baroque appearance in the middle of the 17th century when the Chapel of Virgin Mary and the monumental staircase with 99 stone steps were constructed. Tradition still has it that the groom should carry his bride up all of the 99 steps in order to get married in the island church.
The Church of the Mother of God on the Lake
The church still houses fragments of frescoes with scenes from the life of the Virgin Mary: the story of Joachim and Anne on the north wall and the scene of Mary's visitation and other scenes from her adult life on the south wall. Experts are convinced that the softly painted images were influenced by graphic outlines from the workshop circle of Master Bolfgang and originate from around 1470.
In the vestibule there is a smaller lapidary, where even the original relief with Hren's Cross from Ljubljana is preserved. In the flooring of the aisle there are openings with an archaeological presentation, designed by the architect Tone Bitenc and his co-workers in the fifties.
The Baptism on the Savica
Many legends exist connected to the island. One of them is described in the masterpiece of the finest Slovene poet France Prešeren. The legend relates that a temple used to stand on the island, dedicated to Živa, the Slavic goddess of love, which was protected by the priest Staroslav and his daughter Bogomila. When Črtomir, the leader of the pagans visited the island, Bogomila and him fell in love. Out of fear for Črtomir's life, Bogomila converted to Christianity in the times of battles between the followers of the Christian and Pagan faith and then stayed with her father at the location of the new church. Later on, Črtomir also converted to Christianity and became a missionary.
The legend of the Sunken bell
Once upon a time there lived a young widow in the castle of Bled. Her husband was killed by robbers and his body was thrown into the lake. She was so inconsolable that she gathered all her gold and silver and cast a bell for the chapel on the island, in memory to her husband. But the bell didn’t arrive there. The bell, the boat and boatmen sank during a terrible storm. The desperate widow sold all her property after this accident. She offered the proceeds for the construction of a new church on the island. She left Bled and lived the rest of her life in Rome as a nun. After her death the Pope had heard of her misfortune and of her good deeds during her life as a nun, so in memory to her he decide to make a new bell. He said that anyone that rings the bell three times and believes in God, his or her wish would come true.
The most renowned symbol of the island is the Church of the Mother of God on the Lake which demands a climb up the 99 stone-step staircase. In case you visit the island in just the right time, make time to witness a wedding in the romantic environment. As far as the wishing bell is concerned. Don't just watch it. Ring it.