While strolling by Lake Bled, you may hear a bell ring somewhere in the distance.
The sound coming across the lake is the ringing of the wishing bell of Bled Island that will make one of your wishes come true ― but only if you ring the bell three times!
You can find the legendary wishing bell inside a small, baroque church that crowns Bled Island. The church dedicated to Mary is one of several historic buildings on the island.
Charming pilgrimage church on Bled Island
The church of Mary on Bled Island that lies on the western part of Lake Bled has been a place of worship for Catholics and a beloved pilgrimage destination over the centuries.
The first pilgrims visited the island’s church already in the 12th century, asking for indulgences. They travelled to the island by ‘pletnas’. Pletna is a wooden boat, traditional for Lake Bled.
You can still see pletna boats on Lake Bled today, carrying small groups of tourists to the island. If you wish to join them, you can hop on the closest pletna boat waiting by the lakeshore.
Today, the island on Lake Bled is one of the top tourist destinations in Slovenia that receives the most visitors from May until September.
Some couples ― many of them from abroad ― even decide to get married in the church of Mary as Bled Island is probably one of the most romantic places in Slovenia to say ‘I do!’.
Sacred place with a long history
Whether you are to get married in the island’s church or just wish to relive the pilgrims’ journey by visiting the sights, that historic place will for sure make an impression on you.
Archaeological findings from the 1960s suggest that many years ago, that is the Early Middle Ages, a pagan temple to worship the Slavic goddess of life and fertility named Živa (Zhiva) occupied the site of today’s Catholic church.
Somewhere around 9th century, the pagan temple was replaced with a small pre-Romanesque church that was later succeeded by different church buildings.
The church of Mary that you can visit today was rebuilt in the 17th century after the earthquake. It displays a Baroque style.
What is special about this church is that you can see the remainings of the walls of the previous churches inside it. Just look through the glass floor when standing in front of the pulpit below the altar.
At the central altar, you will see the figure of Mary and the statues of Henry II and his wife Cunigunde.
Who was Henry II? He was the Holy Roman Emperor who in the year of 1004 bestowed Bled Island, together with Bled Castle and Lake Bled, to the Bishopric of Brixen. The bishopric owned Bled Island with the church of Mary almost 800 years (Brixen is a town in northern Italy and is nowadays also one of Bled’s twin towns).
Ring the bells three times and make a wish
Below the church’s roof, just above the glass floor near the altar, you will see the bell that will make your wish come true if you ring it three times.
As soon as you get inside the church, you will see the rope hanging from the ceiling. That is the rope you need to pull in order to get the bell moving.
When ringing the bell, remember of a young widow who once lived at Bled Castle and is the main character of an old legend. She visited Bled Island every day, praying in the island’s church for hours.
The legend says that a widow decided to send a bell to the island’s chapel in the loving memory of her husband who was attacked by vicious bandits. Unfortunately, the bell sunk together with the boat carrying it during a terrible storm on the lake.
After the accident, the widow sold everything she had and made a generous donation for the construction of a new church on the island. She left Bled Castle and walked barefoot to Rome.
After the widow left Bled, the pope sent a new bell to the island’s church. He himself blessed the bell and gave it a special power of granting one wish to those who ring it.
Church of Mary was built for lovers to say 'I do'
When the flowers start to bloom and one can hear the birds sing again, Bled Island awakes from the winter’s sleep. The number of islands’ visitors starts to grow in spring and you can see more pletna boats floating on the lake.
At that time the priest of Bled who is in charge of the island’s church becomes busy with performing wedding ceremonies on the island.
It is possible to have Catholic, Protestant or even civil wedding ceremonies in the island’s church.
It is a tradition that before getting married in the church the groom carries the bride up the 99 stone steps located on the southern part of the island.
However, the good news for the groom is that he will actually need to conquer 98 steps as the first step is hidden in the water!
Green island with baroque touch
The church and the separate bell tower that stands on the the highest point of the island are not the only buildings on the island. They are accompanied by other historic buildings, including the Provost’s House and Potičnica.
Provost’s House (1619) that is today a gallery and exhibition venue used to accommodate a provost, a senior priest that occasionally came to Bled Island. Later it was also used for accommodation of pilgrims.
Next to the Provost’s House is Potičnica, a small building where you can try some typical Slovenian pastry such as ‘potica’ (festive cake with different fillings), buy souvenirs or have a drink.
In front of those buildings is a beautiful courtyard with wooden benches where you can sit and take a break from sightseeing.
Bled Island with the Church of Mary where you can ring the wishing bell is on the bucket list of many travellers to Bled. Going to the island by iconic pletna boat is one of the top things to do at Lake Bled.
- PRACTICAL INFORMATION -
LOCATION: St. Mary’s Church is situated on Bled Island, a small island that lies on the western side of Lake Bled.
St. Mary’s Church on Bled Island
GET ON: As the church is located on the island, you will either need to hop on a traditional pletna boat, buy a ticket for the electric boat, or rent a wooden boat and row to the island.
PLETNA: One pletna boat can carry up to 18-20 people. It is operated by ‘pletnar’, a local man who holds the licence to do that. You can buy a return-ticket directly from pletnar. It costs 15 EUR.
ELECTRIC BOAT – HYDROBUS: The second option is to get to the island by an electric boat (called Črtomir) that runs at fixed hours from the dock below Park Hotel/Casino Bled. The pier is named Kazina. Return ticket costs 12 EUR.
RENT A BOAT: You can rent a wooden boat for one hour or more and row to the island by yourself. You will find several agencies that rent out boats by the lakeshore.
ENTRY FEE: You will be asked to pay entry fee (6 EUR) for St. Mary’s church and the bell tower next to it.
ACCESSIBILITY: St. Mary’s Church is located on the upper part of the island that is accessible only by (many) steps. The church is thus not accessible for the disabled.
The staircase that is located on the northern side of the island has fewer steps (78 steps). It is thus more appropriate for those who have any kind of walking disability.
LITURGICAL SERVICE: St. Mary’s church on Bled Island regularly holds Catholic masses and blessings ― that is a few times a month.
WEDDINGS: Many couples decide to get married in the church on Bled Island. If you are one of them, you can send your request to the priest through the official website of Bled Island.
Do you have any questions about visiting Bled Island and the Church of Mary? Please contact me through Twitter (@bledoscope).
Follow my day-to-day exploits – that might spark your wanderlust – on Instagram: @bledoscope.