Medieval pageantry and the art of the crossbow

From crossbow contests to formal processions, Rab’s medieval heritage is very much alive and kicking. 

Written by Piers Letcher


Festival, Rab, Croatia by Piers LetcherLiving in a place like Rab you’d be mad not to dress up in medieval clothes from time to time, so that’s what the locals do for the crossbow contests on 9 May and again on 25 June, 27 July and 15 August – and sometimes on other feast days and national holidays too. Amid much pageantry, fanfares of trumpets and formal processions, the tournament is really just an excuse for dressing up and having a good time, and it makes for a great civic occasion. But stay behind the crossbows – they’re absolutely lethal. 

(Photo: Folk procession, Rab © Piers Letcher)

The tradition dates back to 9 May 1358, when Rab was liberated from a nasty Italo-Norman siege through the intervention of the enterprising bishop of the day, who saw off the besieging army by waving the relics of St Christopher from the city walls. The day has been celebrated ever since, and not only could exiles return for the festivities but husbands also had official permission to beat their wives. Today the wife-beating is mercifully outlawed, but the party does go on for three days, with folk processions, much eating and drinking, and the crossbow contest itself on the final day. 

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