The Quixotic Quest for Good Luck in Split Croatia

the beautiful Split Croatia on the Adriatic Sea
the beautiful Split Croatia on the Adriatic Sea

Just outside the Golden Gate of Diocletian’s Palace in Split Croatia is a massive statue of a figure that, on first glance, appears to be a wizard.

On second glance, getting a little closer, you can tell that it is a religious figure. On third glance, you can see that the man has a shiny well worn bronze toe. That toe is significant to the town of Split and mankind in general, apparently.

 the statue of Gregory of Nin in Split
the statue of Gregory of Nin in Split

The Good Luck Toe

In Split, it’s widely considered good luck to rub the toe of the imposing statue of Gregory of Nin. Many people swear that it works. The statue is believed to have helped students pass their exams and young people marry the love of their life. It’s basically a magical talisman.

Who exactly was Gregory? And why should we touch something as potentially disgusting as a toe?

the lucky toe of Gregory of Nin in Split
the lucky toe of Gregory of Nin in Split

I mean, even if it’s a bronze toe, imagine how many other germy tourists have touched it. Or sweated on it. Or swished it with leftover french fry dust.

If you rub that toe, you have to be 100% willing to associate yourself with this great undiscriminating mass of humanity.

Don’t try to deny it.

tourists crowded around the lucky toe of Gregory of Nin
tourists crowded around the lucky toe of Gregory of Nin

Gregory of Nin

Gregory was a 10th century medieval bishop who strongly opposed the Pope and fought for the right to use the Croatian language in church services. At the time, the only sanctioned language was Latin, which meant that churches were empty.

But the progressive Gregory changed all that and the Croatian language rang through the country’s Catholic churches. That revolutionary act put Gregory on the Pope’s shit list, though, and he was de-throned as bishop.

Croatia didn’t care. In 1929, the sculptor Ivan Meštrović created the massive 20 foot tall statue to commemorate 1,000 years of the Croatian people finally being able to understand what exactly was going on in church.

Because he made religion accessible, Croatians view Gregory as a symbol of pride and a national treasure. And a giver of good luck.

Diocletian's Palace in Split Croatia
Diocletian’s Palace in Split Croatia, watched over by Gregory of Nin

Superstitious Good Luck Rituals

Many countries have good luck rituals. People rub Buddha bellies, pick four leaf clovers, cross their fingers, carry a rabbit’s foot, throw coins into fountains. The list goes on and on.

By far my favorite custom is Danish. These folks actually collect broken dishes and then hurl them at friends’ and families’ houses on New Years Eve to grant them luck.

No wonder the Danish are the “happiest” people on the planet. They have a solid outlet for their fury. I envy the custom. It seems both so logical and so cathartic. And now I am wondering if I should propose this as a family custom to my long suffering husband. How could he deny me, if I kept track of all the broken bits?

four leaf clovers, a symbol of good luck
four leaf clovers, a symbol of good luck

I must confess that, in my preferred sport of swimming, I too indulge in superstitions. I have favorite swim suits and favorite swim rituals.

I don’t actually believe they work or produce stellar races, but yet I regularly put myself through the paces. If I rip an expensive technical suit, I cringe, thinking it might be a harbinger of a less than perfect race. If the race isn’t executed as planned, I blame the suit incident.

Every time. Like a susperstious moron.

What Is The Cause Of All This Superstition?

Most people, of course, are susperstitious because of fear and ignorance. They lack knowledge in a certain area and to compensate, they make up intervening supernatural causes.

This is basically the history of humankind. People don’t know how something in the universe operates, and they make up a creation cause and cede their control. One ends up in the passenger seat of life, helpless and flailing.

contemplating the mysteries of the universe

This is not my particular curse in life. I don’t believe in sky gods or good luck. I don’t believe that everything is pre-ordained. I don’t believe in “fate” or “destiny.”

I really despise the treacly “everything happens for a reason” mantra. This is literally the dumbest phrase I’ve ever heard. I am right now vomiting in the kitchen sink for full effect.

I basically believe in very little. I am largely belief-less.

Well, not exactly. I believe in the absence of things, like the absence of god or the absence of self-determination or the absence of magic.

confronted once again with the good luck toe
confronted once again with the good luck toe

Dig Deeper

But let’s dig deeper here.

Despite my rationalism, I am still tempted to rub the toe of Gregory of Nin.

Why? What drives that impulse? Why is it such a powerful magnetic force?

Well, because luck itself is not an entirely fictional or irrational concept. First, things both good and bad have a calculable, mathematical chance of happening. So I am really just betting on math and probability theory, not on a higher power.

Then, there is the scientifically proven concept of randomness. Some people win the lottery, others don’t. Some people are hit by drunk drivers, others aren’t. It’s an unpredictable pattern of ups and downs. There is an objective reality of random outcomes in the real world, while luck is the subjective term used to describe those random outcomes.

But innate stable luck or supernatural magical luck? No, while alluring, that is the stuff of fairytales.

caught in a forest fire in Croatia the day after rubbing Gregory's toe
caught in a forest fire in Croatia the day after rubbing Gregory’s toe

So What Happened When We Rubbed Greogry’s Toe?

And, so, driven by chance and randomness and in keeping with the local custom, my daughter and I wedged ourself next to Gregory. We held our breath, wished for the best, and gave his toe a vigorous solid rub. Like we were being paid to clean someone’s house. The real thing. No hesitancy, no holds barred. A commitment to luck.

Did rubbing the toe bring us good luck? Were we sprinkled with fairy dust that led to an amazing life or an amazing day or even an amazing hour?

Decidedly not. The next day we were caught in a Croatian forest fire on the way to Plitvice Park. Gregory of Nin failed us big time. For us, he was no is just a 20 foot well-carved hunk of metal.

But no matter. Next, we were headed to Slovenia, another superstitious country with folklore legends, magical sinking bells, and a church on a lake that grants wishes.

the magical sinking bell of Lake Bled Slovenia
the magical sinking bell of Lake Bled Slovenia

I was sure we’d find something else to rub. Odds are, it would work out better next time.

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