The Legend of Thorndancers

Martina Bilić
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The Legend of Thorndancers tells the story of bishop Nicefor of Pićan in Istria, who was wrongly accused of immoral behavior - sleeping with his niece - and had to travel from Istria to Aquileia / Rome to justify their behavior and prove their innocence before the patriarch / pope. On his way he peformed miracles and was proclaimed holy and inable to commit a sin. He cursed the locals of Pićan who accused him: “May you forever barefoot dance on thorns!" thus earning the nickname of "thorndancers".

The Legend dates back to the beginning of the diocese of Pićan, namely in year 579, when Nicefor was the first bishop. The Legend of Thorndancers tells the story of the bishop Nicefor of Pićan in Istria, who lived in Pićan with his niece (different versions include both a nephew or niece, or even multiple nieces). The winters in Pićan were sharp and cold and in order to warm up, the bishop and his nephew went to sleep in the same bed. The curious locals saw it and accused him of immoral behavior, writing a letter and sending it - in one version of the legend, to the Patriarch of Aquileia, in the other version of the legend, to the Pope in Rome. On the bishops' way to Aquileia/Rome, where he went to justify and prove his innocence, he performed several miracles, such as opening water spring, putting his coat on the surface of the sea to reach to the western side of the Adriatic. When he came before the Patriarch/Pope, before he began his defense, he hung his coat on the sun's ray. When the Patriarch/Pope saw it, he immediately dismissed all the charges with the explanation that only a holy person could perform miracles and can not sin. At that moment Bishop Nicefor cursed all the villagers of Pićan, saying “May you forever barefoot dance on thorns!", thus the locals of Pićan got the name "Thorndancers". Legend has it that before his death, Nicefor forgave the locals for their misbehavior and in the name of forgiveness, he sent his right hand to Pićan, which still lies in the church.

European Dimension

Our story combines the Croatian bishops' travels from Istria to Aquileia to see the patriarch in Italy in one version, or Rome to see the pope in the second version of the story.

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