The main western gate of Makarska, a small town under the Biokovo mountain, used to be the "Grand Gate". Along the dusty road, green olive groves and lush vineyards thrived, where the sweat and calloused hands of hardworking farmers produced precious crystal-clear oil and rosy wine immortalised almost three thousand years ago by Homer, the father of European epic poetry, in his timeless “Iliad” as the drink that brings joy to gods and men. Nowadays, many citizens of Makarska, and especially Croatian and foreign tourists, do not even know that they are passing through the “Great Gate”, either on foot or by vehicle. A thirty-minute stroll from the former Gates leads to the site of Verica. The first big Croatian pilgrimage to the international Marian shrine in Lourdes, France, was organised by the Capuchin friar Bernardin Škrivanić, an important religious and cultural figure from Rijeka. The pilgrimage started on Assumption Day on the occasion of the 50th anniversary of the Lourdes apparitions in 1908. The pilgrims were led by Bishop Anton Mahić from Krk, and Bishop Juraj Carić from Makarska. There was extensive press coverage of this extraordinary religious undertaking and the experience was documented in the subsequently published large book.
But the Bishop from Makarska felt this was not enough. Despite seeing the Lourdes cave for the first time, he felt a sense of familiarity. It reminded him of his beloved Vepric, which he used to visit almost every day while praying the rosary. He decided that the cliff and the cave of Vepric would be an ideal site to create a “tiny Croatian Lourdes” in the ancient diocese under Biokovo. At the time, the idea of recreating the Lourdes sanctuary was widely accepted in all Christian countries, where churches and shrines were built, in particular “Lourdes caves” in churches and nature. So, the Bishop got to work in Makarska. Providence and good people helped him turn the cave at Vepric into a place of worship and bless it on the Feast of Our Lady of Lourdes (11 February 1909). Even after being named the Ordinary of Split and moving there, the evolution of the Vepric Sanctuary was still very close to the heart of J. Carić. When the Bishop passed away in 1921 in Split, his last wish to be buried at Vepric was fulfilled. The Sanctuary increasingly developed over time. A building was built to house the chapel and the sacristy, and in 1910 the Way of the Cross and three stone crosses were erected up on the hill, first known as Grebenac, and later on as Kalvarija (“The Way of the Cross”).
In 1944, the German army removed the crosses, but they were returned in May 2004. Sadly, the envisioned grand church above the cave was never built. In recent years, the Sanctuary has been nicely developed: a chapel and a great hall for various spiritual events was built for priests, monks and believers. A confessional and a large space with an altar in front of the cave were built to hold big liturgical ceremonies. Although Croatia today boasts numerous churches and “Lourdes caves” dedicated to Our Lady of Lourdes, Vepric is still one of our most unique and oldest Lourdes sanctuaries. Pilgrims visit the whole year round. Many Croatians and foreigners love to take a detour to Vepric on their way to Međugorje. In particular, the following feast days are celebrated: Our Lady of Lourdes (11 February) and the Annunciation (25 March), with a big annual feast of the Nativity of Mary (8 September) that brings together several thousand pilgrims. Otherwise, mass is celebrated every day and various religious services are held. Vepric holds the title of “the Croatian Lourdes” not only along the coast of Makarska, but throughout the entire beautiful country. It is a place that gladly welcomes all pilgrims and people of good will, and makes everyone feel like they are at home, in the house of our mother, the Blessed Virgin.