In the heart of Lika, eight kilometres east of Brinje, there is a village called Letinac which holds a rich and interesting history going back many years.
The village appeared under its present name in 1645, and is today formed by twelve hamlets with just a little over 150 inhabitants.
The secret of the Siničić Cave
A favourite spot to visit in the Brinje area is the Siničić Cave, located on the road to Letinac, four kilometres south of the Brinje town centre. Ceramic objects and animal bones were found in the cave, proving that the area features traces of one of the oldest settlements in Lika.
The Siničić Cave was often visited in the past, as there are hundreds of graffiti inside. The oldest signature is from 1860 and simply says: Spinette, 1860.
There are some from 1868 and countless from the early 20th century. All signatures are around two hundred metres from the entrance. That is the farthest point most visitors could reach because the cave continues into a subterranean lake flowing off into canals.
Back in 1997, when the subterranean waters were low, a group of speleologists from Zagreb and Karlovac managed to pass into the typically unreachable part of the cave.
After digging through the canals, they found unusual symbols carved into the rock five hundred meters in. To this day, scientists have not been able to figure out their meaning, but the carvings are assumed to be a primitive 11,500 year-old lunar calendar.
There are also crosses carved into the cave walls, and scientists believe them to be from the 15th century, created as part of a ritual of exorcism performed by Augustinian monks from the Brinje area.
It is likely that the locals found the misterious symbols, bones and deer horns, ascribed them to evil powers and called the monks from the Brinje monastery to perform an exorcism in the cave.
Other than the misterious historical message, the Siničić Cave also holds another treasure. An endemic species of amphipods called the „Redenšekov rakušac“ lives there, and it is categorised as critically endangered (Red book of cave fauna), and so far has only been discovered in this cave. The cave is also home to a colony of bats and is on the Natura 2000 list as a protected site for the preservation of species and habitats.
Saint Anthony – the celestial protector of Letinac
The celestial protector of Letinac is the revered folk saint Saint Anthony of Padua. The Letinac parish was founded in 1807, alongside 50 other parishes in the then called Diocese of Senj and Modruš.
A hundred years later the Saint Anthony of Padua church was built in Letinac.
The chapel of the Holy Ghost’s new image
East of Brinje, on the left side of the road to Letinac, high up in the hills, there are remnants of an old town named Jelovik that once dominated the east side of the field of Brinje. Jelovik was a medieval estate owned by the Frankopan Dukes, and as its Croatian name suggests, it was mostly built from firwood.
In the hamlet Pađeni, on the woody hills beneath Jelovik, there is a small church of the Holy Ghost surrounded by drystone walls. It has long been in ruins and could no longer support religious rituals, but it has recently been restored and thus saved from being forgotten.
Before the church of the Holy Ghost, the site used to hold a Pauline monastery, and the chapel of Saint Roko is located just under the church.
The forgotten Hercules from Plašćica
At the end of the story about Letinac, we should also mention the hamlet Plašćica, birthplace of renowned Croatian author and caricaturist Damir Karakaš.
Some of his most famous works include the multiple award winning novel „Sjećanje šume“ and the short story collection „Kino Lika“ which was also turned into a movie directed by Dalibor Matanić.
Another famous inhabitant of Plašćica is grandpa Jure Rajković who is remembered as the strongest man in Lika and the best accordion player in the Brinje area. Rajković was born in 1928, and the citizens of Brinje tell stories of his superhuman strength. They say this modest man could lift motorcycles, oxen, logs and even a horse with a rider on it, all with his bare hands.
This tiny village has indeed seen its share of mysterious forces and special people over thousands of years…
By: Tena Brnad
PHOTO: Josip Durdov