The earliest mention of a Catholic diocese in Bosnia dates from 1089 (i.e. from the 11th century). It was called Bosnian Diocese, and its center was in Vrhbosna (today’s Sarajevo).
Deep traces were left by the Bosnian Franciscans, present on Bosnian soil since 1291 (only 80 years after the foundation of the Franciscan order). They were beloved by people, for being educated and humble, for keeping the national and religious identity of the Croats. In 1376 they had 35 Catholic monasteries and about 400 missionaries (the Fojnica (Hvojnica) monastery is on the photo on the left; on the right is the famous Visovac monastery on the Krka river, founded in 1445 by Bosnian Franciscans from Kresevo, middle Bosnia; shelled by the Serbs in 1991). In Turkish time, by a special Charter (Ahdnama, 1463) from the Sultan, the Bosnian Franciscans and their Croatian Catholics had a guaranty to live in peace and freedom in his Empire. However, in reality it was rather different. Three Franciscan bishops in Bosnia had been killed by the Turks despite ostensible protection: in 1545, 1564, 1701, not to mention priests and ordinary people. From 1516 to 1853 a decree was issued by the Turks that Catholics are not allowed to build new churches, but only to repair those built before 1463.
Kraljeva Sutiska (or Kraljeva Sutjeska = Royal Gorge)
An old and contemporary inscriptions in Croatian Cyrillic
in Kraljeva sutiska
(on the left: + V ime Bozje, se lezi Radovan Pribilovic, na svojoj zemlji plemenitoj, na Ricici; bih s bratom se razmenio, i ubi me Milko Bozinic, sa svojom bratijom; a brata mi isikose i ucnise vrhu mene krv nezaimitnu vrhu; Nek (zna) tko je moj mili.
Even some of Catholic churches built before 1463 were transformed into Muslim mosques (for example in Foca, Bihac, Jajce, Srebrenica, etc.). So in 18th century only three monastic Catholic churches were left (in Fojnica, Kraljeva Sutiska and in Kresevo), and two small churches (in Podmilacje and Vares), see [Gavran, IV, p. 103.
About Ahdnama and the question of its authenticity see two articles by Sasa Sjeverski in Stecak, Sarajevo, 56/1998, pp 28-29, and 57/1998, pp 14-15.
An outstanding European intellectual of his time was Georgius Benignus (Juraj Dragisic, ?1454 – 1520), a Croat born in Bosnia, in the town of Srebrenica.
Today the richest library in Bosnia-Herzegovina is in the Franciscan monastery of Mostar (bombed by the Serbs in 1992). The most famous Croatian Franciscan is St. Nikola Tavelic (born in Sibenik about 1340-1391), a missionary in Bosnia and Yerusalem, a martyr whom Pope Paul VI proclaimed a Saint in 1970. We should also mention another Franciscan-capuchin, St. Leopold Mandic (1866-1942), who was a forerunner of today’s Ecumenism.
The Franciscan province in Bosnia was called
Bosna Srebrena (Bosnia Argentum)
i.e. Silver Bosnia. Since the 19th century its site is in Sarajevo. This very old name was derived from the name of the city of SREBRENICA which in pre turkish times (before the end of the 15th century) had been known as an important Catholic center in north-eastern Bosnia (in Croatian srebro = silver). Due to the existence of the famous Franciscan monastery in Srebrenica, the whole Franciscan province in Bosnia obtained its name from it. Srebrenica was also an important mining center, known from the Roman times. It had been settled also by the Dubrovnik merchants and Saxonian miners from Germany. Even today there is a small village near Srebrenica called Sase, whose name has been derived from the name of Saxons.
We know that in the region of north-eastern Bosnia, to which also the city of Srebrenica belongs, there existed a large number of Catholic churches and six Franciscan monasteries. This witnesses about deeply rooted Catholic tradition in this area before the Turkish occupation in the second half of the 15th century.
The names of many toponyms in this area, as well as elsewhere, reveal its Croatian origin:
- HRVATSKE njive (HRVAT = CROAT) on the river Drina near Zvornik,
- the nearby village HRVACICI,
- the village of HRVATI near Tuzla,
- HRVATI near Brcko,
- HRVATSKO brdo near Repnik,
- HRVATOVCI near Gradacac,
- the village BISKUPICI (Biskup = bishop; and not Episkopici”) etc.
A district in Sarajevo was called HRVATIN in the past. It would be in vain to search for typical Serbian Orthodox church names like eparchy (eparhija), episcopacy (episkopija), hrischan anywhere in Bosnia before the 15th century.
Now we would like to provide an impressive list of FRANCISCAN MONASTERIESIN BOSNIA – HERZEGOVINA BEFORE 1463
i.e. monasteries that we know to have existed before the Turkish occupation of Bosnia in 1463.
|Central and western Bosnia: Bihac, Krupa, Obrovac, Bila Stina, Otoka, Kamengrad, Ostrovica, Bilaj, Podnovi, Zvecaj, Livce, Krupa, Kraljeva Sutjeska (Sutiska), Olovo, Kresevo, Lasva (near Travnik), Kastela u Zahoru, Jajce, Jezero, Greben, Vesela Straza, Rama, Livno, Duvno, Glamoc, Podbila,||Northern and north-eastern Bosnia: Srebrenica, Ljubovija, Teocak, Zvornik, Polje kod Bijeljine, Bijeljina, Gradovrh kod Tuzle, Soli (Tuzla) Mile (Milosevac), Modrica, Skakava, Tesanj, Glaz. Hum (today’s Herzegovina): Mostar, Ljubuski, Konjic.|
Just for comparison, immediately before the Serbian aggression that started in 1991/92 Bosnian Franciscans had altogether 25 monasteries (three of them outside of Bosnia – Herzegovina: two in Belgrade and one in the Kosovo region).
This list is for sure not complete, but it tells us already enough. It is clear that Catholic churches in Bosnia were much more numerous than Franciscan monasteries. According to the Turkish census of population in Bosnia from 1570 even the city of Foca on the river Drina had Catholic majority at that time. The ethnic and religious picture of Bosnia – Herzegovina has changed especially drastically in the 17th and 18th centuries in favor of Muslims and Orthodox Christians.
In 1658 a Franciscan Ivan from Foca sent a request to the Pope in the Vatican for permission to use Croatian language, “as was allowed to all priests in the province of Dalmatia” (…come pure concesta a tuti gli sacerdoti della provincia di Dalmazia), meaning of course the Croatian Glagolitic liturgy. See [Strgacic], p. 388.
Here Foca is a small town on the north of Bosnia (in Bosanska Posavina, between the towns of Derventa and Doboj), and not Foca on the river Drina. Many thanks to Mr. Ilija Ika Ilic for this information.
Very important franciscan monastery of Plehan with the accompanying church have been completely destroyed in 1992., using two tons of explosive, during Greater Serbian aggression on Bosnia – Herzegovina (1991-1995), see [Baltic, p. 6 of dr. fra Andrija Zirdum’s introduction].
Photo from www.plehan.ch
Very valuable library, museum and historical archives in Plehan have been burnt down. For more information see Project Plehan, Plehan – a Beacon for Croatians in Bosnia, an interview with Fra Mirko Filipovic in Glas Koncila, and Bosna Srebrena.
A well known fact from the history of Bosnia (as well as recent) is that successes in the defense of the Croatian territories from Turkish onslaughts were followed by savage reprisals over the remaining Croatian Catholics in occupied areas (in today’s Bosnia – Herzegovina and parts of Croatia). In this way many Catholic churches and monasteries disappeared and large ares in Bosnia had been emptied from the Croats. Especially infamous was gazi Husref – Beg, army leader of sultan Suleiman the Magnificent (16th century).
In this way the emptied areas had been populated by Muslim and Valachian settlers. Catholic churches were transformed into mosques like in Srebrenica, nearby Zvornik on the river of Drina, and in many other places.