Bosnia and Herzegovina’s 14th-century Fojnica Monastery is a monument to history and religious tolerance in modern-day BiH.

By Jusuf Ramadanovic for Southeast European Times in Sarajevo – 18/04/08

photoA detail from the Fojnica coats-of-arms collection. [Jusuf Ramadanovic]

Fojnica, a small, picturesque town in central Bosnia and Herzegovina (BiH), is famous for its Holy Spirit Franciscan Monastery, which houses an important part of the nation’s cultural heritage. The monastery’s founding date is unclear, but historians are fairly certain that it dates from the first half of the 14th century. “Fojnica had both a church and monastery as early as the time of the Bosnian kings,” Ottoman documents say.

The monastery’s museum collections hold the Ahd-Namah (the Order) of Sultan Mehmed II the Conqueror guaranteeing security and freedom to the Franciscans. This document allowed the Franciscans of the day to preach freely among the Catholics in BiH, which in turn enabled the preservation of Bosnian Catholicism through the centuries.

The museum also houses the Book of Coats of Arms, dating from 1304 — probably one of the oldest books in the region — with historical coats of arms of some Balkan countries and of then-prominent Bosnian families. A rare numismatic collection is also on exhibit.

The monastery is currently under renovation. Monastery curator Mirko Majdancic says that a tavern is planned for the courtyard. The tavern will have a corner for musicians and serve only eco-friendly foods, such as sour cream, jams, juices, various homemade pies, and the delectable Fojnica potato. A nearby agricultural co-operative grows about 20 tonnes of the potatoes annually.

Besides the tavern and the museum, the monastery boasts a library containing about 50,000 titles. Most of the works are philosophical and theological, printed from the 16th to the 19th centuries. The library’s archive preserves more than 3,000 documents from the Ottoman Empire, with 13 of them dating back to 1481.

Today the monastery both adorns and symbolises Fojnica. It is considered a guardian of Fojnica’s history and a safeguard of its future.

Bosnian Franciscans are highly regarded for their patriotism by the Bosnian Muslim community, which believes them to be an inseparable part of the Bosnian medieval and modern statehood. The Franciscans like to say they are devoted to God and to Bosnia.