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Fojnica is a small picturesque town in Central Bosnia. It is famous for its 700-year-old hilltop monastery of the Holy Spirit, which houses an important part of Bosnia's cultural heritage. Ottoman documents say that Fojnica had both a church and a monastery at the time of the medieval Bosnian kings.

The Franciscan Monastery has re-opened its 50,000 volume library after eight years of reconstruction. The library's archive holds more than 3,000 Ottoman-era documents. The museum, meanwhile, houses the "Book of Coats of Arms" – probably one of the oldest (1304) books in the region – documenting the historical coats of arms of Balkan countries and prominent Bosnian families.

The Monastery's museum also holds the "Ahd-Namah", the Order (firman) of Sultan Mehmed II ("The Conqueror") guaranteeing security and freedom to the Franciscans after the Ottoman conquest.  The firman ensured the preservation and survival of Bosnian Catholicism through the centuries. The Sultan proclaimed:

"I, the Sultan Khan the Conqueror, hereby declare to the whole world that the Bosnian Franciscans granted with this Sultanate Firman are under my protection.

And I command that:

No one shall disturb or give harm to these people and their churches! They shall live in peace in my state. These people, who have become emigrants, shall have security and liberty. They may return to their monasteries which are located in the borders of my state.


No one shall insult, put in danger or attack the lives, properties, and churches of these people!"

(Sultan Mehmet II, Ahd-Namah, May 1463)


Bosnian Franciscans are well regarded for their local patriotism by the Bosniak community. The Franciscans like to say that they are "devoted to God and to Bosnia". Following the break-up of Yugoslavia, and amid growing violence in Bosnia, the Franciscans in Fojnica were brave and outspoken supporters of independence and the preservation of Bosnia's territory and ethnic diversity. Despite this, the war cost them dearly.

Father Mirko Majdancic, the current Abbot of Holy Spirit Franciscan Monastery

In Fojnica, following the massacre at Ahmici in April 1993, efforts were made to preserve peace. A town council with an equal number of Croats and Muslims was formed. Chuck Sudetic of the New York Times reported:

"As tensions increased, [the Monastery's Abbot] Father Milicevic proposed to the United Nations that the town be declared an "oasis of peace" and that a rehabilitation center be set up in local hospitals for Muslim and Croatian war wounded."

(New York Times, 31 December 1993)

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These attempts were unsuccessful. Fojnica's peace-minded local Croat leaders were over-ruled by the hard-line Bosnian Croat leadership. The Croat armed forces, HVO, began preparing for the expected attack by Bosnian Government Forces. Almost the entire Croat population fled in July 1993 after the Bosnian army drove out the Croat armed forces. Only 80 Croats remained in Fojnica, 50 of whom took refuge in the monastery.

When Croatian forces tried to re-take the town four months later, on 10 November, rumours spread that the monastery was being used to store weapons. Four Bosniak soldiers entered the monastery on 13 November. The Abbot, Father Nikica Milicevic, and his deputy, Father Leon Migic, confronted them in the monastery's entrance. The current Abbot, Father Mirko Majdancic, tells how his predecessor was murdered:

"… Four soldiers of the Armija BiH came. At the entrance they shot the Abbot (guardian) of the monastery in the back. He fell and died here. Some of the bullets went through him and the bullet holes are still preserved. That was a tragedy for the monastery. But despite this all the Brothers remained here at the monastery, and I think this was a brave step."

After these murders, Father Mirko, together with his bishop, went to see the Bosniak leader President Alija Izetbegovic in Sarajevo. They received assurances that the authorities would do everything in their power to convict the murderers. The main perpetrator, a Bosnian Army soldier, Miralem Cengic, was jailed for 11 years in September 1994 for killing the two priests. His sentence was later raised to 15 years. Four other soldiers were each jailed for six months.

In the post-war period inter-ethnic relations have improved steadily in Fojnica. Many of the town's Croat inhabitants have returned. According to current estimates, some 4,300 Croats live in Fojnica, in addition to 8,900 Bosniaks.

June 2008

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