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Kotor. Photo: Stevan Kordic

Kotor is the gateway to Montenegro. From 1420 to 1797, it was ruled by the Venetians, who gave Montenegro its name. Kotor was a trading city, doing much business with the neighbouring Montenegrin tribes who, in their turn, were often at war with the Ottomans. "The mountaineers relied principally on the coastal population for the supply of essential goods such as textiles, ceramic wares and especially weapons," writes Elizabeth Roberts, a leading historian of Montenegro. "Indeed the trade was vital to both sides since Kotor was heavily dependent, particularly during times of siege, on primary produce – dried meat, skins, cheese, honey, wax and timber-brought in from Montenegro. The resulting connections were close, the more so since many Montenegrins found employment as domestics or guards in the noble houses of Kotor. A number of the women, having come to trade or act as servants, stayed to marry and became Catholics."

In Kotor many signs of the co-existence of the Catholic and Orthodox faiths are visible.

"In Kotor the church of St Luke is very interesting" says Stevan Kordic. "For a long time it had two altars: a Catholic and an Orthodox one. There were other churches like this in these districts. Even today there are two close to Bar, I believe. They have two altars and this simple fact shows that life here follows different rules; rules that may not be in strict accordance with canon law, but which have certainly contributed to the coexistence between Catholic and Orthodox Christians. As a result, the relationship between these groups is unlike what might be observed in other regions."

Although many Catholics have emigrated in the past 100 years, the town still hosts a sizeable Catholic population (12 percent). Traditionally, on the third of February each year, both Catholic and Orthodox Kotorans participate in the celebrations and the procession of St. Tryphon's day, in honour of the patron saint of Kotor's Catholic cathedral.

Relations between the Churches have suffered recently due to the politics of Montenegrin independence. The Catholics have complained about the visible political role of the Serbian Orthodox Church and its nationalism, while the Orthodox were offended when Catholics rang church bells after the Montenegrin parliament proclaimed independence.

However, as Stevan Kordic points out, this is not the first time during centuries of co-existence that relations between the two Churches have been strained. "Sometimes relations are very good; sometimes there are some problems, like in a marriage." The son of an Orthodox father and a Catholic mother, Kordic says: "I believe in the unity of East and West. I feel at home in Rome, as well as in Istanbul."

April 2008

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