St. Francis Order in Srebrenica

As in no other part of Bosnia and Herzegovina, Franciscans of Srebrenica monastery had fatefully been connected to the mountainous area of the middle Podrinje right next to Bosnia – Serbia frontier. However, in the 15th century Islam came and gradually suppressed two Christian confessions.
The province of Bosna Srebrenička was named after this, once very respectable and predominant, monastery. However, the coming of Osmanlis to Podrinje ended the economical prosperity so the Ragusan and other traders and salesmen left the area which led to poverty of the monastery itself. Even though the life became harsh it managed to keep its advantage in honor all through the 16th and 17th century until it disappeared. For those reasons its past and destiny have remained in the center of attention of Bosnian Franciscans even today, 300 years later.

Srebrenica in the Middle Ages

In the fourteenth century, Bosnia became politically stabilized and economically strong country. Thus, the public interest in silver mines in Srebrenica, which once had been exploited by the Romans, aroused. The road along the Drina, connecting the Adriatic coast with the Danube, was used by the Ragusan traders and businessmen coming to start their trades there. S

ome of them even decided to settle in the area so the Ragusan settlement (colony) was founded at the outskirts of Srebrenica fort. Following this, Srebrenica had first been mentioned in the medieval historic papers in 1352. During the rule of the King Tvrtko I, the production achieved the significant rise so the whole area was peacefully developing due to these circumstances.

Srebrenica possessed its own mint as well as its court and stamp. Beside the Ragusan settlers, the domestic people also took part in work and production. Thus, at the end of the fourteenth century Srebrenica became the most important mine center and urban settlement of Bosnian Country.

The neighboring rulers soon became interested in the wealth of the area so they tried to reach to it. The customs officer of the Hungary – Croatian king Sigismund harassed the Ragusan and domestic traders and silver producers which led to rebellion in 1411. Sigismund’s soldiers destroyed the town.

That was the period when the king himself was staying in Srebrenica and at that point he put it under the rule of Serbian despot Stefan Lazarević. This was the reason for continuation of the unrest in Srebrenica which Despot ended in blood and disfigurement of some Ragusan traders. The Republic ordered the end of all trade with the Despotate and a certain number of traders left the town. After the death of despot Lazarević in 1427, despot Đurađ Branković came into rule but the life conditions did not improve.

This political situation in Srebrenica did not have any special influence on the economy so the number of Ragusan traders continued to grow. In 1431 there were two hundred and sixty of them and in 1434 around five hundred. The documents show that in the period between 1413 and 1459 there were sixty six Ragusan jewelers, forty four tailors, twenty one cloth manufacturers, twenty one butchers and so forth.

In 1439, the Osmanlis conquered the town and five years later Bosnian king Stjepan Tomaš came into rule. Finally, the Osmanlis regained power in 1462. At that point Srebrenica lost the importance of the mining and trade centre and it became simply the mining settlement without any economical significance.

The Coming of the Franciscans

The Franciscans first came with the Ragusan traders as their spiritual counselors. In Srebrenica they built their house/friary which was mentioned in the first register of Bosnian monasteries by Bartolo of Pisa (1385. – 90.). Together with the monastery church of St. Mary there was the church of St. Nicholas which was the co cathedral during the time of united dioceses of Srebrenica and Visoko with two bishops – Franciscans, Stjepan Radošević(1434.-39.) and Toma Matić(1440.). In the same area, there were also the churches in Sasame, Čagalj and Jasenova.

The monastery church of St. Mary was placed in the town center. It was a square building with the rectangular sanctuary, with the size of 17×8 meters, and the monastery building with the size of 17×14 meters. Today there is only the place where they existed called Ecclesia-ekklissi (klisa). The church of St Nicholas was built in 1394 and it has been preserved even today within the walls of so called White Mosque. Even though there were many adaptations and constructions of contemporary annexes, the mosque ceiling reveals the coastal architecture and the side walls show the remains of the bricked up windows.

The most famous Franciscan from Srebrenica was a humanitarian, a philosopher and a theologian fra Juraj Dragišić (Srebrenica around 1445. – Barletta, Italija 1520.). He joined the Franciscan order in Srebrenica. Later on he taught philosophy and theology in Italy and Dubrovnik. He wanted to return to his hometown but at that time it was not possible. As the archbishop of Nazareth in Beretta he took part in the fifth Council of the Lateran in 1514. He wrote seven philosophical and theological works in Latin.
After conquering Srebrenica in 1462 the Sultan Muhamed II personally visited the Franciscans, who were the town representatives, in order to have the silver production continued. He gave them ahdnama (the sultanate ferman) of Srebrenica which was confirmed by his son Bajazit as well in 1499. He also gave them the silver elbow which was believed to be some Dalmatian relique. The Franciscans did not find it blessed so they held it in their dining room where the curious Muslims would come to see it. This sometimes brought difficulties and discomfort.
The arrival of Osmanlis to Srebrenica caused many Ragusan traders to leave thus reducing the number of Catholics. The following data show the life of the Franciscans during the sixteenth and seventeenth century until their disappearance from Srebrenica.
Although Franjo Gonsaga (1587.) put the Srebrenica friary on the first place, he emphasized that, due to the Islamic intolerance in that period, it was the poorest one with only three monks living there. Bishop fra Franjo Baličević (1600.) came across only two hundred catholic houses and around four hundred Catholics. He personally confirmed around one hundred and fifty of them. There were four priests, one seminary student and a lay-brother living in the monastery. According to the register of the monasteries and parishes from 1623, there were, together with Belgrade and Smederevo parish, nine Franciscans in Srebrenica. Bishop fra Jeronim Lučić (1637.) said that Srebrenica monastery was the poorest because of the poverty of its Catholics. There were six Franciscans living there and he himself performed a confirmation to one hundred and thirty four people. The visitant fra Pavao Rovljanin (1640.) provided a detailed description of the friary. He said that it was placed in the center of the settlement and that it had twelve ‘rather humble and unsupplied’ rooms with no beds but with straw heaps serving as ones.

Bishop Maravić (1650.) noted the parishes, houses and the number of Catholics living in monastery areas. For example, the Sutjeska monastery provided services for nine parishes with two thousand two hundred and twenty eight catholic houses and eighteen thousand nine hundred and forty Catholics, while the Srebrenica monastery did the same for the settlement of fifty three houses and three hundred and seventy nine Catholics. The last detailed description was done by bishop fra Nikola Ogramić(1674.). The monastery church had five altars and there were three priests, four newcomers, two lay-brothers and several students living there. There were only twenty five catholic houses around the church with one hundred and twenty five Catholics and he performed the confirmation to eighty four of them. There was a certain number of the Orthodox Christians as well, but much less than Catholics. They did not have their own church. There were one hundred and twenty Muslim houses with four mosques.

The Franciscan chroniclers were investigating what was happening with certain monasteries during the Vienna war and they based this investigation on the witnesses and other documents. Some concrete data about the disappearance of monastery in Srebrenica can be found in Šibenik and Sutjeska chronicle. According to them, even the year of disappearance is not clearly known. It seems that it happened between 1688 and 1689 when the Christian army was withdrawing along the side of the Drina river. Their stories are quite similar, but I rely on the one from Šibenik which says that in 1686 the Muslims had already occupied the monastery because of fear that this stone building could be turned into a fort by the Christian army. The guardian fra Luka Kreševljak and two other Franciscans secretly stayed in the monastery to guard it.
When the Christian army arrived to Srebrenica, the Muslims ran away and the guardian came along because they guarantied his life on faith. However, they soon killed him hoping to find some money on him. The other two remained hiding. As the war luck changed the Osmanlis had spread the straw around the monastery and lit the fire. That was the way the church and the monastery burned. The mentioned Franciscans ran away and saved themselves. One secretly went to Dalmatia and the other one, together with the catholic army, went to Mohač where he settled and founded the Mohač monastery.

Srebrenica today

In 1991 Bosnian Franciscans celebrated the seven hundredth anniversary of their arrival to Bosnia on the foundations of the old devastated Franciscan monastery in Srebrenica. For that occasion they built a memorial chapel. In 2009 two hundred and fifty of them came from all over Bosnia and Herzegovina to the same place to celebrate the eight hundredth anniversary of the initiation of the Franciscan order.
Even though Bosnian Franciscan province, called Bosna Srebrena (Silver Bosnia), was named after Srebrenica, the most of the inhabitants there, before and after the recent war, have been of Islamic and Orthodox religion. Today, there is a small catholic community of around thirty five families and in the nearby Bratunac there are around twenty families. Many of them are in a mixed marriage. During the war these people were forced to leave or they left as refugees but after it they came back to their devastated flats and houses. In the already mentioned memorial chapel the Catholics gather for a mass every first Sunday in a month and for the main religious holidays. The Franciscans take care of them through Caritas, The Bread of St. Anto and domestic humanitarian catholic organization of Klisa.

Text: Andrija Zirdum, Martin Antunović
Translation into English: Dijana Marković Hajdarhodžić