Series: Monastery life yesterday and today
Modern place of worship in the old town
In our series on monasteries we look this week at Franjevački samostan Sv. Ante (St. Anthony’s Franciscan monastery) in Sarajevo, Bosnia Herzegovina, which is remarkable in a number of ways. For example, the Tsar’s Mosque, headquarters of the Muslim community in Sarajevo, is situated close to the monastery. The peaceful coexistence of the two prayer houses reflects the ideal of a tolerant multicultural world.
The monastery was not founded until in the late nineteenth century although there had been Franciscans in Sarajevo since the sixteenth century. They were located in the old town settlement of Bistrik, called Latinluk in those days. The area was given this name by the Muslim majority and is derived from “Latins”, i.e. Catholics, who lived there.
The most important buildings in this street, such as the Konak residence from the Ottoman days, the Sarajevska pivara brewery built in 1864, the church and the monastery, all have the same red-brown façade and form an architectural unity.
Origins of the monastery and church
The foundation stone of the monastery was laid in 1893. The Franciscans had been running a junior school in this area since 1865 and a Catholic church, Sv. Ante Padovanskog (the church of St. Anthony of Padua), had existed there for centuries. After being destroyed by fire in 1697, 1852 and 1879, it was rebuilt in 1912–13 by Josip Vancaš in the neoGothic style. Today the church and the monastery form a single complex. The monastery church is not a parish church but is actively involved with the community, not least as it contains a shrine to St. Anthony. The monastery building was designed by the Czech architect Ivan Holz. A seminary existed there until 1968.
Franciscans – the protectors of Bosnia
Today the monastery is one of the most important holy sites of the four religions in Bosnia Herzegovina, says prior Fra (Brother) Ivan Šarčević. For believers in Sarajevo, regardless of their religion, the Franciscan church and monastery are a focal point, along with the old Serbian Orthodox church and the Muslim Mausoleum of the Seven Brothers, and are visited by people of all religions.
“The monastery is one of the most important sites in the Franciscan province Bosna Srebrena. We Franciscans are regarded as the ‚protectors of Bosnia‛, who have guarded the local written historical records for centuries. There are ten monks living here, who apart from their pastoral and religious duties carry out lots of welfare work for needy people of all religious affiliations. Catholic students also gather here to organise cultural events. Our monastery is not only for Catholics but also for many other minorities such as Protestants and non-Croatian Catholics – Czechs, Hungarians and Slovenians – living in Sarajevo. Alongside their professional religious calling, the Franciscan monks are also involved in the social life of the community.”
A good recipe for coexistence
Whereas people throughout Europe are seeking a model for multiconfessional coexistence and integration, the different religions in Bosnia Herzegovina have been living together for hundreds of years. In spite of the war and the often rabble-rousing politics, peaceful coexistence in the monastery district is a matter of course. The recipe, according to the prior, is quite simple: “Artificial promotion and planning are not very productive. Peaceful and friendly coexistence is contingent on mutual respect,” says Fra Šarčević, who is a strong opponent of the nationalist policy, which exploits religious communities in the interests of forming a tri-ethnic state. He is confident, however, that in spite of administrative discontinuity, the history of Bosnia Herzegovina is too powerful to allow such fragmentation.
Open dialogue between the religious communities in the spirit of St. Francis of Assisi is very important for the monastery, and for this reason interreligious dialogue and ecumenical prayers are often held there. The prior realises that the people of Bosnia Herzegovina are suspicious today of such dialogue: “Much of the dialogue remains superficial and serves as an ideology for various organisations and politicians. Dialogue between people and religions should not be used as a diplomatic tool but should come from within, from a sense of spirituality and tolerance.”
Sarajevo monks communicate belief through modern art
„The modern neo-Gothic monastery church is a popular tourist attraction. It is typically Catholic with high towers, and Gothic is also the style of Catholicism. Visitors entering the church, however, are often surprised to find modern works by Croatian artists like Ivo Dulčić, Frane Kršinić, Zdenko Grgić, Đuro Seder, Zlatko Keser or Šime Vulas. The most recent redesign of the interior by the Sarajevo architect Zlatko Ugljen eight years ago has enhanced the mystical aura of the church,” says the prior.
The Franciscan monks in Sarajevo are real art connoisseurs. They are convinced that belief can be communicated through modern art. When the monastery and church were most recently redecorated, the triumphant kitsch symbols were replaced in their entirety by modern art.
The monastery has a large collection of modern art. According to Fra Šarcević it contains works by all of the most important artists from Croatia, Bosnia Herzegovina and Serbia. Exhibitions are held regularly in the event room on the ground floor. The prior explains the love of art as follows: “Catholics in general and Franciscans in particular have to ensure that survival in this often difficult country have a rational and cultural basis, and they must set themselves the highest standards.”
Monastic life then and now
Part 1: Viennese monasteries
Part 2: Klosterneuburg Monastery and Altenburg Monastery / Lower Austria
Part 3: Stift Melk and Seitenstetten Monastery / Lower Austria
Part 4: Serbian monasteries
Part 5: The Capuchin monastery in Bratislava
Part 6: The monastery of Divine Mercy in Nové Hrady
Part 7: Pannonhalma: monastery, school and vineyard
Part 8: The Remete monastery in Zagreb
Part 9: Novodevichy Convent in Moscow
Part 10: The Slovenian Stična Cistercian Abby
Part 11: Franciscan Monastery in Sarajevo
Part 12: Stavropoleos Monastery in Bucharest
Part 13: The bulgarian Rila Monastery