Bosnian Church

Bosnian Church
Crkva bosanska/Црква босанска
Governance Banate of Bosnia, Kingdom of Bosnia
Origin 12th century
Separated from Roman Catholic Church
Other name(s) Crkva dobrih Bošnjana (Church of the Good Bosnians)

The Bosnian Church (Bosnian: Crkva bosanska/Црква босанска Latin: Ecclesia bosniensis) was a Christian church in Medieval Bosnia that was independent of and considered heretical by both the Roman Catholic and the Eastern Orthodox hierarchies.

Historians have traditionally connected the church with the Bogomils, although this has been challenged. Adherents of the church called themselves simply krstjani ("Christians") or dobri Bošnjani ("Good Bosnians"). The church's organization and beliefs are poorly understood, because few if any records were left by church members, and the church is mostly known from the writings of outside sources, primarily Roman Catholic ones.


Christian missions emanating from Rome and Constantinople had since the ninth century pushed into the Balkans and firmly established Catholicism in Croatia and most of Dalmatia, while Orthodoxy came to prevail in Bulgaria, Macedonia, and eventually most of Serbia. Bosnia, lying in between, remained a no-man's land due to its mountainous terrain and poor communications.[1]


The bid to consolidate Roman Catholic rule in Bosnia in the 12th to 13th centuries proved difficult. The banate of Bosnia held strict trade relations with the Republic of Ragusa, and Bosnia's bishop was under the jurisdiction of Ragusa. This was disputed by the Hungarians, who tried to achieve their jurisdiction over Bosnia's bishops, but Bosnia's first ban Kulin averted that. In order to conduct a crusade against him, the Hungarians took to Rome, complaining to Pope Innocent III that the Kingdom of Bosnia was a centre of heresy, based on the refuge that some Cathars (also known as Bogomils or patarenes) had found there. To avert the Hungarian attack, ban Kulin held a public assembly on 8 April 1203 and affirmed his loyalty to Rome in the presence of an envoy of the People, while the faithful abjured their mistakes and committed to following the Roman Catholic doctrine.[2] Yet, in practice this was ignored. On the death of Kulin in 1216 a mission was sent to convert Bosnia to Rome but failed.[3]

On 15 May 1225 Pope Honorius III spurred the Hungarians to undertake the Bosnian Crusade. That expedition, like the previous ones, turned into a defeat, and the Hungarians had to retreat when the Mongols invaded their territories. In 1234, the Catholic Bishop of Bosnia was removed by Pope Gregory IX for allowing supposedly heretical practices.[3] In addition, Gregory called on the Hungarian king to crusade against the heretics in Bosnia.[4] However, Bosnian nobles were able to expel the Hungarians once again.[5]

In 1252, Pope Innocent IV decided to put Bosnia's bishop under the Hungarian Kalocsa jurisdiction. This decision provoked the schism of the Bosnian Christians, who refused to submit to the Hungarians and broke off their relations with Rome.[6] In that way, an autonomous Bosnian Church came into being, in which many scholars later saw a Bogomil or Cathar church, whilst more recent scholars such as Noel Malcolm and John Fine maintain that no trace of Bogomilism, Catharism or other dualism can be found in the original documents of the Bosnian Christians.[7]

It was not until Pope Nicholas' Bull Prae cunctis in 1291 that the Franciscan-led inquisition was imposed on Bosnia.[8] Bogomilism was eradicated in Bulgaria and Byzantium in the 13th century, but survived in Bosnia and Herzegovina until the Ottoman Empire gained control of the region in 1463.

The Bosnian Church coexisted with the Catholic Church (and with the few Bogomil groups) for most of the late Middle Ages, but no accurate figures exist as to the numbers of adherents of the two churches. Several Bosnian rulers were Krstjani, while others adhered to Catholicism for political purposes. Stjepan Kotromanić shortly reconciled Bosnia with Rome, while ensuring at the same time the survival of the Bosnian Church. Notwithstanding the incoming Franciscan missionaries, the Bosnian Church survived, although weaker and weaker, until it disappeared after the Ottoman conquest.[9]

Outsiders accused the Bosnian Church of links to the Bogomils, a stridently dualist sect of dualist-gnostic Christians heavily influenced by the Manichaean Paulician movement and also to the Patarene heresy (itself only a variant of the same belief system of Manichean-influenced dualism). The Bogomil heretics were at one point mainly centered in Bulgaria and are now known by historians as the direct progenitors of the Cathars. The Inquisition reported the existence of a dualist sect in Bosnia in the late 15th century and called them "Bosnian heretics", but this sect was according to some historians most likely not the same as the Bosnian Church. The historian Franjo Rački wrote about this in 1869 based on Latin sources but the Croatian scholar Dragutin Kniewald in 1949 established the credibility of the Latin documents in which the Bosnian Church is described as heretical.[10] It is thought today that the Bosnian Church's adherents, who were persecuted by both the Roman Catholic and Eastern Orthodox churches, were predominantly converted to Islam upon the arrival of the Ottomans, thus adding to the ethnogenesis of the modern-day Bosniaks.[9] According to Bašić, the Bosnian Church was dualist in character, and so was neither a schismatic Catholic nor Orthodox Church.[11] According to Mauro Orbini (d. 1614), the Patarenes and the Manicheans[12] were two Christian religious sects in Bosnia. The Manicheans had a bishop called djed and priests called strojnici (strojniks), the same titles ascribed to the leaders of the Bosnian Church.[13] The church left a few traditions to those who converted to Islam, one of which is having mosques built out of wood because many Bogomilian churches were primarily built of wood.

Some historians reckon that the Bosnian Church had largely disappeared before the Turkish conquest in 1463. Other historians dispute a discrete terminal point.

The religious centre of the Bosnian Church was located in Moštre, near Visoko, where the house of krstjani was founded.[14]


A miniature from the Hval's Codex

The Church had its own bishop and used a Slavic language in liturgy. The bishop was called djed (lit. "grandfather"), and had a council of twelve men called strojnici. The monasteries were called hiža (lit. "house"), and the heads of monasteries were often called gost (lit. "guest") and served as strojnici.

The Church was mainly composed of monks in scattered monastic houses. It had no territorial organization and it did not deal with any secular matters other than attending people's burials. It did not involve itself in state issues very much. Notable exceptions were when King Stephen Ostoja of Bosnia, a member of the Bosnian Church himself, had a djed as an advisor at the royal court between 1403 and 1405, and an occasional occurrence of a krstjan elder being a mediator or diplomat.

The monumental tombstones called Stećak that appeared in medieval Bosnia and Herzegovina, as well Croatia, Serbia and Montenegro, are sometime identified with the Bosnian Church.

The Hval's Codex, written in 1404 in Bosnian Cyrillic, is one of the most famous manuscripts belonging to the Bosnian Church in which there are some iconographic elements which are not in concordance with the supposed theological doctrine of Christians (Annunciation, Crucifixion and Ascension). All the important Bosnian Church books (Nikoljsko evandjelje, Sreckovicevo evandelje, the Manuscript of Hval, the Manuscript of Krstyanin Radosav) are based on Glagolitic Church books.


The phenomenon of Bosnian medieval Christians has been attracting scholars' attention for centuries, but it was not until the latter half of the 19th century that the most important monograph on the subject, "Bogomili i Patareni" (Bogomils and Patarens), 1870, by eminent Croatian historian Franjo Rački, had been published. Rački argued that the Bosnian Church was essentially Gnostic and Manichaean in nature. This interpretation has been accepted, expanded and elaborated upon by a host of later historians, most prominent among them being Dominik Mandić, Sima Ćirković, Vladimir Ćorović, Miroslav Brandt and Franjo Šanjek. However, a number of other historians (Leon Petrović, Jaroslav Šidak, Dragoljub Dragojlović, Dubravko Lovrenović, and Noel Malcolm) stressed theologically the impeccably orthodox character of Bosnian Christian writings and claimed that for the explanation of this phenomenon suffices the relative isolation of Bosnian Christianity, which retained many archaic traits predating the East-West Schism in 1054.

Conversely, the American historian of the Balkans, Prof. John Fine, does not believe in the dualism of the Bosnian Church at all.[15] Though he represents his theory as a "new interpretation of the Bosnian Church", his view is very close to J. Šidak's early theory and several other scholars before him.[16] He believes that there could well have been heretical groups alongside of the Bosnian Church, however, the church itself emanated from Catholicism gone astray.

See also


  1. Pinson, Mark (1994). The Muslims of Bosnia-Herzegovina: Their Historic Development from the Middle Ages to the Dissolution of Yugoslavia. Harvard University Press. p. 4. ISBN 0-932885-09-8.
  2. Thierry Mudry, Histoire de la Bosnie-Herzégovine faits et controverses, Éditions Ellipses, 1999 (chapitre 2: La Bosnie médiévale p. 25 à 42 et chapitre 7 : La querelle historiographique p. 255 à 265). Dennis P. Hupchick et Harold E. Cox, Les Balkans Atlas Historique, Éditions Economica, Paris, 2008, p. 34
  3. 1 2 Malcolm Lambert, Medieval Heresy:Popular Movements from Bogomil to Hus, (Edward Arnold Ltd, 1977), 143.
  4. Christian Dualist Heresies in the Byzantine World, C. 650-c. 1450, ed. Janet Hamilton, Bernard Hamilton, Yuri Stoyanov, (Manchester University Press, 1998), 48-49.
  5. Malcolm Lambert, Medieval Heresy:Popular Movements from Bogomil to Hus, 143.
  6. Mudry 1999; Hupchick and Cox 2008
  7. The issue of the Bogomil hypothesis is dealt with by Noel Malcolm (Bosnia. A Short History) as well as by John V.A. Fine (in Mark Pinson, The Bosnian Muslims)
  8. Mitja Velikonja, Religious Separation and Political Intolerance in Bosnia-Herzegovina, transl. Rang'ichi Ng'inga, (Texas A&M University Press, 2003), 35.
  9. 1 2 Davide Denti, L’EVOLUZIONE DELL’ISLAM BOSNIACO NEGLI ANNI ‘90, tesi di laurea in Scienze Internazionali, Università degli Studi di Milano, 2006
  10. Denis Bašić. The roots of the religious, ethnic, and national identity of the Bosnian-Herzegovinan [sic] Muslims. University of Washington, 2009, 369 pages (p. 194).
  11. Denis Bašić, p. 186.
  12. The Paulicians and Bogomils have been confounded with the Manichaeans. L. P. Brockett, The Bogomils of Bulgaria and Bosnia - The Early Protestants of the East. Appendix II,
  13. Mauro Orbini. II Regno Degli Slav: Presaro 1601, p.354 and Мавро Орбини, Кралство Словена, p. 146.
  14. Old town Visoki declared as national monument Archived February 20, 2007, at the Wayback Machine.. 2004.
  15. Fine, John. The Bosnian Church: Its Place in State and Society from the Thirteenth to the Fifteenth Century: A New Interpretation. London: SAQI, The Bosnian Institute, 2007. ISBN 0-86356-503-4
  16. Denis Bašić, p.196.
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