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Dear visitor: Summer is here, and you may be thinking about a well-deserved vacation, family get-togethers, BBQs with neighborhood friends. More than likely, making a donation to Catholic Answers is not on your radar right now. But this is exactly the time we most need your help. The “summer slowdown” in donations is upon us, but the work of spreading the gospel and explaining and defending the Faith never takes a break. Your gift today will change lives and save souls for Christ this summer! The reward is eternal. Thank you and God bless.

Bosnia and Herzegovina

Territories on the Balkan peninsula

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Bosnia and Herzegovina.—Bosnia and Herzegovina form the northwestern corner of the Balkan Peninsula. Taking the two together as one territory, Bosnia-Herzegovina is bounded on the north by the Austrian provinces and titular kingdoms of Croatia and Slavonia, on the east by the Kingdom of Servia, on the south by one of the nominal provinces of Turkey, the principality of Montenegro, and the titular kingdom and Austrian province of Dalmatia, and on the west by Dalmatia and Croatia. The Dinaric Alps and the Save and Drina Rivers form a large part of the boundary line of the country which in shape closely resembles an equilateral triangle. The joint territory has an area of about 19,702 square miles and belongs nominally to the Turkish Empire. Article 25 of the Treaty of Berlin, July 13, 1878, granted Austria-Hungary the right to occupy and administer the two provinces. Since then they have been under the control of the Minister of Finance of the Austro-Hungarian monarchy as crown provinces. Bosnia and Herzegovina belong, with their alternating highlands and mountain chains, to the region of the Karst mountains. The Karst region forms a part of the spurs of the southern Alps. It is a mountainous lime-stone district of the mesozoic period with valleys of incomplete formation. The rocky, unfruitful character of the Karst region is more evident in the southern part of the territory than in the northern, for in the north the forest-covered ranges, running chiefly from southeast to northwest, enclose fertile valleys. The only flat country is the district called Posavina, lying on the Save. There is in general a terrace-like descent from the mountainous region towards the Adriatic and the Hungarian depression.

Bosnia may be regarded as a succession of great terraces, but Herzegovina, in which the mountain sides slope down towards the Narenta River, has more the shape of a basin. The former belongs to the region of the Black Sea, the latter to that of the Adriatic. The highest peaks, the Locike (6,913 feet), the Treskavica-Planina (6,851 feet), and the Bjelasnica-Planina (6,782 feet) lie near the border of Herzegovina, respectively west and southwest of Serajevo. The Save is the chief river of Bosnia and its tributaries are the Una, the Vrbas, the Ukina, the Bosna, and the Drina. Herzegovina is drained by the Narenta (Neretva) River. As Bosnia falls away towards the north until it descends into the low-lying region of the Save, it is easy of access from central Europe and was, consequently, exposed to incursions by the kings of Hungary. After crossing the Saxe the Hungarian armies could penetrate into the heart of the country without encountering any natural obstacles. Bosnia was also, in consequence of the physical formation of the land, frequently divided politically into two parts, the upper or mountainous Bosnia, which extended to where the rivers pass into the flat country of the Save, and the Bosnian plain along the Save. The Romans observed this natural line of division and made it the boundary between the provinces of Dalmatia and Pannonia. Just as the political unity of Bosnia was made more difficult by its natural configuration, so on the other hand, the development of a compact principality was favored in Herzegovina (called also Hum, Chulm, and Chulmo) by its basin-like shape.

Physical Formation.—Mesozoic formations appear throughout this territory especially in the shape of Triassic rocks; where there are dislocations the underlying palaeozoic rocks frequently project. These latter are made of slate, sandstone, and limestone, as for example, the famous mountain range of slate rock called Kresevo, in the western part of the Serajevo district, and the range called Posara on the Save. Jurassic rock and chalk formations appear chiefly in Herzegovina and western Bosnia. Of far greater extent are the neogenic fresh water formations containing the great coal deposits of the two territories. There is also much volcanic rock of various ages. The climate of Bosnia is in general the usual continental one of cold winters and hot summers, while in Herzegovina the nearness of the sea makes the climate almost semi-tropical. The average yearly temperature is from 48.2° to 50° Fahr. The average temperature of Travnik, situated at a height of 1,640 feet in about the center of the country, is in January 28.4° Fahr., in April 50.5°, in July, 68.3°, and in October 50.3°. Since the time of the Romans Bosnia has yielded a large amount of iron; lignite or brown coal and salt are also obtained in a number of places. Mineral and hot springs abound; among these are the hot spring at Ilidze near Serajevo, the chalybeate spring at Kiseljak, and a spring impregnated with arsenic at Srebrenica. Bosnia contains a large amount of timber; 50 per cent of its area is covered with forests; 34 per cent is productive farming land, and the remaining 16 per cent is in the rocky Karst region. The Bosnian forests are full of boars, bears, wolves, foxes, lynxes, and deer. Agriculture is of a very primitive character and could be made far more productive. The chief agricultural products of the country are maize and wheat; oats, rye, barley, hemp, and buckwheat are also raised. In Herzegovina in addition to these staples wine and oil are produced and figs are cultivated.

Population.—According to the census of April 22, 1895, Bosnia has 1,361,868 inhabitants and Herzegovina 229,168, giving a total population of 1,591,036. The number of persons to the square mile is small (about 80), less than that in any of the other Austria-, crown provinces excepting Salzburg (about 70). This average does not vary much in the six districts (five in Bosnia, one in Herzegovina). The number of persons to the square mile in these districts is as follows: Doljna Tuzla, 106; Banjaluka, 96; Bihac, 91; Serajevo, 73; Mostar (Herzegovina), 65; Travnik, 62. There are 5,388 settlements, of which only 11 have more than 5,000 inhabitants, while 4,689 contain less than 500 persons. Excluding some 30,000 Albanians, living in the southeast, the Jews who emigrated in earlier times from Spain, a few Osmanli Turks, the merchants, officials, and Austrian troops, the rest of the population (about 98 per cent) belong to the southern Slavonic people, the Serbs. Although one in race, the people form in religious beliefs three sharply separated divisions: the Mohammedans, about 550,000 persons (35 per cent), Greek Schismatics, about 674,000 persons (43 per cent), and Catholics, about 334,000 persons (21.3 per cent). The last mentioned are chiefly peasants. The Mohammedans form the mass of the population in the region called the Krajina in the northwest, in the district of Serajevo and in the southeastern part of the territory; the Greek Schismatics preponderate in the district of Banjaluka. The Catholics of the Latin Rite exceed the other two denominations only in the district of Travnik and in northern Herzegovina. There are in addition 8,000 Jews and 4,000 Protestants. Divided according to occupation 85 per cent of the population are farmers or wine-cultivators (I,385,291). There are 5,833 large estates, the owners of which are chiefly Mohammedans, 88,970 cultivators of land not their own (kmeten), 88,867 free peasants who own the land they till, and 22,625 peasants who own farming-land and also cultivate the land of others. The population of the towns is small.

History.—There are traces of human settlements in Bosnia dating from the Stone Age. The earliest inhabitants of Bosnia and Herzegovina of whom there is any certainty are the Illyrians, an exceedingly rapacious pastoral people who were divided into various tribes. The best known of these are: a small tribe called the Liburnians living in the northwest, who were notorious pirates; the Ardiaeans living south of the Liburnians, and the Antiariats, who were neighbors of the Ardiaeans living still farther to the south. The migrations of the Celts in the third and fourth centuries before Christ drove various Illyrian tribes out of their former possessions. From the third century until 167 B.C., a powerful Illyrian kingdom existed, under rulers called Agron, Teuta, and Gentius, in southern Dalmatia, and the adjoining Herzegovina and Montenegro. The Romans had a hard struggle before they succeeded finally in breaking the power of the Illyrians and in getting control of Bosnia and Herzegovina (6 B.C.—A.D. 9). The sagacious Romans saw that in order to control the line of the Danube and the east coast of Italy it was necessary to absorb the triangular shaped country of the Illyrian. No part of the peninsula contains so many traces of Roman civilization as Dalmatia and the adjoining Bosnia. The Romans built a road from Mitrovic or Mitrovitza (Sirmium) near the Save to Gradisca and continued it from Gradisca through what is now western Bosnia or Turkish Croatia as far as Salona; they constructed a second road through upper Bosnia across the present district of Serajevo to Domavia on the Drina, and from here to Mitrovic; a third road went from Salona to Narona (near Dubrawa) and to Scodra (Scutari). The Romans named the province Dalmatia after the largest and bravest of the tribes living on the coast. They divided it into three administrative dioceses, the chief cities being, respectively, Salona, the capital of the whole province, Scardona, and Narenta. The northernmost part of Bosnia, extending for some distance from the Save, was included in the province of Pannonia. The Illyrians who had been familiar only with war and cattle-raising now turned their attention, under the guidance of the Romans, to mining, placer-mining for gold, and agriculture. They became largely Romanized and for hundreds of years their legions bravely defended the empire.

After the fall of the Western Roman Empire Dalmatia and Pannonia came into the possession of the Ostrogoths under King Theodoric. During the war that followed (535-554) between Justinian and the Ostrogoths, the Slays made repeated incursions into the provinces. It may be that they were called in by the Ostrogoths. After the Slays the Avars raided the territory and in 598 turned Dalmatia almost into a wilderness. After this the Slays greatly desired the country and succeeded in taking possession during the first half of the seventh century. Among the tribes which now owned the land, the Hroati (later called Croats) lived on the Dalmatic coast and the Serbi in the interior. Up to the eighth century the influence of the Byzantine Empire was paramount. At the end of the ninth century when the power of the Carlovingian dynasty extended as far as the southeastern Alpine provinces, the Croats came under the influence of Western civilization and embraced Latin Christianity. The tribes of the interior retained the patriarchal form of government and the old pagan worship much longer than the dwellers en the coast, notwithstanding the connection which they had had for centuries with Constantinople. Bosnia seems to have belonged to Croatia as late as the beginning of the tenth century. A little later the Servian prince Ceslav (931-960) succeeded in freeing Servia from the suzerainty of Bulgaria and built up a confederation of which Bosnia formed a part. About 955 Ceslav was obliged to defend the dependent banat, or district, of Bosnia (originally merely the valley of the upper Bosna) from an incursion of the Magyars. After the death of Ceslav and the dissolution of his kingdom, Bosnia was ruled by native bans or chiefs. In 968 however, Bosnia was conquered by the Croatian king Kresimir and in 1019 the whole northwestern part of the Balkan Peninsula came under the sway of the Eastern Roman Emperor, Basil II. After Basil’s death Bosnia regained its independence and was ruled by native bans until it was united with the domain of Bela II, King of Hungary. In 1135 this ruler called himself for the first time King of Rama (Bosnia).

During the entire reign of the Emperor Manuel I, Comnenus, (1143-80) a long and fierce struggle went on between the Byzantine Empire on the one side and Hungary and the southern Slays on the other; in this Ban Boris, the first ruler of Bosnia known by name, remained faithful to Hungary. In 1163, however, Boris took sides against Stephen III in the quarrel over the succession to the Hungarian throne. He was defeated by Gottfried of Meissen who was sent with an army against him, and his family lost their power in Bosnia. The Banat of Boris extended from Livno and the valley of the Rama in the west to the Drina River in the east. Three years later Bosnia, Syrmia, Croatia, and Dalmatia became subject to the Byzantine Empire. After the death of Manuel I, Comnenus (1180) the new Ban, Kulin, was able to shake off the foreign yoke. But Bela III of Hungary, desiring to make Bosnia a dependency of his own kingdom, persuaded the pope to place the Bishopric of Bosnia and the Diocese of Ston in Herzegovina under the Archdiocese of Spalato, the territory of which belonged to Hungary. Before this Bosnia had been suffragan to Ragusa. In order to counteract this indirect Hungarian control Kulin, his family, and 10,000 Bosnians, between the years 1190-99, became adherents of the Paterine heresy. When Pope Innocent III and King Emmerich of Hungary joined forces to exterminate the Paterines and to conquer Bosnia, Kulin preserved Bosnia’s independence of Hungarian control by returning in 1203 to the Catholic religion in the presence of the papal legate, Johannes de Casamaris. During the reign of his successor, Ban Stephen, the Paterines grew so powerful that they deposed Stephen and substituted one of their own adherents, the able Matthias Ninoslav (1232-50), who was probably related to Kulin. In 1233 Ninoslav returned to the Catholic Faith, but notwithstanding this the land was filled with the adherents of the Paterine belief, and in 1234-39 a crusade was preached against Bosnia but was not, however, carried out. Although Ninoslav maintained his position as Ban of Bosnia, he was not able to found a dynasty and after his death his principality gradually fell to pieces. The districts of Herzegovina near Ragusa aimed at individual independence, while the rest of the territory now included in Bosnia and Herzegovina gradually came into a more complete dependence on Hungary.

During the reign of Bela IV of Hungary (1235-70) upper Bosnia and the district of Posavina were formed into the Banat of Bosnia, the region in the west on the Usora into the Banat of Usora, and the region in the east on the Drina into the Banat of Soli or Tuzla, while the western part of the present territory of Herzegovina, the region of the Rama, and southern Bosnia were ruled by various powerful Croatian families. At this time a relative of Ninoslav named Pryezda lived on the upper part of the Bosna River. Pryezda’s son, Stephen Katroman (1322-53), was the first of the Katroman family from which for a century and a half came the bans and kings of Bosnia. Stephen was a vassal of the kings of Hungary, who were his relatives and members of the house of Anjou. Through this connection Stephen was able, after defeating the rulers of the present Herzegovina, to unite this territory to his domains. From the tenth century Herzegovina had formed a so-called buffer district between the Dalmatic coast and Bosnia on the one side and Servia on the other. On the dismemberment of the great Servian empire of Dusan the Strong, Tvrtko, Stephen Katroman’s nephew and successor, with the help of King Louis I (the Great) of Hungary, became master of the district of the upper Drina, Trebinje, and Canale. Tvrtko now, with the consent of Louis, took the title of King of Bosnia. A few years later (1384) Bosnia and Herzegovina were laid waste for the first time by the Turks. After the death of Louis the Great (1382) Tvrtko threw off the suzerainty of Hungary and conquered the cities on the Dalmatic coast. During the reigns of his successors Stephen Dabischa (1391-95), Queen Helena (1395-98), Stephen Osoja (1398-1418), Stephen Ostojitsch (1418-21), Stephen Tvrtko II (1404-31) (the rival of the two last-named kings), Stephen Thomas (1443-61), and Stephen Thomaschewitz (1461-63) the kingdom rapidly declined in power so that these rulers were not able to maintain their authority over the conquered districts or to keep the insubordinate vassals and nobles in check. The nobles ruled their territories with little regard for the king; they had their own courts with state officials, granted pardons, had relations with foreign powers, and carried on bloody wars with one another.

The last king, who possessed only the land on the right bank of the Bosna, sought to strengthen his position by becoming a vassal of the pope. He hoped by this means to obtain the aid of the Christian countries of Western Europe in defending himself against the threatening power of the Turks. In 1462 he refused to pay tribute to the Sultan Mohammed II; but when in the following spring Mohammed invaded Bosnia with a powerful army, the young king found himself deserted. Deceit and treason, especially on the part of the Bogomili, completed his ruin. He was taken prisoner by the Turks and beheaded, by the order of the sultan, July, 1463, probably near Jajce (Jaitza). The campaign of the Turks ended in the overthrow of the Bosnian kingdom; only Herzegovina maintained its independence. One hundred thousand prisoners of both sexes were taken; 30,000 Bosnian youths were compelled to join the janizaries. The nobility, especially the Bogomili, became Mohammedans. A large part of the remaining population left the country. The following year King Matthias Corvinus of Hungary freed from the Turkish yoke a part of Bosnia, the Banats of Jajce and Srebrenica (Srebrenitza) which belonged to Hungary until the battle of Mohacs (1526). Herzegovina came under the dominion of the Turks twenty years after the fall of Bosnia (1483). The long period of Turkish oppression is lightened by the daring feat of Prince Eugene, who in the autumn of 1697 after the battle of Zenta, with 4,000 cavalry and 2,000 infantry advanced towards the capital of Bosnia; as the expected rising of the Christian population failed to take place, he retreated, carrying with him 40,000 liberated Christians. By the Treaty of Passarowitz (1718) the northern part of Bosnia and Servia was given to Austria, but the Treaty of Belgrade restored this district to the Turks.

Among the many revolts in Bosnia against the bureaucratic rule of the Osmanli Turks that of 1830-31 under Hussein Aga deserves mention; of the revolts in Herzegovina that of 1875. Article 25 of the Treaty of Berlin, July 13, 1878, granted Austria the right to occupy and govern Bosnia and Herzegovina. The main column of the Austrian troops (thirteenth army corps), under the command of General of the Ordnance Joseph Freiherr von Philoppovich crossed the Save into Bosnia near Brod July 29; two days later Major-General Jovanovic entered Herzegovina with a division. As the occupation took place with the consent of the Porte, it was thought that there would be no fighting. But the Mohammedan population, secretly incited by Servia, rose under the leadership of the adventurer, Hadschi Loja, against the “foreign conquerors”. They were joined by large bands of Arnauts from Albania and by the Turkish troops who had received no instructions. The insurgents were defeated in bloody battles at Maglaj, Zepce, Jajce, Tuzla, and other places. On the evening of August 18 the Austrian troops stood before Serajevo which was taken by storm the next day. In order to hasten the end of the revolt three other Austrian army corps entered the contested district; by the end of September, 1878, both territories were subdued with the exception of a few points in the northwestern part. In the sanjak (subdivision of a Turkish province) of Novibazar Austria holds some important military positions and controls the commercial routes; the Turks still retain the civil administration.

Introduction of Christianity.—Christianity was introduced into both Bosnia and Herzegovina from Salona at a very early date. Many of the dioceses which were suffragans of the Archdiocese of Salona in the sixth century must be sought within the present limits of Bosnia and Herzegovina. This is especially true of the Bishopric of Bistue (Besaeensis ecclesia) which was situated in the heart of the upper part of the present Bosnia. When the Arian Ostrogoths came into possession of these districts they did not interfere with the organization of the Church nor did they persecute the Catholics. The acts of the two provincial synods of Dalmatia which were held at Salona in 530 and 532 have been preserved and these show that in the year 530 four dioceses existed in Bosnia-Herzegovina. At the second synod two new dioceses were founded, Ludricensis (Livno), and Sarsenterensis (Sarsitero), the last named lying north of Mostar. During the war that lasted twenty years between Justinian and the Ostrogoths, the latter changed their policy towards the Catholics and persecuted them. Only one of the dioceses just mentioned, Bistue, survived the Slavonic invasion. Until the middle of the eleventh century Bistue was suffragan to the Archdiocese of Spalato; in 1067 it was transferred to the Archdiocese of Dioclea-Antivari, and shortly after it was made suffragan to the Archdiocese of Ragusa. Disputes now arose between the two last mentioned archdioceses as to the administration of the Bosnian bishopric; the strife was unfortunate for it allowed the sect of the Bogomili to gain a firm footing in Bosnia.

The heresy of the Bogomili was started in the tenth century by Jeremiah, also called Bogomil, a Bulgarian priest. His followers called themselves Christians and considered their faith the only true one. In Bosnia they were named Paterines. The Paterines, or Bogomili, rejected marriage, forbade intercourse with those of other faiths, disbelieved in war, in any execution of human beings, in oaths, in seeking for wealth, and in subjection to secular authority. The Paterines greatly increased in number and influence in Bosnia after the accession to their faith of Ban Kulin, and gained numerous adherents in the neighboring districts of Croatia and Slavonia and in the cities of the Dalmatic coast. A similar sect, the Albigenses, appeared at the same time. At the beginning of the thirteenth century even the Bosnian bishop was an adherent of the Paterines; Pope Gregory IX, therefore, deposed him in 1233 and raised to the see Johannes, a German Dominican from Wildhausen in Westphalia. It is to the great credit of the Dominicans that they entered upon a successful spiritual campaign against the Paterines in Bosnia and Dalmatia. The Franciscans who had an intimate knowledge of the common people had even greater success. They not only brought back the population of the Dalmatic coast to the Church, but they also extended their spiritual activity to the interior of the country. Yet notwithstanding these efforts and those of the popes, in spite of two Bosnian crusades, and of the transfer of the Diocese of Bosnia to the Archdiocese of Kalocsa in Hungary, the sect was not suppressed. The formal return of the Bosnian nobles and monarchy to Catholicism was merely superficial. The Turkish conquest of 1463 drove a large part of the Catholic population out of Bosnia. This led the courageous Franciscan monk, Angelus Zojezdovic, to go before the Sultan Mohammed II to call his attention to the fact that the Christian inhabitants were going out of Bosnia in all directions. The sultan, not wishing to have the newly conquered province depopulated, granted as a favor to the Franciscans that Christians should be allowed the free exercise of their religion. From that time until the present the Franciscan Order has been the only shield of the Christians in these two territories.

Church Statistics.—After the Turkish conquest the Bishopric of Bosnia had only a nominal existence. In 1735 the diocese was reorganized as the Vicariate Apostolic of Bosnia and Herzegovina and its administration confided to the Franciscans. Since 1846 the country has been divided into two vicariates. Three years after the Austrian occupation Pope Leo XIII erected the Archdiocese of Serajevo with the suffragan dioceses of Banjaluka in the northwestern part of Bosnia, Mostar-Duvno in the northern part of Herzegovina, and Markana-Trebinje in the southern part of the same province. The Diocese of Markana-Trebinje which was founded in 870 has no bishop of its own but is administered by the Bishop of Mostar-Duvno. The training of the secular priests in all four dioceses is in the hands of the Jesuits. The other male religious orders represented are: the Franciscans who possess 17 monasteries, and have almost entire charge of the work of the sacred ministry in the Archiocese of Serajevo and the Diocese of Mostar-Duvno; and the Trappists, with 3 monasteries and 182 members. The female congregations are: the Sisters of Mercy, with 12 convents; the Daughters of Divine Love, 5 convents; the Sisters of the Precious Blood, 9 convents; the School Sisters, 1 convent.

The Austrian occupation of Bosnia and Herzegovina since 1878 has not only done much for the material prosperity of these provinces, but has also been of great assistance to the Catholic religion. This is shown by a comparison with earlier years. In 1850 the two territories contained 150,000 Catholic inhabitants; in 1874, 185,503; in 1897, 334,142, or one-fourth of the whole population, and in 1907, 334,000. About 1880 there were no Catholic families in the district between Gradisca and Banjaluka, now there are 10 monasteries in this region. Before the Austrian occupation there were only 7 Catholic families in Trebinje; Trebinje has now several parishes and churches. In Herzegovina 8 parishes, 25 priests, and 36,000 Catholics have increased to 45 parishes, 100 priests, and 110,000 Catholics. The many churches, monasteries, school-houses, etc., which have come into existence since 1878 are proofs of the advance in intelligence and religion. Both territories show how beneficent has been the action of Austria in the Balkan Peninsula. In the agreement made between Austria-Hungary and Turkey of April 21, 1879, the former country bound itself to protect in Bosnia and Herzegovina the religious liberty of the inhabitants as well as of temporary residents. This agreement includes Catholics. The regulations in regard to marriage and divorce, as well as the exemption of the clergy from public services and military duty, are about the same as those in Austria. The cemeteries are still denominational institutions and are reserved even more exclusively than in Austria for the adherents of each faith.


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