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June, 2019

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Religious harmony has always been the backbone of Sarajevo’s multi-ethnic community and it’s said that you’re unlikely to find anywhere else with Orthodox and Catholic churches, a synagogue and mosque all on the same square.

The Church of the Holy Archangels Michael and Gabriel, is generally, and more simply known as the Old Orthodox Church. The land was donated by the Ottomans and having built on the surrounding land, they found little space left for the church. The solution was a two-storey building: the men worship on the ground floor and the women above.

Upstairs was a small wooden child’s coffin. The legend is that a child was strangled by his stepmother and thrown into the river, but the priest discovered the body and buried it behind the church. After 200 years it was exhumed when the Church wanted to build on the grounds. When they found the well-preserved body it was declared a miracle, taken inside and the coffin positioned on a trestle structure. Now women struggling with fertility walk around the coffin three times and crawl underneath, in order to become pregnant.

The church has its own museum founded in 1889. Inside were icons adorned with gold and silver to make the faces more prominent and it was interesting to see examples where they were shown separated. We also found incense burners, vestments beautifully embroidered with gold and silver thread, coins, weapons and rare manuscripts. Photographs were not allowed in either the church or museum.
Outside, we saw collateral bomb damage to the church tower from the Bosnian War in the 1990s. There was also a little cafe shaded by a veil of vines.

Known as Bey’s Mosque, this is one of the most significant Islamic buildings in Bosnia and Herzegovina and the finest example of Ottoman Islamic architecture on the Balkan peninsula. At the side of the large mosque we saw the turbe, or tomb, of Gazi Husrev Begova and his former slave who was so dedicated, he became the Pasha’s right-hand man. When he died, he wanted him to be with him for ever.

Having taken off shoes and covered my head, we found an ornately decorated interior. The floor was covered by huge carpets donated by President Nasser of Egypt and the Shah of Persia. We saw the minbar and short staircase from where the Imam leads prayers and were told he’s not allowed to go all the way to the top, as that is reserved for the one creator (not the created). Like the worshippers, he must also face east and have his back to them, so he’s not seen to be receiving their prayers.

The Serbian army purposely targeted cultural and religious monuments in Sarajevo during the Bosnian war and as the largest and best known, the mosque was an obvious target. It was restored in 1996.

The cathedral, established on 5th July 1881, is the largest in Bosnia and Herzegovina and seat of the Archbishop of Vrhbosna.

Once again, the building was damaged during the Siege of Sarajevo, but not completely destroyed, and the damage has since been repaired. The building is often considered as a symbol of the city and teenagers congregate on the steps leading up to it.

Pope John Paul II, led mass here during his visit in 1997 and in 2014, a three-metre silver-coloured aluminium statue of him was unveiled just outside the cathedral. It was a ceremony attended by thousands of Catholics and other citizens of Sarajevo to show their appreciation for his compassion during the conflict.

Sephardic Jews have resided in Sarajevo since Ottoman times and the oldest synagogue was built in 1581. It has now been turned into the Jewish Museum and is only opened as a place for worship during the Jewish New Year.

All the places had plaques with details of an Official Sarajevo Guide which could be downloaded if you didn’t have your own guide.

It was comforting to see that despite the ravages of the conflict, damage done to building and people killed, the people of Sarajevo have rebuilt, and the diverse cultural mix remains intact.

Helen Jackson

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