The Franciscan Monastery in Bač
About the Monastery
The Franciscan Monastery of Bač is a cultural good whose original sacral purpose has had the longest continuity in the territory of the Autonomous Province of Vojvodina. The 2,500-square-meter complex of usable space, completely covered with vaults, includes a church dedicated to the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary (12th – 15th century), a bell tower (14th century) and monastery wings (18th century). Archaeological remains, including Roman bricks, are scattered throughout the doorway and garden, and the remains of a Gothic church, i.e. its ossuary located on the west side, is particularly valuable.
The Franciscan Monastery of Bač belongs to the group of the most significant cultural goods in the Republic of Serbia (exceptional importance). The miraculous icon of the Theotokos (”Lady of Joy”) from 1684 and old and rare books were put under protection in 1948, while in 1951, the protection was extended to architecture. The diverse values of this sacral unit are increasingly being used to understand the values of a broader territory – UNESCO’s Bačko Podunavlje Biosphere Reserve and the Cultural landscape of Bač and its surroundings, which is on UNESCO’s tentative list of the World Cultural and Natural Heritage.
The site where the Franciscan Monastery complex of Bač was built was located in the immediate vicinity of the Mostonga River, a tributary of the Danube, and inland roads that converged here, connecting Europe and Asia. Benefiting from these conveniences, this part of ancient Bač had a special role in the formation of its preserved urban matrix.
The Franciscan Monastery complex of Bač is composed of a church with three spacious, one-storey wings leaning to the south, with a well in the middle of the square. The church, dedicated to the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin, has an elongated base, with a five-sided apse in the east, a shorter side nave in the north and the main entrance in the west. On the south side, a corridor connects the church with the monastic cells forming a unique whole – a cloister covered by a common roof.
The monastery complex in its present appearance was being formed over the span of more than eight centuries and is witness to both sufferings and persistent renovations. Construction began in the late 12th and early 13th century, when members of the Knights of the Order of the Holy Sepulchre of Jerusalem built a small one-nave Romanesque church. This church had massive counterforts, high pediments and a much lower apse. In the Gothic rebuilding, in the period from 1241 (overthrow of the Mongols) to the 15th century, the old monastery buildings and a massive bell tower with counterforts along the apse were built. The church was added to the west by the beginning of the 16th century at the latest. From the fall of Bač under the Ottoman rule in 1526 until its liberation in 1686, the monastery was converted into a mosque, as evidenced by the preserved mihrab niche in the south wall. In 1688, the Franciscan Province of Bosna Srebrena took over the monastery. The Baroque restoration included both the church and the monastic cells, whose characteristic square – cloister was being formed from 1724 to 1770 in a slightly modified location. The last thorough restoration of the monastery was in the first half of the 19th century, when a new altar was erected in the church. Since 1923, the monastery has become part of the Franciscan Province of Saints Cyril and Methodius based in Zagreb.
The Franciscan Monastery of Bač is characterized by a well-preserved and visible rich cultural stratification. Significant contribution to better understanding of the architecture and life of this complex has been made by the research that followed the discovery of the remains of a fresco showing Crucified Christ with the Virgin Mary, on the southern counterfort of the church, which was built into the wall of the bell tower (2011). On the counter stone of the counterfort, the testimonies of destructions and renovations were found, which are now visible owing to the presentation of the site of the fresco’s findings. The remains of a part of an older monastery were discovered in the part of the bell tower and the sacristy. Extensive research is yet to come.
(Based on the text by Dr Slavica Vujović, Project Manager of the project “Centuries of Bač”)
Rehabilitation of the Franciscan Monastery of Bač
Activities on the research, protection and presentation of the Franciscan Monastery of Bač, managed by the Provincial Institute for the Protection of Cultural Monuments of Petrovaradin, have been ongoing since the 1960s, with longer interruptions. Since 2006, they have been carried out within the Integrative Protection Development Project “Centuries of Bač” (by Dr Slavica Vujović) and its subproject “Rehabilitation of the Franciscan Monastery of Bač”, which by decision of the Ministry of Culture and Information in 2012 was among the projects nominated for EU funding.
This project, realised as a significant EU donation, started on 18 December 2013 with the signing of the Financing Agreement between the Government of the Republic of Serbia and the European Union. In the period 2016– 2018, works worth € 828,449.96 were carried out, and together with the preparation, project management and expert supervision, the invested funds exceed the amount of € 1,000,000.
The following activities and works have been financed from EU funds:
1. Completion of design and technical documentation, preparation of tender documentation for the execution of works and selection of contractors;
2. Setting up installations throughout the complex – upgrading the existing ones (electrical/high and low currents, plumbing, lightning conductors), setting up missing installations (sewage systems) and their connection to the town network;
3. Restoration and rehabilitation of the facade of the entire complex – the removal of worn-out plaster from the facades and in the interior and their plastering, emphasizing elements that testify to the original shapes and changes;
4. Roofing of the entire complex – replacement of worn-out elements of the roof structure, production of sheet metal, restoration of chimneys modelled on the original ones;
5. Joinery – conservation and restoration of authentic doors and windows, replacement of worn- out and inadequate joinery with new, wooden joinery;
6. Tiling of ground floor rooms and corridors and landscaping of paths and plateaus;
7. Adaptation was carried out, which enabled the introduction of educational and museum programmes and refurbishment of the premises where the Franciscan community resides, including setting up of all necessary installations (heating and cooling, fire protection, burglar protection). Six of the premises were converted for museum purposes, and the refectory got an additional, educational purpose. Toilets were restored and an accessible toilet designed to accommodate people with physical disabilities was made. In the south wing, on the ground floor, the kitchen was renovated, an apartment and an office were made, while some of the upstairs rooms got bathrooms and a shared kitchen. The basement in the south wing has also been renovated and ready to be used for a new purpose;
8. A number of works were also done to present the newly discovered findings (moving the fence near the Gothic church, presenting the doorway, access to the park).
Pursuant to Article 2(3) of the Financing Agreement, the Republic of Serbia has committed itself to co-financing the project with a minimum of 10% of the allocated funds (€ 89,000), in equal parts from the budget of the Republic of Serbia (implementation by the Ministry of Culture and Information) and the budget of the AP Vojvodina (implementation by the Provincial Secretariat for Culture, Public Information and Relations with Religious Communities).
The following activities and works have been implemented:
1. Archaeological excavations – monitoring earthworks and exploring newly discovered structures; protection of museum exhibits;
2. Materials processing, valorisation and cataloguing – in cooperation with the Ethnographic Museum in Belgrade, the Museum of Vojvodina, and the Ministry of Culture of Croatia;
3. Production of furniture, museum cabinets and accessories;
4. Conservation of wood (side altar, joinery), metal (clockwork, shackles, exhibits);
5. Procurement of computer equipment;
6. Preparation and printing of materials for museum exhibitions;
7. Development of a plan for the interpretation of the Franciscan Monastery of Bač – Centre for Museology and Heritology, Faculty of Philosophy, Belgrade;
8. Conservation supervision and design of conservation projects;
9. Publication of results and presentations through exhibition, promotional videos;
In the period 2014–2018, the Ministry of Culture allocated a total of RSD 12,924,000 (€ 109,525.00) through the competition, which is approximately 2.5 times the undertaken commitment (€ 44,500.00). The Provincial Secretariat allocated RSD 8,379,215.00 (€ 71,010.00).
The Municipality of Bač also participated in co-financing the works. The following activities and works have been carried out (through PUC “Tvrđava”, Bač): connection of installations to the town network and landscaping of the surrounding terrain.
Part of the activities was implemented through the Museum unit “Centuries of Bač” of the National Library “Vuk Karadžić” in Bač, which is an active participant in the project of museum preparation:
1. Implementation of children’s workshops “Learning History through Heritage”, with elementary school “Vuk Karadžić”;
2. Design of promotional material – illustrated guide;
3. Covering electricity costs of the museum within the complex of the Franciscan Monastery.
In addition, a significant donation was made by the Franciscan Province of Saints Cyril and Methodius from Zagreb for financing the restoration and plastering of the bell tower, in the amount of € 52,512.84.
The total EU grant, together with other investments, amounts to € 1,240,000, which is a good example of joint action and international cooperation towards the preservation and improved use of cultural heritage.
(Based on the text by Dr Slavica Vujović, Project Manager of the project “Centuries of Bač”)