THE REGION OF MEDJUGORJE
Millions of tourists and pilgrims from all parts of the world have visited Medjugorje. In these pages we wish to better aquaint them with the environment where they stayed, prayed and experienced so many beautiful things. At the same time, these pages can act as a preparation for those who wish to visit these areas. The material is divided into three parts: 1. Geographical situation, climate, hydrographical conditions and vegetation; 2. Population: 3. A short historical presentation.
I. GEOGRAPHICAL SITUATION, CLIMATE, HYDROGRAPHICAL CONDITIONS AND VEGETATION
1.1 Geographical situation of Hercegovina
The Parish of Medjugorje is situated in the southern part of Hercegovina, in today's state of Bosnia Hercegovina. In order for the reader to have a complete image of the situation, climate, irrigation and vegetation of Medjugorje, it is necessary to have a better look at the surrounding areas.
Hercegovina is situated between two regions: a mountainous region to the north and a coastal region to the south. The mountainous wall to the north holds back the ciculation of atmospheric masses from the Mediterranean, creating favourable climatic conditions for various vegetal cultivation in the area of Hercegovina.
Hercegovina covers an area of 9,948 square kilometres. It is bordered to the east by Montenegro, to the west by Bosnia, to the south and south east by southern Croatia and in one area forms part of the Adriatic coast. The main cultural and administrational centre is Mostar.
1.2 Climatic conditions
The climate of Hercegovina is influenced by the nearby sea, relief and it's height above sea level. Medjugorje is situated in the part of Hercegovina where the mediterranean climate with it's gentle Winters and warm Summers is pre-dominent. It is characterised by rainfall in the colder period of the year.
During Winter, the Adriatic sea lets off the heat accumulated during the Summer period, easing Winter atmospheric temperatures.
In July and August, Summer temperatures reach their maximum.
In Autumn, maximum precipitation takes place, though rainfall can also be felt in Spring. The greatest quanities fall however, in November and December.
With regard to winds, north and north-easterly winds are predominant. Locally, they are referred to as "northerly" or "bura". Winter, is at it's coldest when this, characteristically dry wind, is blowing every second day.
Hercegovina has another wind frequent in this area, which is called "jugo". This wind blows directly from the Adriatic sea and blows most often in Autumn and Spring. It is saturated with humidity and in the Autumn brings rainfall in large quantities. It is considerable in strength and blows for a few days after which the showers stop.
On the basis of climatic evidence found in metereological annals, we can conclude that Hercegovina is influenced by mediterranean, continental and mountain climate. And, in the area of southern Hercegovina, where Medjugorje is situated, a mediterranean climate is pre-dominant.
1.3 Hydrographic Conditions
Hercegovina is a rugged country in which limy layers originating in the triassic jurassic and cretaceous ages, extend for tens of metres, and spring up in spots, sometimes crushed, or in the form of large masses. Water follows these rifts, diseappears from the surface for a while, creates receptacles underground, or pours underground and crops up later on the surface as a whole river. From these sources the Hercegovinian rivers :Buna, Tihaljina, Radobolje, Trebisnice, Vriostice, Bregave, Rame, Buka, Krupica etc. well up. Some of these rivers after a short flow on the surface, diseappear again underground, and after a few kilometres, spring up on the surface again and receive another name.
The copious Autumn rains, which fall in the area of Hercegovina, create streams, these make the rivers swell and flood, and the Karst expanses become lakes. The area of southern Hercegovina is poorer with regard to mountain springs, but those water springs which it does posess present a real attraction, being more abundant than those of the mountains.
The water-ways of Hercegovina are very attractive. Some, for the nature-lovers, some, for the canoers, some, for the fisherman and others for those seeking a place to bathe, rest and refresh themselves.
Just as the area of Hercegovina stretches from the coast to high mountain-land, so the belts of woodland correspond to the different levels above sea. During the Winter, or during the Summer drought when the vegetation completely dies out, some Hercegovinian landscapes look like a Karst desert.
Of the total land area of Hercegovina, 56.8% is given to agriculture (arable and pastoral lands) while 42.4% is taken up by woodland. The remainder is 0.8%.
In southern Hercegovina, the evergreen vegetatian is predominant, so this picturesque landscape, is held throughout the whole year. It's greenery decorates the Karst hillsides and the coastline. In the area surrounding Medjugorje, many expansive lush oak woods can be seen, and here and there, they crop up to beautify other areas of Hercegovina.
Hercegovina also has some indigenous species of plant-life. From the significant mediterranean genus, we can single out the pomegranate. It's red flowers and fruit attract attention. Its' Oak, Ivy, Beech and Cystisis Laburnum are elements belonging to the Mediteranean flora, while it's Pine belongs to the Euro-asian flora. The pretty blossoms on the brambles and heather, sage and honey-suckle, which are typical of the Hercegovinian hillsides, present an attractive allurement. When this shrubbery blooms, the grey Karst hillsides change colour. In the springtime, the honey-suckle gives it a yellowy hue, which later becomes blue with the sage, then white from the heather and browy-yellow from the blossoming brambles. If we could look from above, we would see a multi-couloured carpet land-scape. This presents a romantic Hercegovinian landscape. The perfume of the flowers, and the freshness of the air have a favourable influence on the human organism. Bee's fly from flower to flower and produce the well-known hercegovinian 'restorative' or 'healing'-honey.
Apart from the indigenous species of nature, there's also the 'man-made' cultivation of crops which with the help of the fruitful soil of the area, has made something unique. The well-known Hercegovinian tobacco (Nicotinum tobacum) features as one of the best tobacco's of the world for it's quality. Today, however, it's exportation is practically unheard of. But, Hercegovina has other rarities and quality products which make her exporters proud. Among them we certainly must mention the well-known wines "Zilavka and Blatina". These vines flourish only in Hercegovina in these conditions and in the comfortable mediterranean climate. Hercegovina is also reknowned for the "first cherries". Owing to it's climate and conditions, they ripen much earlier there than in the surrounding areas. In fact the Hercegovinian conditions are pre-disposed to the plantation of fruit trees.
Thousands of cherry, plum, pear, peach apple apricot and marasca etc. trees grow there. Because of this Hercegovina has become one of the biggest providers of fruit and vegetables in Bosnia-Hercegovina. These are immense plantations which are watered by artificial rain clouds.
The population of Medjugorje currently numbers about 3,500 inhabitants. All are of Croatian nationality, speak the croatian language, write with the latin alphabet and are Catholic. Politically, the new state under which Medjugorje emerges is a democratic parliament.
Throughout history, this area was noted for continuous migration. Before the first world war, great poverty drove them out into the world. During the period between the two world wars, Serbian hegemony and persecution under the new multi-ethnic Yugoslavian state, drove many to leave their homeland for the far-off lands of North and South America. The real large scale emigration, however, began after the second world war, when the Communist dictators forced many to esccape through the boundaries of their own native Croatia, suffocated by communist illusions for their so-called Yugoslavia. In the early nineteen sixties, a real exodus of Croation people left for Germany, Sweeden, Switzerland, the U.S.A., Canada, Australia and even as far away as South Africa and New Zealand on so called "temporary work".The communists said that they had left only temporarily, in reality they had sold them throughout the world as slaves. They used them as a cheap form of foreign exchange.The irony of the political communist system, declared most of them, who were forced to work just for survival itself, to be "enemies of the state", and not only those but their relations in the homeland too. For them, return was completely impossible.
The population of Medjugorje, encouraged by the supernatural events surrounding Our Lady's apparitions which began back in 1981, started to return bit by bit. Because of this, and the significant increase in the birth rates, the number of inhabitants increased by one third during the first fifteen years of Our Lady's apparitions.
III. A SHORT HISTORICAL PRESENTATION
Up until 1981, even within it's own country, Medjugorje was an unknown village of the Citluk County district of West Hercegovina. It belongs to the area known throughout history as "Brotnjo". It was in no way different from the surrounding villages and settlements. Because it was the biggest of the five surrounding villages (Medjugorje, Bijackovici, Vionica, Miletina and Surmanci), Medjugorje was the name used to cover the whole area as a Roman Catholic Parish.
The name Medjugorje is of Slavic origin, and means, the area between the hills; rugged place.
The region where the parish of Medjugorje is situated has its' own type of plateau, because it's neither high (in or around 200 metres above sea level) nor level. It is a predominantly rugged area, clad with a fairly lowlying vegetation and a dense evergreen underbrush. It has very little real forest land. Towards the south east it is bordered by Krizevac (Sipovac) and Crnica (now called apparition hill). The centre area of the parish, around the church, between the village of Vionica, Bijakovici, Medjugorje, and Miletina, is a beautiful and fruitful plain, the most fruitful area of Brotnjo. The mild mediterranean climate, the strong Hercegovinian sunlight, and the fruitful red loamy soil makes it ideal conditions for the cultivation of vineyards and tobacco. Since the land area is relatively small for the population of Medjugorje, the inhabitants, just as in other areas of Brotnjo and Western Hercegovina, dedicated themselves mainly to the produce of wine and tobacco, while fruit and vegetables are mainly planted for domestic use. The people of the area always lived off the tobacco (once a well known smokers brand) and the wine (the well known "zilavka" which is at it's best when made from the grapes of the Brotnjo area). This type of wine according to archaeological findings, has been cultivated as far back as the time of the Romans. The Bosnian king Tvrtko, mentions the quality wines of that area, in preserved Citluk documents dating from the year 1353. The Austro-Hungarian Emperor Franz Josef used the wine from this region. In I886 the Viennese established an imperial fortress in Mostar, a collecting centre for wine, and gave it exclusive rights to the provision of a wine cellar. The century old problem of the inhabitants of this area is drought. In the area of the parish of Medjugorje, there is no fount or well. In Spring and Summer long periods of drought usually occur. For centuries back, the people gathered rainfall in cisterns, or "catrnje"- (as they are sometimes called), for themselves, for the livestock and, for watering the tobacco around the planting season. Even though the parish bordered on the well irrigated Neretva region, it still hadn't been connected to Medjugorje. However, of late the majority of the settlements of the parish of Medjugorje have running water pumped from the river Neretva.
1. The Pre-Turkish Era
If we were to judge by the caves which exist in the area of Brotnjo, and in the parish of Medjugorje, we can't completely exclude the possibility of habitation as far back as the older stone age period. From the later stone-age period, there is material proof of the existence of a pre-iliric culture and civilisation in the area. In the older bronze age, there is evidence of iliric tribes. Copper objects found in the area are proof of an intensive life-style. Some walled settlements on the higher points, so called-"gradine" (castle ruins), which were either circular or square in shape, date from this epoch. Sometimes these were surrounded by a double wall. In the area of the parish of Medjugorje, there still exists examples of the double walled "gradine", in Surmanci and above Medjugorje itself, in Zuzelje. Apart from the "gradine", the most eloquent evidence of the iliric civilisation, (which is ample in Brotnja and indeed in the area of Medjugorje itself,) are the graves of the iliric "dignitaries".
In the second century before Christ, "Daorsi" allied himself with the Romans and waged war with the iliric tribes of Dalmatia. Brotnjo beforehand had belonged to the ilirian province of Dalmatia which has it's administrational seat in Solin near Split, and from the third century, with the area of Narona around it. The writing on the gravestones testifies that Roman legions and cohorts were situated in the area and that Roman veteran soldiers were in pension there. Remains of roads, constructed in the time of the Romans are still visible today. Apart from that, under the Roman memorials, many objects of everyday use have been found.The most significant findings from the Roman era in the area of Medjugorje, can be found in the Catholic graveyard in Miletina, where there are remains of some ruin which had been made of Roman bricks, but it hasn't been sufficiently excavated.
From the end of the sixth century, Slavic people began to settle there. The region of Brotnjo represented a tribal, political-territorial entity with a tribal regional chief. Brotnjo always belonged to the land of "Hum" which in 1322 fell to Bosnian administration. In 1357 this area belonged to the Hungarian Croatian King, Ljudevit the first.
From the period of the middle ages, the most famous memorials of the civilisation of this area are the "stecci"- these are truly indigenous grave memorials of this area. The "stecci" in Hercegovina are superior to those in the remainder of Bosnia Hercegovina and Croatia today, in many ways: e.g. in number and dimension of burial grounds, in the beauty of their ornamation, and in their worth with regard to artful elaboration. In Brotnjo there are many burial grounds, but only one single "stecca", likewise in the area of Medjugorje. A man in the form of a cross with arms raised in prayer is sculpted into some of them.
This area up to the 12th century was glagolithic. This is testified by the famous rock at Humac. In the second half of the 12th century the cyrillic, sometimes called 'bosancica' alphabet, prevailed. In the area of Brotnjo, not one latin enscription is to be found, only croatian written in 'bosancica'.
2. The Epoch of Turkish Occupation
Christianity arrived to the area surrounding Medjugorje around the time of the Romans. Judging by the amount of church ruins, it was extensively widespread. A great number of them were destroyed, and in the time of the migration in the 6th and 7th century after Christ, churches were levelled to the ground. The Croatian settlers accepted Christianity very early: They started to baptise as early as the 7th century. However, the Catholic church, in the middle ages under Croatian Bosnian administration never really solidly became established. It was affected by the spread of the "bosnian church." In the thirteenth century, the Croatian Bosnian state, which included the " Hum" lands too (Hercegovina), was firstly visited by the Dominicans, and, after their lack of results, the Franciscans accomplished great success in turning the Bogumils or Bosnian Christians into the arms of the Catholic Church and the Catholic faith.
Bosnia and Hercegovina fell inder Turkish power in the year 1463. They wished to take the whole of Croatia too, and go from there to Vienna and Rome, and likewise further west.They were blocked on their way by the Croatians. For this reason, the Pope proclaimed them to be the "bulwark of Christianity". But Croatia had to pay a high price. Even though many Croatian lives were lost, and there was continuous warfare, her centre part was still snatched from her, i.e. what some might see as her heart; Bosnia Hercegovina.
The life of a Catholic under Turkish rule was constantly exposed to "islam-isation", oppresion and persecution. Under the Turkish feudal system, no Croatian could posess any fixed belongings. Catholics were constanly enemies of the state, because their "head" was in enemy territory; "Rome". The native people subsisted from stock-bearing, and work on the Turkish sittings and paying large taxes in stock, corn, grain, and even with their own children to Turkish or native land-lords who had been "islamised". The Turks forcefully snatched their children, islam-ised them, and made watch-men and special-force units out of them, for the purpose of conquisting the remaining Christian lands, i.e. to conquer their own Croatia! For this reason, many Croatians were driven to escape towards the west. This is the way the Moslem element took over the area of Bosnia-Hercegovina. Up until the time of Turkish occupation of Bosnia-Hercegovina, the area was completely inhabited by Croatians, 100%. As regards Turkish penetration eastwards, the Serbs too ran away in front of them, but later they allied themselves with them in their conquests, and arrived in these areas where, heretofore they had never been.
3. The Role of the Franciscans
The activities of the Franciscans in these areas from the time of their arrival itself, had a significant influence on the culture, faith and other aspects of the lives of the Croatian people. The Franciscans emerged in Croatian parts in about the first decade of the thirteenth century. During the whole time of the Turkish occupation (1463 to 1878) the Franciscans were the only ones who tended to the needs of the souls of the Croatian people of Bosnia Hercegovina, and their only representatives and defenders in the midst of the Turkish oppression. In every way the Franciscans shared the plight of their people. Seeing this, the Turks in the first half of the 16th century, destroyed all the Franciscan monasteries in Hercegovina, and the spiritual direction of the Croatian Catholics was taken over by christian Dalmatia,i.e. Croatia. During the Turkish administration, the Franciscans were scattered, tortured and killed, many thrown alive into the river Neretva....Afterwards, all that was left were the ruins of the Franciscan monasteries.
In the area of Bosnia Hercegovina and thereabouts, first of all a Bosnian Franciscan Province was set up. In 1852, Hercegovinian custody was established, and in 1892, the Hercegovinian Franciscan province was founded, members of which still work today in the parish of Medjugorje.
The Franciscans in this area have left indelible tracks. Many have enriched the Church in Croatia with their personal holiness and heroic witnessing to the Gospel: they enlightened and civilised the people, literacy was brought to many, and art and science generally flourished.
In the great war of the 17th century the majority of parishes were destroyed, among them Medjugorje. When relative peace returned in the 18th century, the Franciscans gathered the remaining believers together and created parishes. The parish of Medjugorje was founded in the year 1892.
4.The Austro-Hungarian Administration of Bosnia-Hercegovina, and the Creation of Early Yugoslavia
After liberation of the Ottoman empire in 1878, Austro-Hungary took power in these areas. For political reasons the newly liberated areas didn't want to be included in the Croatian state to which it historically belonged. And so, once again in the history of the Croatian people, Bosnia and Hercegovina remained separated from the "mother-land".
In the year 1914, the first world war began, the reason being the attempt on the life of France Ferdinand in Sarajevo which Srbin Gavrilo Princip carried out. At the end of the first world war, the foundation of Yugoslavia was "tricked" into existence as the kingdom of Serbia, Croatia and Slovenia. This "trickery" was brought about by the "big powers" of the time. In this type of state the Croatian people lived with great difficulty, and the politician who fought for the interests of the Croatian people was brutally killed at a meeting in Belgrade in 1928. In 1929, the Kingdom of Yugoslavia which was to crumble at the beginning of the second world war was established.
5. Life in the Second Yugoslavia
During the second world war the losses of the Croation people were immense. At the end of the war itself, when the cease-fire had been officially declared, about 300,000 civilians and soldiers lost their lives at Bleiburg and at what's often referred to as the "Via Dolorosa" of the Croatian people: After capitulation, the Allies, with congruently attained agreements were supposed to offer refuge to Croats and others who were seeking to evade communism. But the Allies, in the meanwhile had congruently ordered field-martial Harold Alexander, to hand them over to the military and civil communists- 'the partisans'. In Bleiburg alone a multitude of them lost their lives, while the rest of them had to form a column, 60km long with it's end finishing in communist Yugoslavia and it's concentration camps. This was the beginning of the Croatian peoples "Golgotha", the so called "way of the cross" which went from the most northern to the most southern points of the new multi-ethnic state of Yugoslavia. The partisans killed the Croatians while on foot, without trial, without any possible knowledge as to what they might be guilty of, if anything... all at their own discretion. It was the Croatians of Hercegovina which were persecuted in particular.
The communists killed 630 priests and nuns from Croatia and Bosnia Hercegovina and in the Hercegovinian Franciscan province alone, 70 Franciscans lost their lives. During the second world war, 344 lives were lost from the parish of Medjugorje.
Life under communist power in the parish of Medjugorje was hard. The people were beaten and sentenced to years in prison just because they were Catholic and Croation. In schools, just as elsewhere in Croatia, they tried to "de-nationalise and athe-ise" the people. Thanks to the strong feeling for faith in the people, the communists didn't succeed in this.
At the same time, in the background, the aim of the administrators was that as many people as possible would leave the area. Those pilgrims who came at the beginning of the apparitions, saw all this in action. A very poor region awaited them, and some very impolite police-men. The administration didn't permit the slightest help in accomodating them, instead many, together with the locals were imprisoned, just because they said that Our Lady was appearing. However, the local people were hospitable and polite.
The communist dictatorship fell in 1990, when the Croatian people plebiscitely decided for the independence and break-away from the artificially created Yugoslavia. This, certainly, didn't tie in with the idea of the "Greater Serbia", and the Yugoslavian army, made up primarily of Serbs, militarily attacked Slovenia on the 25th of June 1991,( tenth anniversary of Our Lady's apparitions) then Croatia and afterwards Bosnia Hercegovina, desiring to suffocate their independence. A couple of hundred thousand people lost their lives during this bloody war. The world could have stopped this bloodshed. But because of their respective interests, it didn't do this. The E.E.C. only condemned the warring sides, hoping to wash their hands and save Yugoslavia as a state, because being formed by diverse peoples, they could use it to further their own aims. The first minister of the Bush government James Baker, even permitted the Yugoslav army to attack Slovenia.
European and World Powers sought out and found their own interests in these areas and because of that they tried and continue to try and 'fog-up' this war presenting it as a civil war in which all were equal. The truth is, completely different and very simple: The Serbs wished to create a greater Serbia, and they attacked other peoples which up until then had lived with them in community states. They were able to do this because, in ex- Yugoslavia, the power was in their hands. The major Powers had chosen them as the "police-men or guards" of the Balkans, and because of this they looked benignly on everything that they did. Even when the first genocides began, as in Vukovar, they didn't want to stop them.They only began to stop them when they exceded every measure, and began to injure the reputation of their patron.
The warfare between the Moslem and Croatian community in 1993, who had formerly been allied in Bosnia Hercegovina seemingly began as a misunderstanding, but moreover out of a desire to create communication lines for the foreign secret services and to help the Serbs to take as much territory in Bosnia Hercegovina as possible and to consolidate there. The Croatians simply desired that no one other than themselves govern them anymore. They wanted to have their own schools and their own language, which they could call Croatian,and they desired the same for Bosnia-Hercegovina. The Moslem community, which is the largest in Bosnia Hercegovina, because of their fundamentalist leadership, wanted to administrate the new state according to islam law and impose their powers upon the others. For that reason, they brought "mudjahedini", who carried out terrible war crimes in Bosnia Hercegovina. This war, however was concluded in a short period because basically there was no need for it.
Today, Medjugorje is to be found in the state of Bosnia Hercegovina. Because of the communist administration, and the terrrible war, Medjugorje waited for it's fifteenth anniversary to develop an infra-structure. This however, didn't stop pilgrims coming here, even during the most vicious clashes of the war. Many of them brought help, and helped the Croatian people to remain where they were. The Croatian people will never forget this. Today, pilgrims are coming more and more. All of these want to experience this time of grace with their whole hearts, and not let it slip them by....