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Fojnica Restoration

Fojnica is a small town 35 miles northwest of Sarajevo, reachable by a one-hour bus ride through several towns and villages.  It is different from Gračanicawhich is over 95 percent Bosniak (Moslem)--in that its population is evenly divided between Catholic Croats and Bosniaks.  We were in Fojnica at the invitation of Friar Mirko Majdandžić, the abbot of the  Franciscan Monastery of the Holy Spirit.  Fojnica monastery has a library of some twenty thousand books, most of which were lying on the floor of the new library wing when we arrrived.

This national treasure is of interest to international as well as Bosnian scholars, because many of the books date back to the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, including thirteen incunabula (books printed before 1500).  Among them are Nicolaus de Lyra’s Biblia cum postillis, published in Venice in 1481.

School in Fojnica

In setting up the Fojnica team, I invited a professional librarian, Lydia Pittman of Lasell College, Newton MA, as well as two classicists, James Patterson and Elizabeth Thornton, since many of the books are in Latin.  With the help of Jeff Spur at Harvard, I also enlisted four young Bosnian library school students, Mirela Bajrić, Mladen Vuković, Semir Avdić, and Anita Konjičija.  Also included in our team were a Fojnica teacher of English, Anita Kalamut, as well as my scholarly classmate, Charles Zemach, a retired physicist and diplomat. 

When we arrived for work on June 19, the floors of the new library wing had not yet been tiled, nor had the shelves been erected, but our capable young people were able to circumvent all difficulties, cleaning and cataloging over 3500 books, while labeling and boxing them for later shelving.   The sight of those ancient books inspired Bosniak and Catholic library students alike, as they realized that they were working on their common national heritage.

Abbot Mirko was extremely generous in his efforts to make us at home, providing for our lunch at the home of a marvelous cook. He also arranged hikes in the nearby mountains, as well as cookouts. 

We plan to continue the work in Fojnica during the fall, utilizing a core of two or three library volunteers, working two days a week.  We plan to convert our data entries from the Excel spreadsheet used this summer to the Oracle system called “Crolist.”  Anita Konjičija will be learning the Crolist application at the Franciscan Seminary Library in Sarajevo (Neđarići) this fall.  Anita is very competent and devoted to her work.

Images of our work in Fojnica

For nearly a decade, the books, both new and antique, were indiscriminately piled in a storage room where they suffered a significant amount of damage.

When the group arrived in Fojnica, it found the library a long way from completion. Further construction was needed before the books could be given permanent homes.




A box of heavily damaged books covered in mold. Some had mushrooms growing on them.


Cleaned books were catalogued on an Excel spreadsheet, which will be used to create a digital library catalogue for the library. Eventually, the library's catalogue will be incorporated into a larger network of Franciscan library catalogues throughout the former Yugoslavia.


                  Books in disarray in hasty storage.


        A bit more organization but still a long way to go.




Books that had been cleaned and catalogued the summer before were removed from their storage units and moved to shelves.

Thousands of books are transported from the storage room to the completed rooms in the library for sorting and classification.


The hard work of Builders for Peace in Fojnica made Bosnian national news on several occasions. The team was interviewed by various news agencies and had a full two-page spread in the July, 2007 issue of Gracija.


The advanced school for English in Fojnica