The Franciscan monastery of Blessed Virgin Mary, Bač
The Franciscan monastery of Blessed Virgin Mary, Bač

By Nikola Piperski | University of Belgrade


The Franciscan monastery of the Blessed Virgin Mary in Bač was founded around 1300 on the foundations of an older sacral building that most likely dates to the second half of the 12th century. Until the mid-15th century, it belonged to the milder, conventual current (Conventual Franciscans) of the Hungarian Franciscan Province of St. Mary, and later became a monastery of Bosnian Franciscans under the influence of St. James of the Marches (c. 1392–1476) and St. John of Capistrano (1386–1456). The monastery stood until the Battle of Mohács in 1526, when the Ottomans looted and burned it on their return from Buda. After the Ottoman conquest of Bač, the church was turned into a mosque, and after the Treaty of Karlowitz (1699) and the inclusion of these territories in the Habsburg monarchy, the Franciscan monastery was rebuilt. It has been in use to this day.

The church of the monastery is a single-nave building, 52.05m long and 7.5m wide, with the main entrance in the west and the five-sided apse in the east end. The sanctuary and the biggest part of the nave were built from the second half of the 12th to the first half of the 14th century, being rendered in the Romanesque and early Gothic style. The massive Romanesque bell tower, erected next to the sanctuary on its southern side, is dated to around 1300. During the constructions in 18th century, the monastery received its Baroque guise. Firstly, the west façade of the church with its simple porch were reconstructed and, in the period between 1753 and 1773, the three chapels were added along the north wall of the nave, creating from the outside a mock side nave. During the span of more than 20 years (1744–68) buildings for monastic dwelling were erected next to the church, forming a cloister between their four spacious wings.


The present-day church of the Franciscan monastery of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary is located in the center of Bač. It is the only building that has been continuously used as a sacral building from the Middle Ages until today, not only in Bač – one of the two medieval seats of the second Hungarian Kalocsa-Bač Archdiocese, but also in the entire territory of today's northern Serbian province of Vojvodina. Based on records from the monastic chronicle, which has been kept only from the end of the 17th century, it has been traditionally interpreted that the oldest parts of this building date from the second half of the 12th century, but there are indications that it was built much earlier.

Right now, two phases of the construction of the Franciscan monastery of St. Mary church in Bač can be dated to the Middle Ages, before Bač fell under Ottoman rule in 1526. Based on the available material evidence, the older building layer could be dated to the second half of the 12th century, i.e. to the time around 1169, as stated in the monastic chronicle, but the possibility that it is somewhat older cannot be completely ruled out. According to the monastic chronicle it first belonged to the Order of Knights of the Hospital of St. John of Jerusalem. The oldest layer of frescoes also belongs to that period – the fresco of the Crucifixion of Christ on the southern buttress next to the altar apse, which was most likely created soon after the construction of the church. The earlier phase of construction should be dated to the second half of the 13th or as the very beginning of the 14th century, after the church was taken over by the Franciscans. After the church was renovated, it was painted with frescoes, the first time most likely at the beginning or in the first half of the 14th century, and the second time somewhat later, possibly around 1370. The question remains whether the church from the 12th century was built on the foundations of an older sacral building, which could be indicated by the lowest layers of the altar apse and the side walls of the choir. The greatest obstacle to solving these problems is the small number of original historical documents from the Middle Ages that refer to this church, and insufficient archaeological research of the church and the entire monastic complex.

The monastery stood until 1526, when the Ottomans looted and burned it on their return from Buda. During the Ottoman campaign on Bač, the Christian population was imprisoned in the Franciscan monastery, which served as a fortress. According to some descriptions, the conquest of the monastery lasted for seven days. On the eighth day, the siege ended and the population was taken into slavery. After Bač, and subsequently the entire area of Bačka were fully conquered by the Ottomans in 1541, the church was turned into a mosque, as evidenced by a preserved mihrab on the south wall of the church nave.

Bač was partially destroyed during the Ottoman withdrawal in 1686. The mosque was again taken over by the Franciscans from Gradovrh, from the province of Bosna Srebrna, who most likely left Bosnia in 1687 and moved to Bač together with their congregation. The reconstruction of the monastery began immediately after the arrival of the Franciscans in Bač, but it was briefly interrupted during Rakoczi's uprising. The insurgents burned the church and the monastery as well as the town of Bač in 1704, and the Franciscans fled from the Protestant insurgents to Vukovar, returning finally to Bač in 1715 when the construction and renovation of the monastery continued. The construction of the entire complex was completed in 1768. The lodgings on the left side of the church were built completely in the Baroque style, while traces of Romanesque, Gothic, Islamic, and Baroque architecture can be found in the fabric of the church.

The monastic library is especially important when it comes to its movable cultural property, which holds books from the 15th to the 20th century, as well as the unpublished monastic chronicle that has been kept since the arrival of the Bosnian Franciscans in Bač. With its short summary of the events before the Franciscan arrival in Bač, the monastic chronicle is an invaluable source for the study of local history.

Of the large number of art objects, items for liturgical purpose, paintings of religious themes, mostly created between the end of the 17th until the end of the 19th century, one stands out - a late 17th century (1684) Italo Cretan icon of the Virgin with a Child called the Joyful Lady of Bač. This icon, painted by Greek painter Dima, was and still is highly venerated by the local Slavic population, of both Catholics and Orthodox denominations. Today, the icon is venerated not just as the Joyful Lady of Bač, but also as a Miraculous Lady of Gradovrh, protectress of the old Franciscan monastery of Gradovrh, and of the people who came with the Franciscans from Gradovrh to Bač at the end of the 17th century.

Further Reading

Cvekan, Paškal. Franjevci u Baču [Franciscans in Bač]. Virovitica: Paškal Cvekan, 1985.

The book was written in Serbian, but it is the only book published so far that provides a detailed insight into the history of the Franciscan monastery in Bač, especially from the period of Ottoman rule until today.

Piperski, Nikola. “Identity, Legitimacy, Influences: Rethinking and Comparative Analysis of two Frescoes of the Crucifixion of Christ from the Monastery of the Assumption of Mary in Bač and the Ascension Church in Žiča.” Zbornik radova međunarodnog naučnog skupa “Niš i Vizantija“ 16 (2018): 183–194.

The text provides more detailed information about the oldest layer of frescoes in the Franciscan church in Bač.

Piperski Nikola. “The Image and the Cult: The Icon of Joyful Lady of Bač.” Etnoantropološki problemi 15, no. 1 (2020): 335–348.

The text provides more detailed information about the icon and the cult of Joyful Lady of Bač.

Piperski, Nikola. “Црква фрањевачког самостана Свете Марије у Бачу у средњем веку” [The Church of the Franciscan Monastery of the Blessed Virgin Mary in Bač in the Middle Ages]. Zbornik Narodnog muzeja 24, no. 2 (2020): 185–190.

The text is written in Serbian, but with a summary in English. It provides more detailed information on the building layers and wall paintings of the Church of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary in Bač, created during the Middle Ages.

This contribution was sponsored by the International Center of Medieval Art through the 2021 Advocacy Seed Grant.


Nikola Piperski, "The Franciscan monastery of Blessed Virgin Mary, Bač," Mapping Eastern Europe, eds. M. A. Rossi and A. I. Sullivan, accessed June 3, 2023,