Ever since religious tourism has been a source of inspiration and otherworldly discoveries, the spiritual travels have been booming all over the world no matter the religion and beliefs. Pilgrims are searching the tranquillity and hope, while curious travellers are driven more by historical and cultural findings behind the dogmas. In the Balkans, the pilgrimages are not a rarity. The Holy Land of Herzegovina, as we sometimes call it, was home to many enlightened and holy people. The most significant of them was unarguably St. Basil of Tvrdoš & Ostrog, a saint venerated in the Serbian Orthodox Church. By far the most respected saint in the Balkans was born at the beginning of the 17th century in the village Mrkonjići, near the city of Trebinje. Four centuries later, we can visit the birthplace of St. Basil Tvrdoš & Ostrog, the Miracle-worker, nowadays an Orthodox church constructed on the foundations of his natal house.
The small village of Mrkonjići is located on the eastern side of the valley Popovo Polje, on the roadway that connects Trebinje and Ljubinje. Although centuries ago it was a rather populated village, today it barely counts 15 inhabitants. In spite of its size, this village attracts many believers and admirers of St. Basil. Only 30 kilometres on the northwest from Trebinje, on the right side of the road, one can find the church dedicated to St. Basil. This worship place was erected in 1998, on the foundations of St. Basil’s birth house, where he was born in 1610 as Stojan Jovanović. On the left side of the same road, there is another little church devoted to St. Nicolas, where St. Basil was baptized. In the proximity of this church is a graveyard, where his mother St. Ana rests.
Stojan was born of simple and God-loving parents – Ana and Petar, who transmitted the same devotion to him. As from his early age, he started helping people in need, which was not liked by the Ottoman’s occupiers at that time in Herzegovina. To prevent any dangers, his parents sent him to the Zavala Monastery, where his uncle was a hegumen. As a diligent young man, he quickly mastered the Bible and Christian principles, while reading the holy books in the cells dug into the rock. After a while, his uncle sent him to Tvrdoš Monastery to continue his studies of theology. There, he took his monastic vows and got the name Vasilije (Basil).
Even though he was modest and reluctant, his piety and exceptional ascetic life made him suitable for the highest positions. Against his will, he was elected Bishop of Zahumlje in 1639, and he was seated in Tvrdoš Monastery. When the Tvrdoš was destroyed by the Ottomans, together with 30 monks, he moved to Ostrog Monastery (in Montenegro), where is continued his ascetic life and endless prayers. In 1651, he was appointed a Metropolitan of Eastern Herzegovina. 20 years after, Holy Father Vasilije fell into eternal sleep peacefully in Ostrog, leaving uncorrupted and miracle-working relics to the present day. His tomb in a cave-church is a pilgrimage site for Christians (Orthodox and Catholics) and Muslims who come before the Wonderworker of Ostrog to seek help. And the miracles occurring at his grave are without number, making the monastery of Ostrog the most visited Orthodox shrine in Europe.
After the glorification of the Miracle-worker, people started visiting all the places where this great pious Holy Father lived. When it comes to St. Basil’s pilgrimage sites in Herzegovina, where he spent the biggest part of his holy life, then for sure we speak about the Tvrdoš Monastery and the birthplace of St. Basil of Tvrdoš and Ostrog, nowadays a church devoted to him, in the Mrkonjići village. Together with Ostrog Monastery, those two are the most visited pilgrimage sites where people flock in great numbers to worship this wonder-working saint.
Pictures © Credits to Tourism organisation of Trebinje
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