Symbol of Faith and Survival
It is not just a ”divinely beautiful and sky-scraping” edifice; it is also a predestined metaphor of Serbiandom across the river Drina. After seven decades of waiting, the construction was commenced in 1921, the Church held services since 1928, and was completed and ceremonially consecrated in 1939. Exactly eighty years ago. Only two years later, it was bombed by the Germans and entirely destroyed by the Croatians. The Serbian church and people were simultaneously exterminated, by the same criminal hand. The renewal began in 1991, and the foundations were consecrated in 1993. Exactly ten years ago, on Ascension Day of 2009, the spiritual vertical of this Church shone down again on Krajina and entire Serbiandom

By: Sandra Miletić
Photo: Archive of the Diocese of Banjaluka and
Archive of the Government of the Republic of Srpska

The construction of the Cathedral Church of Holy Trinity in the center of Banjaluka, long awaited by the Serbs in Krajina, was the first big architectural endeavor of the Serbian Orthodox Church and city of Banjaluka after World War I.
Explaining the socio-historical circumstances preceding the construction, historian and director of the Republic Secretariat for Faiths Dragan Davidović states that in mid-XIX century, the Serbian population in Banjaluka was dominant in commercial and financial capital, but also invested great energy and financial means in ecclesiastical, cultural and educational affairs.
– They gained great reputation both in Banjaluka and throughout the Turkish and Austrian empires. The Serbian Orthodox Christian School in Banjaluka was opened in 1856, and the Serbian School Fund founded in 1871. The Orthodox Christian Seminary, managed by Vaso Pelagić, was also working at the time in Banjaluka. The Serbian Reading Room was founded during his stay here. The National and University Library, which celebrated 150 years in 2018, was raised on its foundations. The Church Singing Society ”Jedinstvo” (”Unity”), still active and successful, was established – emphasizes Davidović.
He further adds that the existence and work of the ecclesiastical-school municipality wasn’t reduced only to education and founding and supporting cultural societies.
– On the contrary, one of the main activities was building the church. The permission for erecting the big cathedral church was received only in 1862. Unfortunately, the turbulent times, such as the uprisings in 1875, Austro-Hungarian occupation and similar misfortunes, postponed the construction of the Orthodox temple until the first decades of the XX century. World War I was also to blame for not building the church in the city, so the activities were restarted and started moving more quickly only in the Kingdom of Yugoslavia – tells Davidović.


The issue of the construction of the Cathedral Church was officially raised on June 13, 1921 at the Ecclesiastical Municipality session. After the difficulties with the land ownership and lack of money, for which King Aleksandar and Serbs from America gave their support, the design of the famous architect from Belgrade, Dušan Živanović, was chosen. The importance of the construction of the magnificent church was so great that every part of it was done by the most prominent companies of the time. The book Cathedral Church of Christ the Savior, written by Radmila Kolundžija and archpriest-stavrophore Ratko Radujković, states that the mosaic icons of the Holy Trinity, Christ the Savior and Holy Mother of God were created by the German company ”Pul and Wagner”, based on the mosaic of the church in Oplenac. The four bells on the bell tower were made in Innsbruck, in the famous ”Grasmayer” company, the floor was made of marble from Venčac, and the granite pillars were purchased in Germany. The dome and all interior walls were covered with frescoes created according to those from medieval monasteries.
The first service in the still incomplete church was held on September 15, 1928, observing the tenth anniversary of the breakthrough of the Salonika Front, and services continued to be held until January 1938. After money had been collected for the church interior, academic painter Jovan Bijelić and his ”Oblik” group were appointed for working on the design.
The ceremonial consecration of the church began on May 17, 1939, by greeting the church’s godfather, first ban of the Vrbas Banovina, Svetislav Tisa Milosavljević. The consecration took place on Ascension Day, May 18. The magnificent procession passed the main city streets. Due to unbelievable crowds, only people with entrance tickets were permitted to enter the liturgy.
Nebojša Malešević, priest in the third parish of Banjaluka, says that it’s difficult to imagine how Orthodox Christians, as well as all the faithful ones, felt while watching the erection of the grandiose church in the city center, next to the then famous ”Balkan” hotel, stone by stone, especially if we consider the historical temptations Christians were exposed to in these lands in the past 200 years.
– In their eyes, the Cathedral Church was the symbol of hard-earned freedom, dearly paid. Although it wasn’t the first church in Banjaluka, after all the difficulties Orthodox Christians experienced here in the XIX and early XX century, the Cathedral Church offered a kind of security. Although, as we know from history, it didn’t last long – emphasizes Malešević.


Only two years after the consecration, World War II, which has already begun in Europe a while ago, arrived to Banjaluka. The first bombs fell on Banjaluka on April 7, 1941, and the Independent State of Croatia (NDH) was proclaimed three days later. On April 12, on Lazarus Saturday, an airplane dropped three bombs, one of them hit the Church and damaged it. The German advance units entered Banjaluka the following day. Soon afterwards, Croatians took over the authority in the city. Notorious lawyer Viktor Gutić was appointed commissioner and ordered depriving Serbs of any human rights.
The church was completely destroyed and mass murders followed. In mid-July 1941, all priests of the Serbian Orthodox Church who survived were taken to the Caprag concentration camp near Sisak and banished to Serbia. Upon the Croatian order dated April 23, 1941, ”all Serbs had to leave Croatian soil and return to Serbia”.
Bishop of Banjaluka Platon and his closest associates decided to stay with their people. The Croatians arrested the ill and exhausted bishop in the night between May 4 and 5, 1941 and took him and priest of Gradiška Dušan Subotić by car about ten kilometers from Banjaluka, to the bank of the Vrbanja. After cruel torturing, they were killed and thrown into the river. Their disfigured bodies were found twenty days later, in the Vrbas river, in the village of Kumsale. Bishop Platon was buried at the military cemetery on May 24, 1941. Three decades later, on July 1, 1973, the coffin with the bishop’s relics was transferred to the crypt of the present Holy Trinity Church, built on a different location in the late 1960s.


Dragan Davidović reminds that Serbs felt hope for the renewal of the magnificent temple after the fall of the NDH, but the new, communist authorities didn’t even think of granting permission for construction.
– A monument to the fallen soldiers was raised instead of the temple, clearly stating that an Orthodox church cannot be in that place, between the county building and Cultural Home. Orthodox Christians had to accept the alternative to build their church next to the Bishopric Palace – reminds Davidović.
Such times lasted until the late eighties and democratic changes in B&H and Yugoslavia. The idea of renewing the temple was initiated in 1990 by a group of intellectuals, so Davidović and journalist Nikola Guzijan went to the Bishop of Banjaluka Jefrem. They told him that the time for beginning the renewal of the church had come. The bishop replied that, if the time had come, they should do what they can. Architects, bankers, journalists, artists… who supported the initiative, gathered together. They first formed the Initiative and then the Construction Board at the Diocese of Banjaluka, led by Bishop Jefrem.
– The first big and most important request of Serbs in the democratically newly-elected city parliament was the renewal of the church. The city councilmen, regardless of their religion, nationality or party, supported it – says Davidović.
Davidović and Stojko Grubač, architectural engineer, found the project documentation of the previous Cathedral Church in the then Archive of Bosanska Krajina. The urbanism approval was received on November 28, 1991, followed by the dislocation of the monument to fallen soldiers. Patriarch of Serbia Pavle consecrated the foundations of the temple, named the Cathedral Church of Christ the Savior in October 1993.


– The church was renewed during the war and a dozen years after its end, with generous contributions of the faithful, individuals and state institutions – reminds Davidović.
The construction works lasted long due to the specific manner of building with travertine stone from Mesopotamia, red and yellow. The domes were covered with golden stainless steel brought from Siberia, and the church inventory was purchased from Moscow and Athens. The renewed church is architecturally identical to the previous one.
On May 28, 2009, Banjaluka finally welcomed its great holiday – Ascension Day and the consecration of the Cathedral Church of Christ the Savior. The big ceremony began with a procession, with numerous joyful faithful people in the city streets.
– The church is our spiritual vertical, which ascends us to heavens. It connects us with God and our ancestors, who wished to live to see these moments of glory and joy we feel today in this church. It also connects us with our descendants, who will remember and mention us here with joy – emphasized Bishop Jefrem in his sermon for the occasion.
Davidović states that the significance of the renewal of the church can be seen in the strenuous road to calvary, which lasted more than 150 years.
– It truly represents and enables the universality of Orthodox Serbs in the Diocese of Banjaluka. Its beauty made Banjaluka a big urban center, and, as a House of God, it proved that Serbian Orthodox universality is returning to the hearts of everyone, from the smallest child to the oldest citizen of this city – states Davidović.
Malešević points out that, in the years of atheist communist authorities, the idea about the renewal of the Cathedral Church in that place warmed the hearts of Orthodox Christians in Banjaluka.
– The persistent and strenuous fight for the church is a reflection of unbreakable will and spiritual necessity. Another indicator that resurrection comes after death – says Malešević. – The then Bishop of Banjaluka Jefrem had a special contribution. He invested great efforts in renewing the entire demolished Diocese of Banjaluka, paying special attention to this church.
The Cathedral Church today is, underlines Malešević, is entirely of divine service. It is an important shrine, as well as the center of culture, monument to the Serbian benefactory spirit, stronger than any destructive rages of this world.


– Some of the important sanctities kept in the church, which can be approached by the faithful, include the relics of brother of God St. Jacob, holy apostle Thomas, holy archdeacon and protomartyr Stefan, St. Nicholas of Myra the Wonder-Worker, holy greatmartyrs George and Panteleimon, John Chrysostom and Basil the Great, Nikolaj of Žiča and Prohor of Pčinja. There is also a particle of the Holy Cross and icon of Holy Trinity with a particle of the Oak of Mamre – underlines Malešević.


Temple of Culture
– Spiritual music concerts, lectures, book promotions, exhibitions, are held in the church. Folklore ensembles often perform in the nicely arranged church yard. All generations gather here. Especially attracting is the mosaic decorating the church vaults – says parish priest Malešević.


According to the book ”Cathedral Church of Christ the Savior”, Hinko Hrubi, famous watchmaker from Banjaluka, brought the clock for the original church. The mechanism was made in Germany, the clock face and hands arrived from Czechoslovakia, and it was installed by Guido Zamolo. In the few years before the destruction, people of Banjaluka didn’t need other clocks. (People say that Zamolo, upon the order of Croatian occupational forces, uninstalled the entire mechanism before the mining of the bell tower in 1941.) Four clocks are installed on the present renewed church, and their accuracy is guaranteed by their connection with the time regulation center in Frankfurt.


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