Making it Real: The Narrative (Re)Construction of a Pilgrimage Centre in Bosnia-Herzegovina

Sébastien Després


In the Balkans, language, culture, ethnicity, nationalism, and religion are inextricably interconnected, and religious factionalism plays a central role in the continuing tensions between Croats and Serbs. So intense is this fusion of the secular and the sacred in the former Yugoslavia that little more than a decade ago, it contributed to the construction of ideologies of “ethnic cleansing” which led to a civil war. An arena of competition and struggle between different groups attempting to win control of a crucial cultural resource, Franciscan-influenced Medjugorje is unquestionably the region’s most potent and important symbol of Croatian identity. Presently the most visited Roman Catholic pilgrimage site in the world because of the daily Marian apparitions that have been reported since 1981, the landscape of this small parish is not a neutral geography; it has been recontextualized by the individuals who present the territory and its peoples to outsiders. A key method for claiming possession of territory and for buttressing collective identity, this sharing of “identity-stories” takes on an almost unlimited number of forms: grand narratives, histories, memoirs, songs, the visual arts, language, architecture, and geographies. These cultural texts help to create political subjects and political commitments and are appropriated and more fully narrativized by various groups in order to support specific, diff ering political agendas. This paper is an exploration of the narratives presently told to Canadian pilgrims in the context of this pilgrimage and their intended impact, with a special focus on the narratives surrounding the first days of the apparitions.



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ISSN (Print): 1705-2947
ISSN (Online): 1712-5634