Located in the heart of Baščaršija on Mula Mustafe Bašeskije St., it is part of the Serbian Orthodox Church and stands as an important witness to the many centuries of multiculturalism in the capital city of BiH.
It was first mentioned in 1539, when the foundation, supporting columns and parts of the walls of an early Christian church (late 5th c. and early 6th c.) were all renovated. Sixty documents from the period of Turkish rule also attest to the presence of a church on this spot.
Outstretched oxen skin
A legend says that nearly ten years after Bey’s Mosque was completed in 1530, Ottoman Governor Gazi Husrev Bey permitted the Orthodox Christians of Sarajevo to renovate the church. He stipulated that the building had to be simple and no larger than an outstretched oxen skin.
Upon hearing this, one wise old man cut the skin to form a very thin strand and used it to mark out the site, thereby allowing the church to take up a much larger area while still meeting the conditions.
Throughout history, many conquerors and fires razed this building to the ground, so the church was burned many times but always renovated, and the last time was in 1726.
The church is in the characteristic medieval Serbian-Byzantine style, and the interior is a treasure trove of exceptionally creative woodcarving and iconography.
Once the National Museum of BiH was opened in Sarajevo in 1888, Jeftan Despić, a church tutor, put forth the idea of having the church open a museum that would house items from its collection. It was eventually opened on May 13, 1890 and consecrated by Metropolitan Bishop Đorđe Nikolajević.
The relics of St. Thecla and the infant
The church houses relics which many believe to be a source of divine energy, such as the holy relics of St. Thecla, a 1st-century martyr, which were donated by Patriarch Arsenije IV Jovanović, as well as the so-called relics of a month-old baby that was thrown from the roof of a house by an evil stepmother, and later sanctified because of its pure state. Many women who cannot bear children come and pray to conceive.
The museum collection contains more than 700 items, including one of the world’s most important collections of icons, around 140 of which date from the 13th to 19th centuries. There is also the famous icon by Nikola Ricos (1490), which was used to identify his other paintings.
The museum also has valuable manuscripts, the most famous being the new canon (Sarajevo Krmčija) from 1307, as well as a collection of old money, weapons, gospels, decrees by the sultan, liturgical works and artwork, paintings, books, icon fragments, ornate prayer gowns, copper items….
The Old Orthodox Church was made a National Monument of BiH in 2006.