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The Rare Sacral Architecture of Socialist Yugoslavia

Updated: Jan 21, 2021

The country of Yugoslavia was one dominated by three primary religions: Catholicism (practiced primarily in Slovenia and Croatia), Eastern Orthodox Christianity (practiced primarily by Serbia, Montenegro and Macedonia) and Islam (practiced primarily by the region's Bosniaks and ethnic-Albanians). Like other communist countries of the era, Yugoslavia was a de facto secular state. Upon the onset of the creation of the Socialist Federal Republic of Yugoslavia, the communist government initially took a very hard line stance against all religions in the country, similar to the approach that the USSR. This included restrictions against openly practicing religion, confiscation of church property, bans on religious schooling of children, bans on religious books and literature being published, etc etc. As a result, there was virtually no new construction of religious buildings during the early years of Yugoslavia. ", took more than 12 years of intermittent work to complete, which was largely the result of funding issues, as the project ended up costing nearly three times the initial budget.

However, as the relationship between the USSR and Yugoslavia began to deteriorate in the early 1950s, the country’s stance towards religion departed from that of the Soviet-sphere and was relaxed considerably (yet not completely). It was after this point that concessions were made in a minimal number of cases to allow the construction of new religious buildings. Such construction was often in the form of the rebuilding of religious structures that were damaged or destroyed during WWII (which many were), those demolished by the state or those destroyed via natural causes (such as earthquakes). Meanwhile, during the prosperity of the “Golden Era” of Yugoslavia, the government's general attitudes towards religion became increasingly laid back, which resulted in even more ambitious religious construction projects being considered and undertaken. However, as writer Lidija Butković Mićin notes in a 2015 article, when examining and understanding these works of sacral architecture that were completed in Yugoslavia, one must "take into account the impact of objective obstacles, such as the demotivating slowness of obtaining the necessary permits and the narrow sources of funding for such projects, as well as the likely reluctance of architects to take on religious tasks in an unfavorable social environment."

As a result of the strict, yet sometimes flexible, environment that Yugoslavia's communist party officials often exercised over the construction of religious buildings, those few that were created stand as unique examples not only of religious structures built with the distinct Yugoslav architectural aesthetics, but also significant as they are among the rare examples of religious houses of worship being built whatsoever in secular communist nations. In other words, they exist as singular manifestations of overtly religious works being created within the system of an overtly anti-religious establishment. This article will examine several notable examples and manifestations of such houses of worship that were built in Yugoslavia during this time period. While looking over these examples, make note of recurring themes, styles, contributing architects & artists, as well as the religious denominations creating these works.


Parish Church of St. Martin, Škofja Loka, Slovenia

A vintage postcard image of the Parish Church of St. Martin near Škofja Loka, Slovenia. Credit: personal collection

Name: Parish Church of St. Martin

Location: Poljane nad Škofjo Loko, Slovenia, near Škofjo Loko

Author(s): architect Anton Bitenc

Year built: 1965-1967

Description: Nestled in the foothills of the Julian Alps is the small village of Poljane nad Škofjo Loko. The primary historical feature of this town is the Parish Church of St. Martin (Župnijska cerkev sv. Martina). This church, which is of the Catholic denomination, was originally of a Baroque style up until WWII, having been built during the 18th century. However, during WWII, the church and its bell tower suffered extreme damage as the result of conflicts between Slovene Partisan and Axis occupiers. After the war, efforts were put forward to repair the damaged Baroque church (appeals were even made to Tito himself), but the church ruins were found to be too unstable. As a result, in 1954, the damaged church ruins were razed to the ground. An initiative was then immediately started to build a new St. Martin’s church to replace the demolished one. After much deliberating with the communist government, a permit to construct a new church was granted to the village and construction began in 1965. The new church, designed by Slovene architect Anton Bitenc and unveiled in 1967, was a unique synthesis of modernist styling and traditional Slovene architecture. An altarpiece within the church was painted by Slovene artist Stane Kregar (seen in the above photo). In 1997, the 1967 bell tower visible in the above postcard was removed and a new much taller bell tower was built adjacent to the church.


Cathedral Church of Saint Clement of Ohrid, Skopje, N. Macedonia

A vintage postcard exterior view of the Cathedral Church of St. Clement of Ohrid in Skopje, N. Macedonia. Credit: personal collection

Name: Cathedral Church of Saint Clement of Ohrid

Location: Skopje, N. Macedonia

Author(s): architect Slavko Brezovski

Year built: 1972-1990

Description: Near the city center of Skopje, on the west side of the Vardar River, just off of Partisan Unit Boulevard is the Cathedral Church of Saint Clement of Ohrid (Soboren crkva „Sveti Kliment Ohridski“) and is the largest house of worship of the Macedonian Orthodox Church in the country. Designed by notable Macedonian architect Slavko Brezovski (who was also the author of the Yugoslav Embassy in Brasilia), this Macedonian Orthodox cathedral was begun in 1972 but not completed until 1990 as the result of budget delays and technical hurdles. Built in a rotunda style, the church is roughly 36mx36m wide and has the capacity for over 6000 worshipers. Modeled after the unique roof line of the Church of Agios Athanasioss in Greece, this structure of the church is created from a novel postmodernist arrangement of carefully organized sets of domes and arches, giving the church simultaneously a very contemporary yet traditional atmosphere. Within the inner dome of the church is a massive set of frescoes and religious icons painted by Jovan Petrov. Adjacent to the church is a 45m tall bell tower, atop which are three large Austrian made bells, the largest being over 1000kg.


The Cathedral of the Mother Mary, Mostar, BiH

A vintage postcard image of the Cathedral of the Mother Mary in Mostar, BiH. Credit: personal collection

Name: The Cathedral of Mother Mary

Location: Mostar, BiH

Author(s): architects Hildegard Auf–Franić, Ivan Franić & Teodor Kupcevski

Year built: 1975-1980

Description: Located roughly 1km west of the Stari Most bridge at the center Mostar is the Cathedral Church of the Mother Mary (Katedrala Marije Majke Crkve). This religious landmark was started in 1975 after many decades of the local Catholic diocese battling with the Yugoslav government for permission to build a new cathedral for the town. Construction took five years and it was completed in 1980. The resulting cathedral built was an extremely ambitious postmodern architectural work which was innovative and groundbreaking for cathedral construction, even when compared to cathedrals built in present-day. The structure, which was designed by an architect team that composed was composed of Hildegard Auf–Franić, Ivan Franić & Teodor Kupcevski, was meant to be symbolic of a "Tent of God". In the local language, the expression used for being in the presence of God is 'šatorom Božjim' or literally 'Tent of God' in English. While the superstructure of the cathedral is composed of concrete, the sloped ceilings of the interior are adorned with glowing wood panels, giving the interior a warm and inviting atmosphere.

As the era of Yugoslavia's dismantling came in the 1990s, the church was severely damaged during the subsequent Bosnian War, with artillery shells puncturing many significant holes in the cathedral's roof. However, the damage was subsequently repaired and renovated, during which time a massive bell tower was added in the square in front of the church. The Cathedral of Mother Mary stands as one of only four Catholic cathedrals in Bosnia.


Cathedral of Saint Bonaventure, Banja Luka, BiH

An exterior view of the Cathedral of Saint Bonaventure in Banja Luka, BiH. Credit: Bojan Savkovic

Name: The Cathedral of Saint Bonaventure

Location: Banja Luka, BiH

Author(s): architects Ljubo Matasović & Danilo Furst

Year built: 1973

Description: Situated just northeast of the city center of Banja Luka is the Roman Catholic Cathedral of Saint Bonaventure (Katedrala Svetog Bonaventure), standing as one of only four Roman Catholic cathedrals in Bosnia. This hyper-modernist cathedral, almost futuristic in its ambitious styling, was unveiled in 1973 and designed by Zagreb architect Ljubo Matasović. The original cathedral which existed at this location was a traditionally designed cathedral built in the 1850s, however, it was destroyed as a result of the 1969 Banja Luka earthquake. As a consequence of this dramatic tragedy, the Yugoslav government was quick to grant permission for its reconstruction (as opposed to the lengthy and arduous legal process religious groups often were faced with when attempting to build religious structures).

The unique form of the Saint Bonaventure Cathedral is meant to symbolize a tent, which in this case can be translated two ways. As mentioned earlier, in the local language, the expression used for being in the presence of God is 'šatorom Božjim' or literally 'Tent of God' in English. In addition, after the 1969 earthquake, many residents of Banja Luka were forced to live in tents as a result of their homes being destroyed. On the interior of the church, its stain glass was created by Croatian painter Ivo Dulčić, while mosaics were created by Prijedor artist Rudi Slačal. In 1991, a combination bell/clock tower reaching 42m tall was built next to the church that was designed by Slovene architect Danilo Furst. This concrete tower is also built in a highly modernist architectural style which is characterized by a distinct concrete spiral staircase that snakes up to its five bells.


The Zagreb Mosque, Zagreb, Croatia

Two vintage postcards showing the interior & exterior of the Zagreb Mosque & Islamic Center in Zagreb, Croatia. Credit: personal collection

Name: The Zagreb Mosque & Islamic Center

Location: Zagreb, Croatia

Author(s): architects Džemal Čelić & Mirza Gološ

Year built: 1981-1987

Description: Positioned on the southeast edge of the city of Zagreb is the massive Zagreb Mosque & Islamic Center (Zagrebačka džamija i Islamski centar). After the last mosque in Zagreb was de-consecrated in 1948, the city's Muslim community went for many decades without any significant house of worship, which resulted in many within this community making petitions to the government of Zagreb to allow one to be built. After more than 20 years, a resolution was found and permission was granted to create a large scale mosque complex for Zagreb. Construction on this project, done by the Zagreb firm "Tehnika", began in 1981 and lasted six years, being unveiled to the pubic in 1987. The central dome of the mosque departs wildly from traditional mosque architecture, with it instead crafted in a highly modernist style characterized by three seashell-like roof sections folding together in a very elegant and shapely manner. Next to the dome is a towering minaret spire reaching 51m tall. The work was designed by Sarajevo architect Džemal Čelić, with assistance by Mirza Gološ. Artwork within the mosque was executed by famous Bosnian calligrapher Ešref Kovačević. In addition to the mosque, within this complex are also an Islamic school, a cultural center, libraries, and residential facilities.


Church of the Holy Heart of Jesus, Podgorica, Montenegro

A vintage photo showing the exterior of the Church of the Holy Heart of Jesus in Podgorica, Montenegro. Credit: Viktor Ganc
A photo showing the interior of the Church of the Holy Heart of Jesus in Podgorica, Montenegro. Credit: Jeroni Rodriguez

Name: The Church of the Holy Heart of Jesus

Location: Podgorica, Montenegro

Author(s): architects Zvonimir Vrkljan & Boris Krstulović

Year built: 1967-1969

Description: Nestled within the Podgorica neighborhood of Konik is the imposing edifice of the Church of the Holy Heart of Jesus (Crkva Presvetog Srca Isusovog), which is of the Catholic denomination. The original Catholic church of Podgorica was built in 1901 and located closer to the city center, however, this structure was severely damaged in the Allied bombings of the city during WWII. Local authorities in Podgorica (which was named "Titograd" during the Yugoslav-era), prohibited the Catholic parish from rebuilding their destroyed church in the city center,as the site was slated to have a new Yugoslav Army House built on it. However, after years of negotiations, the parish was granted permission to construct a new church on the eastern outskirts of the city. Construction work began on the creation of this new church in 1967 under the design leadership of Zagreb architects Zvonimir Vrkljan & Boris Krstulović. The final work was unveiled during the summer of 1969 after two years of construction.

The Church of the Holy Heart of Jesus is not only unique as far as a work of sacral architecture, it even pushes the envelop of the modernist creations which had been built up until that time in Titograd (of which there were many notable examples for it to compete with). The final product which Vrkljan & Krstulović created was a church space primarily formed of two intersecting sharp triangular bodies crafted from pure bare unadorned concrete, both inside and out. Often described as embodying the dynamic characters "brutalist" architecture, featureless and angular board-formed concrete walls soar to tremendous heights at the church's nave, giving the impression that the ceilings are symbolically opening up to the heavens (emphasized by an unseen skylight). In analyzing his church creation, Krstulović speaks about religion being a very private personal matter, so, as such, explains that he wanted to create a space that was disconnected from its surroundings as a means of enabling the parishioner's spirit to be able to "escape" the church and reach a plane of purer religious transcendence. Next to the church is a 25m tall concrete bell tower which is topped at its apex with a cut-out cross shape formed in negative space. For more info, see this paper by Dragutin Popović.


Šerefudin's White Mosque, Visoko, BiH

Name: Šerefudin's White Mosque

Location: Visoko, BiH

Author(s): architect Zlatko Ugljen [profile page] & craftsman Ismet Imamović

Year built: 1980

Description: Located in the town center of Visoko, BiH, just a few dozen meters west of the Fojnička River, is the Šerefudin's White Mosque (Šerefudinova Bijela džamija). The original Šerefudin Mosque that existed on this site was a centuries old structure that, by the 1960s, had developed such serious structural issues that it was required to be demolished. After the old mosque was demolished, immediate work began in 1967 on initiating efforts to create a new one. As this was a replacement of an old structure, the Yugoslav authorites presented little resistance to the project, especially as this was an era where the federal government was looking to give greater support to the country's Muslim minority groups. The commission for creating this new mosque was awarded to Sarajevo architect Zlatko Ugljen [profile page], who envisioned a defiantly bold non-traditional modernist design for the new mosque. Work began on building the new Šerefudin Mosque in 1968. However, the mosque's construction, undertaken by the local Visoko contractor "Zvijezda", took more than 12 years of intermitent work to complete, which was largely the result of funding issues, as the project ended up costing nearly three times the initial budget. Sources also relate that another factor which slowed the project's construction was some resistance in the local community to the mosque's modernist stylings, a significant factor as roughly 95% of the project's funding came from the local community. Šerefudin's White Mosque was finally unveiled to the public in September of 1980.

Constructed primarily of unadorned and smooth reinforced white concrete, the structure of the mosque is defined by its dramatically sloping roof line of connected triangles which create a tapering inner volume that climaxes at its top with a glowing skylight, almost as if the space symbolically connecting itself to the spiritual world. The interior is also unadorned, dominated by flat white walls which are only punctuated by circles of calligraphy. The mosque's minaret is composed of a white cylindrical tower decorated with a network of green metal tubes. Originally all of the roofs were also white concrete, but metal roofing tiles were added later when leaking became a problem. Multiple organizations around the world commended Šerefudin's White Mosque for its brave and innovative solutions of melding together traditional Islamic architecture with modernist design approaches, with some dubbing it among the most creatively designed sacral buildings in Europe. In 1983 it was granted the Aga Khan Award for excellence in Islamic architecture. In 2019 the mosque was highlighted at an exhibition on Yugoslav architecture at the Museum of Modern Art in New York City.


Zym Has Catholic Church, Zym, Kosovo*

A vintage postcard view of the exterior of the Catholic Church at Zym, Kosovo*. Credit: personal collection

Name: Zym Has Catholic Church

Location: Zym, Kosovo*

Author(s): [unknown]

Year built: [unknown]

Description: Situated in the small mountain village of Zym, Kosovo* is the Zym Has Catholic Church (Kisha Katolike Zymi i Hasit), which is a place of worship primarily attended by ethnic-Albanian Catholics of the Has region. While I have not yet determined the exact date of creation of this church, its style would appear to be characteristic of the 1970s, with it almost appearing to be in the architectural style of famous Slovene architect Anton Bitenc. However, I have not yet been able to confirm any information about this church's creation or its author. This church is unique not only because very few churches exist in Kosovo* crafted in the modernist architectural style, but it is also notable as there are very few Catholic churches in the region all together. The exterior of the church is characterized by a cube shaped white plastered facade body sitting on a native stone foundation, with each of the four sides topped with triangular gables. A roofline extends upwards from the top point of each gable to create a dynamic pyramidal roof of eight flat triangular sections. The detached bell tower contains a small roof on its top of the same design. The interior is dominated by the presence of four huge diamond shaped stained glass windows that punctuate the geometry granted to the space by its angular roof. The flat white walls of the interior are additionally brightened by a number of religious sculptures and sculptural relief panels. A circular metal rod chandelier gives the church's nave a final touch of geometric modernism.


Parish Church of Sts. Peter & Paul, Kulina, BiH

Name: Parish Church of Saints Peter & Paul

Location: Kulina, BiH

Author(s): architects Ivo Linardić & Boris Skračić

Year built: 1967-1974

Description: Located in the small Bosanska Posavina village of Kulina, BiH is the Parish Church of Saints Peter & Paul (Župna crkva sv. Petra i Pavla), which is of the Catholic denomination. When the Catholics of the region of Kulina created their own parish split from the Žeravac parish in 1967, they set forth towards the goal of creating their own new parish church. After securing authorization to construct the church by local authorities, the Kulina parish confered on the design of the project with Zagreb architect team Ivo Linardić & Boris Skračić. Work on the project began in 1967, however, it was not fully completely until seven years later in 1974, with such a prolonged construction time possibly the result of funding issues. The completed church is of an enlongated oval shape with white plastered walls, atop which is a curved upwardly sloping red tile gable roof. At the front of the church is a 32m tall white tapering bell tower exhibiting several curved protrusions at its summit. The shape gives the unquestionabe appearance of a boat perched upon the hillside sailing off into the distance. While some sources say this boat shape is a symbolic reference to Noah's Ark, it may also be related to the fact that the village of Kulina sits within the region of the Bosnian town of Brod, which directly translates to "boat" in English. Meanwhile, the interior is restrained and simple in its adornment, its smooth plaster walls decorated only with modest religious wood panel carvings.

The parish church was completely destroyed during the Bosnian War of the 1990s as the Bosnian Serb forces pushed through the region fighting against the ethnic-Croatian population. As many were displaced, all that was left of the church was a heap of ruins. After sitting demolished for many years, the church was finally restored and built back exactly the same in 2005.


Memorial Church of Sts. Cyril & Methodius Church at Jajinci, Belgrade, Serbia

An exterior photo of the Memorial Church of Sts. Cyril & Methodius in Belgrade. Credit: personal photo

Name: Memorial Church of Sts. Cyril & Methodius

Location: the Jajinci neighborhood of Belgrade, Serbia

Author(s): architects Boris Podreka and Branislav Mitrović

Year built: 2002-ongoing

Description: Along the north entrance road to the Jajinci Memorial Park [profile page] in Belgrade, Serbia there is a Serbian Orthodox church known as the Memorial Church of St. Cyril & Methodius (Memorijalni hram Svetih Kirila i Metodija). The Jajinci Park is a solemn location where upwards of 80,000 innocent civilians were executed during WWII. While a memorial park was built here during the Yugoslav era to honor these victims, no places for religious worship were ever constructed. However, in the late 1990s, efforts were initiated towards the creation of a church on the periphery of the memorial park. Belgrade architects Boris Podreka and Branislav Mitrović were commissioned by local Serbian Orthodox leaders to design this new church. The two architects took a more abstract approach to its creation, reasoning that because the execution victims here were of a range of different religions, that this new church should thus be of a more expressive design than the traditional Serbian church. Construction on the project began in 2002, yet, services began being held in the church in 2008 even though it was only partly completed. The church's form is characterized by flat raw concrete walls which form a nave that is sheltered by a long basilica-like concrete arching roof. Meanwhile, the interior walls of the nave are composed of simple unadorned white plaster.

As of 2020, the church is still only partially finished, with sources relating that many thousands of euros worth of work still needed to be completed. Sources also contend that part of the issue in finding funds to complete the project is the result of some private donors and investors taking issue with the church's non-traditional modernist stylings. However, the church slowly continues to construction and lumbers towards an eventual completion. Also, it is important to note that while this church was initiated a few years after the end of the Yugoslav-era, I include it on this list as it is often cited as being the first Orthodox church created in Serbia in the modernist style of architecture.


Parish Church of Christ's Incarnation, Ljubljana, Slovenia

Name: Parish Church of Christ's Incarnation

Location: the Dravlje neighborhood in Ljubljana, Slovenia

Author(s): architect Marko Mušič [profile page]

Year built: 1983-1985

Description: Set within the quiet suburbs of Dravlje, northwest of Ljubljana's city center, positioned directly next to the Church of St. Roch is the Parish Church of Christ's Incarnation (Župnijska cerkev Kristusovega učlovečenja), which is of the Catholic denomination. The impetus for the creation of this church came about at the congregation of the Church of St. Roch began to grow through the 1960s and 70s. As such, in 1975, the church leaders of St. Roch began organizing the creation of a new church to be built right next to the old church. A design was selected by the Ljubljana Urban Institute that was proposed by famed Slovene architect Marko Mušič which was of a much more modernist approach in a stark contrast to the Baroque styled St. Roch Church. After seven years of negotiations with government authorities, a building permit was issued in 1982 and work on the project began the following spring of 1983. Construction efforts, undertaken by Ljubljana firm SGP Grosuplje, took two years and the project was finally unveiled to the public in September of 1985.

Mušič's Church of Christ's Incarnation is a fascinating architectural work which is composed of a large open hall partially dug into the earth which is covered by a grass roof. The north and east sides of the hall are open up to the light with a series of huge wrap-around dark-tinted glass curtain walls. The building reaches its apex of height at its northeast corner, at which point the glass walls curves around into an arching half-circle and soars into the sky, giving the parishioners inside the church a fantastically framed view of the old Church of St. Roch. This well-crafted action symbolically connects the old and the new church together its one symbiotic unit that respects tradition and cultivates visual harmony. Meanwhile, a system of clustered ceiling light fixtures, dramatically curved hand-made wooden pews, as well as wood wall panels cladding the interior's facade all come together bring a serene warmth to the space which one might not otherwise expect looking at the austere and mysteriously shaped exterior. Stained glass work within the church is the work of Jesuit artist Marko Rupnik while the "Stations of the Cross" paintings were made by academic artist Janez Bernik. The "Mother Mary" altar piece painting was made by Stane Kregar. The church has continued to exist in excellent condition and remains popular within its community.


Church of St. Lucy, Dražgoše, Slovenia

A recent photo of the exterior of the Church of St. Lucy in Dražgoše, Slovenia. Credit: personal photo
A recent photo of the interior altarpiece of the Church of St. Lucy in Dražgoše, Slovenia. Credit: personal photo

Name: Church of St. Lucy

Location: Dražgoše, Slovenia

Author(s): architect Anton Bitenc

Year built: 1964-1968

Description: Perched on the steep hillsides of the high mountain village of Dražgoše, Slovenia is the Church of St. Lucy (Cerkev sv. Lucije), in an area of the settlement called Pri Cerkvi. The church is of the Catholic denomination. The original St. Lucy's Church which was established at this site was a baroque-style structure built in 1642 which contained a fantastically ornate set of carved golden altar pieces. This and other fantastic artwork at the church led to it operating as a significant religious pilgrimage site up until WWII. Then, as German soldiers occupied the region in 1941 and entered into conflicts with the Slovene Partisans, the church, as well as much of the rest of the village, was subsequently destroyed by the German soldiers as retaliation for the villagers cooperating with the Partisans. Many of the villagers who were killed during the German's retaliatory violence were buried in a mass grave next to the ruins of the church.

After the war, the golden altar pieces were recovered from the church's ruins and are now on display at Loka Museum in Škofja Loka, Slovenia. Interest in rebuilding St. Lucy Church began as early as 1945. However, there was considerable bureaucratic opposition to the reconstruction by local and regional party officials, as it was felt rebuilding a church in a place of such importance to the Partisan war heritage was inappropriate. Yet, in the 1964 the Dražgoše villagers won the right to rebuild their church. This new church, completed in 1968 and located a few meters downhill of the original 1642 church, was reportedly the first church authorized to be built in Slovenia since after WWII. It was designed in a modernist style in concrete and plaster by famous Slovene architect Anton Bitenc. At the altar of the church is a massive modernist religious mural painted by renowned Slovene artist Stane Kregar who was also a priest. Kregar also designed the church's stained glass. In 1976, the remains of the villagers buried here in 1941 were exhumed and re-interred in a new memorial within the footprint of the original 1642 church. As such, this church site operates both as a religious space as well as a monument to the WWII civilian victims of Dražgoše.


The Sacred Heart of Jesus Cathedral, Skopje, N. Macedonia

Name: The Sacred Heart of Jesus Cathedral

Location: Skopje, N. Macedonia

Author(s): architects Blagoja Micevski & Slavko Đurić

Year built: 1975-1982

Description: Positioned just west of the city center of Skopje, North Macedonia is the "Holy Heart of Jesus" Catholic Cathedral („Sveto Srce Isusovo“ – Katolička katedrala). The city's original Catholic cathedral, which dates from 1902, was destroyed in the 1963 Skopje earthquake and stood not at this location, but at a spot right within the Skopje city center (currently where the Mother Teresa Memorial House is situated). As this was the only Catholic house of worship in Skopje, the church's leadership immediately began petitioning for a permit to rebuild their church. However, it took the church more than a decade of deliberating with local authorities and officials before they were allowed to reconstruct their cathedral. Though, it would seem they were not given permission to rebuild on their original central location, but, instead, the authorities issued permission for the church to be built at a new location just outside the city center. As such, it was at this new location that work on the new church finally began in 1975 under the direction of the architect team Blagoja Micevski & Slavko Đurić. After seven years of construction the work was completed in 1982 and unveiled to the public.

As was true with much of the post-earthquake reconstruction architecture that was created in Skopje, a large amount of it was of a hyper-modernist design that redefined the shape and image of the city. The new "Holy Heart of Jesus" Catholic Cathedral was no different. Laid out in a wide cross footprint, the church's form is dominated by its dynamic copper roof which is also laid out along a cross-shaped ridge from which point the roof cascades down in a steep parabola to the eaves, giving the impression of a tent. Sources assert that this tent shape is symbolic of "the Old Testament image of a tent where Yahweh lives". Some suggest that Micevski & Đurić modeled their cathedral off of famous 1964 Cathedral of St. Mary in Tokyo by famous Japanese architect Kenzo Tange, which would make sense as Tange had a huge influence on Skopje architecture after he was chosen to help coordinate the Skopje rebuild project after the city's 1963 earthquake.


Church of Saints Cyril and Methodius, Nikšić, Montenegro

Name: Church of Saints Cyril and Methodius

Location: Nikšić, Montenegro

Author(s): architect Slobodan Vukajlović

Year built: 1976-1986

Description: Just north of the city center of Nikšić, Montenegro in the area of Rastoke can be found the city's Catholic church, which is named Church of Saints Cyril and Methodius (Crkva Sv. Ćirila i Metodija). The original Catholic church of Nikšić, built in 1933, was much closer to the city center, however, when local authorities were expanding the size of the boulevards of Nikšić in 1971, the church was in the way of this project and was subsequently demolished. As compensation, the church was granted new land by the authorities to build a new church at its present location in Rastoke. Construction work began on the new church in 1975 under the direction of local Nikšić architect Slobodan Vukajlović, however, because of an inconsistent funding stream, work on the project was slow and intermitent. The church was not completed in full until ten years later, when it was unveiled to the public in 1985. Also built next to the church is a small annex for the modest nunnery of the Franciscan Order.

The Church of Saints Cyril and Methodius which Vukajlović created is of an extremely unique and innovative design. Its sweeping and dramatic form is characterized by what is often described in sources as a "stretched pyramids", as if these two towering concrete triangular shapes were standing high then forcefully pulled apart in opposite directions by an unseen hand. The sweeping and graceful upwardly curving form of these concrete roofs also again resonate with the "Tent of God" imagery. As mentioned earlier, in the local language, the expression used for being in the presence of God is 'šatorom Božjim' or literally 'Tent of God' in English. The 'triangle' theme of this church is repeated within numerous elements of the complex. The interior of the church is clad in thin sections of wood panels (possibly to offset the harshness of the raw concrete), while the nave's atmosphere is further softened by elegant stained glass windows by local artist Vesko Perunović. In present times, the church is facing a dwindling congregation and, as such, certain parts of the church, such as the concrete roof, are slowly deteriorating, which can be seen in the above photos.


Parish Church of Saints Peter & Paul, Kočerin, BiH

Name: Parish Church of Saints Peter & Paul

Location: Kočerin, BiH

Author(s): engineer Pija Nuić

Year built: 1976-1985

Description: Nestled in the small mountain village of Kočerin, BiH, not far from the town of Široki Brijeg, is the unique and vibrant Parish Church of Saints Peter & Paul (Župna Crkva sv. Petra i Pavla), which is of the Catholic denomination. The original church that existed at this site was built in 1927, however, it being unable to accomodate the growing congregation, this church was demolished in 1967 and efforts were put forward towards coordinating the construction of a new chuch facility. The concept for this new church was designed by Franciscan friar and engineer Pija Nuić, who employed a much more contemporary and modern approach for the creation of this sacral building. While the structure of the church was largely completed by 1980 (when it was consecrated), work continued for another five years on finishing a number of the artisitic and decorative details of the complex.

The front facade of this new Parish Church of Saints Peter & Paul is dominated by a massive tile mosaic of St. Francis, created by Zagreb artist Ante Starčević, which is purported to be the largest artistic depiction of St. Francis in the world. The figure reaches high in the air, stretching its arms up over 25m high all the way to the top of the bell tower. Such a dynamic and large figurative mosaic adorning a church in this way was a novel design innovation and completely unique to any other house of worship built in Yugoslavia (possibly even all of Europe). Meanwhile, the interior of the church contains a nave which is chracterized by a series of hulking raw concrete butresses holding up the roof. This very "brutalist" architectural feature creates a tunnel view which frames and leads the eye to the imposing stone mosaic installed on the far wall above the altar, also created by Starčević, which depicts the namesakes of the church: Saints Peter & Paul. Many sources describe this church as among the most beautiful Catholic churches in Bosnia, a favorite of locals, visitors and pilgrims.


Church of the Exaltation of the Holy Cross, New Zagreb, Croatia

A vintage postcard of the interior of the Church of the Exaltation of the Holy Cross in New Zagreb, Croatia. Credit: personal collection
An interior view of the Church of the Exaltation of the Holy Cross in New Zagreb, Croatia.

Name: Church of the Exaltation of the Holy Cross

Location: New Zagreb, Croatia

Author(s): architects Emil Seršić & Matija Salaj

Year built: 1970-1982

Description: Built within the Signet neighborhood of New Zagreb, Croatia, among the many tower residential highrises, is the Church of the Holy Cross (Crkva Uzvišenja Svetog Križa), which is of the Catholic denomination. As the newly created residential suburb of New Zagreb began to be created in the early 1960s and quickly began to grow, the Catholic leadership in Zagreb (most notably the Franciscan) quickly recognized that this new urban landscape had no houses of worship. As such, the Franciscans made a deal with Zagreb authorities in 1964 where they would offer up some of their property along 'Savska cesta' to be nationalized (where the famous "Zagrepčanka" skyscraper is today) in exchange for property to build a new church in New Zagreb. The deal was finalized in 1966, however, when the Franciscans applied for permits to construct their new church, the city stalled and delayed on the matter for four years before finally issuing the permit in 1970. Groundbreaking for project began soon thereafter, with the responsibility for this new church's design handed to the Zagreb architect team of Emil Seršić & Matija Salaj, while construction was undertaken by Zagreb firm "Industrogradnja". Work on the project was slow and met unexpected engineering challenges, with the entire roof needing to be replaced halfway through and redesigned by architect Josip Horvat. After 12 years of work, it was finally unveiled to the public in August of 1982.

The Church of the Holy Cross is a masterpiece of art and architecture. Seršić & Salaj reached new heights of integrating traditional sacral architecture and modernism into one fully developed work, which is often credited as being among the most significant churches built in Croatia during the Yugoslav-era. The building is typified by its domineering facade of 74 widely-spaced white concrete pillars that undulate around the church's periphery. Completing the space is an equally undulating roof made 142 large faceted black steel roof tiles. While the inner space of the church's nave is sparsely adorned, what does stand out is the amazing series of vibrantly colored stained glass windows fitted in the slits between the concrete pillars, which was created by Zagreb artist Josip Botteri Dini. Adjacent to the church is a 33m tall concrete bell tower that is formed to create a cross shape in its negative space. More info about this church's architecture can be found at THIS link.


Sts. Peter & Paul Franciscan Monastery, Tuzla, BiH

Name: Sts. Peter & Paul Franciscan Monastery

Location: Tuzla, BiH

Author(s): architect Zlatko Ugljen [profile page]

Year built: 1983-1985

Description: Poised right on the edge of the Jala River in the city center of Tuzla, BiH is the Sts. Peter & Paul Franciscan Monastery (Franjevački samostan svetog Petra i Pavla). Before this current incarnation, the previous Catholic church of Tuzla, built in 1893, was located next to the "Meša Selimović" Gymnasium. However, as a result of excessive salt mining across the Tuzla region during the 1950s and 60s, an espisode of extreme soil subsidence occured across the city, resulting in the structural weakening and collapse of many buildings as the land shifted. As a consequence, the Catholic church of Tuzla was seriously damaged and became unusable. Through the 1970s the Catholic leadership of Tuzla petitioned the local authorities and party officials for permission to rebuild the church at a new location, but it was not until 1983 that a permit was finally granted. The commission to design this new complex was granted to Sarajevo architect Zlatko Ugljen [profile page], who had recently distinguished himself in creating innovating sacral architecture after completing the White Mosque in Visoko, BiH just three years earlier. Construction work, undertaken by Tuzla firm "Tehnograd", began in 1983 and was completed rather quickly just two years later in 1985.

As the name indicates, the Sts. Peter & Paul Franciscan Monastery contains a church as well as monastery facilities. The exterior of the compound is characterized by a smooth white concrete facade that spans across an array of triangles and sweeping curves (features of many of Ugljen's buildings). However, the most distinct feature of the monastery is its bell tower, whose sharply rectangular shape shows a deep stylized angular fracture halfway up, at which point the entire tower is shifted over about a meter or so, giving it a precarious appearance. This element could symbolize the tragic collapse of the old church. In addition, the tower in punctuated with a series of various sized crosses, descending down the tower almost like snowflakes. Meanwhile, the interior of the tower is as equally unadorned as the exterior, also having very chaste smooth white walls. In the chapel, the rooms sparse features are dominated by its massive 5m tall altarpiece painting dedicated to St. Peter the Apostle, created by Croatian painter Vasilije Jordan. Meanwhile, a skylight opens up above the altar, symbolizing the light of heaven shining down onto the congregation. The monastery remains in excellent condition and continues to be an important part of the Tuzla architectural landscape.


Church of the Assumption of Mary, Podgora, Croatia

Name: Church of the Assumption of Mary

Location: Podgora, Croatia

Author(s): architect Ante Rožić

Year built: 1964

Description: Located on the edge of a rocky outcrop overlooking the Adriatic Sea in the small seafront Biokovo village of Podgora, Croatia is the small but unique Church of the Assumption of Mary (Crkva Uznesenja Marijina), which is of the Catholic denomination. The initiative to create this church began in 1962, after a series of earthquakes along the Biokovo region that year destroyed many hundreds of structures, including the church here in Podgora. The parish church leaders quickly hired the young aspiring local architect Ante Rožić to design their new church. Construction began in 1963, however, Rožić quickly realized that local builders were not able to successfully execute the unusual and technically challenging plans he had laid out. As such, engineers and builders from the nearby shipyards in Split were brought in to complete the work. The church was completed the following year in 1964. After creating this church, Rožić went on to create several other churches in the Biokovo region, such as the Church of St. George at Drašnice and the Church of St. Nikola Tavelić in Tučepi.

Rožić's Church of the Assumption of Mary is a masterful work of architectural innovation and imagination, as it pioneers new ideas of what a church space could and should look like. The church is cast from a single continuous slab of billowy unadorned concrete which curls around like a canopy then reaching up dramatically to a sharp point. The symbolism of this shape can be explained by, as mentioned earlier, the fact that in Croatian, the expression used for being in the presence of God is 'šatorom Božjim' or literally 'Tent of God' in English. The interior is equally sparse, with the board forms still visible on the concrete wall. The only decoration is a series of small Stations of the Cross paintings. At the nave's altar is a beam of orange stain glass descending from the upper pinnacle of the church that symbolically appears like divine light shining down from above. In recent years, the church's structure has declined, which has allowed water and seepage to harm the concrete canopy. Some have advocated that it is too expensive to repair and should be torn down and replaced, however, others disagree and feel that the church is an important historical landmark and architectural icon for the region.


Parish Church of Cyril & Methodius, Ljubljana, Slovenia

Name: Parish Church of Cyril & Methodius

Location: Ljubljana, Slovenia

Author(s): Jože Plečnik, Anton Bitenc & Ivo Spinčič

Year built: church from 1955-1958 and bell tower from 1964-1966

Description: Hidden among the highrise blocks of the Bežigrad suburbs, just north of the Ljubljana city center, is the Parish Church of Sts. Cyril & Methodius (Župnijska cerkev sv. Cirila in Metoda), which is of the Catholic denomination. The previous church which bore this name was located just north of the train station near Dunajska cesta and designed by famous architect Jože Plečnik in 1934 and stood as a unique example of early 20th century modernist architecture. However, the church was demolished by city authorites just twenty years later in 1954 to make way for the construction of the new Exhibition & Convetion Center (Gospodarsko razstavišče), which was slated to host the 7th Congress of the Leagues of Communists of Yugoslavia in 1958. Though, a deal with made between Ljubljana's government authorities and the city's Catholic leadership that the church would be given land nearby to build a new church in exchange for the demolition of Sts. Cyril & Methodius Church (as well as its neighbor the Baroque-era Saint Christopher's Church from 1668) for the construction of the convention center. For this new church, it was decided that a similar layout which architect Jože Plečnik employed for the old Sts. Cyril & Methodius Church would be used for the new church. This was completed in 1958. As an addendum to Plečnik's church, the project was expanded in 1966 with the creation of a substantial bell tower entrance created by Plečnik's student disciple architect Anton Bitenc (along with Ivo Spinčič).

The whole complex of the Parish Church of Cyril & Methodius is a unique synthesis between early modernism and mid-century modernism, with Bitenc & Spinčič elegantly merging their ideas together with Plečnik's earlier work. Plečnik's more austere work is interestingly complemented and enhanced with the addition of the stout fortress-like bell tower entryway which is characterized by its yellow faceted stone block facade and its distinct oversized copper roof. Within the entryway at the bell tower's base is a series of impressive religious wall murals done by Slovene artist Stane Kregar. Many of the interior adornments, sculptures and relics from the two churches demolished in 1954 were moved to this new church after its completion. A documentary about the unique story of this church was made in 2018 called "Naš Bežigrad".


The Church of St. Nikola Tavelić, Rijeka, Croatia

Name: The Church of St. Nikola Tavelić

Location: Rijeka, Croatia

Author(s): architect Boris Magaš

Year built: 1986-1988

Description: Perched on a hillside overlooking the vast sloping city of Rijeka is the ambitiously designed Church of St. Nikola Tavelić (crkve Sv. Nikole Tavelića), which is of the Catholic denomination. The city of Rijeka had a particular hardline stance against the construction of religious buildings during the Yugoslav-era, which explains why until initiatives began towards the creation of the Church of St. Nikola Tavelić during the early 1980s, no religious structure had been built in the city since WWII. When local authorities finally granted permissions to the Catholic leadership of Rijeka in 1985, many proposals were evalated for which to base the design of this new church. The concept that stood out above the rest was a proposal put forward by famous Zagreb architect Boris Magaš, who had created some of the most notable modernist architectural works in Yugoslavia, such as the Poljud stadium in Split and the Haludovo Palace Hotel on the Island of Krk. Work on the new church began in 1986 and quickly finished two years later in May of 1988.

Exemplifying his ambitious style, Magaš's Church of St. Nikola Tavelić rises into the sky with dramatic effect, standing as a series of stacked pyramids that almost evokes the dynamic form of a fluttering wing or even an elegantly blooming Bird of Paradise flower. Clad in polished white stone panels, the hyper-modern facade of this church is defiantly original, departing from traditonal religious architecture, yet at the same time reads clearly as a sacral edifice in the way it allows natural "divine" geometry to establish its connection with the heavens. The interior of the church, with smooth white fractal-like ceilings, even moreso conveys the austere atmosphere of natural geometric serenity, most notably as two thin triangle skylights permitting clear white light to penetrate and illuminate the nave are the sole means of the space's exhaltation. The only additional adornments within the church are a series of simple wood carved relief panels by Russian-Croatian artist Aleksandar Antoljević Zvjagin.


And a Few Additional Examples...

An array of just a few of the many more modernist religious buildings created during the Yugoslav-era.

If anyone else additional works of sacral architecture created during the Yugoslav-era, please feel free to send me information about them and images of them. I plan to update this article with more content as I discover more info about this topic!


*NOTE: All mentions of the designation "Kosovo" on this page are made without prejudice to the position on status, and is in line with the United Nations Security Council Resolution 1244 and the International Court of Justice's Opinion of the Kosovo Declaration of Independence.

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