The Bogomils were members of a religious sect that at its peak held enormous influence over the Balkan countries between the 10th and 15th centuries. Founded in Bulgaria in the mid-tenth century by a priest named Bogomil, the sect relied heavily on the belief in dualism - that the universe was ruled jointly by the forces of good and evil. Evil, the Bogomils said, was represented by the material world; they thus lived extremely ascetic lives. They vigorously denunciated the worship of the Virgin Mary, the worship and prayers to the saints, and also images, icons, and pictures of the Virgin and the saints. They opposed the use of crucifixes, crosses, bells, incense, ecclesiastical vestments, and everything which contributed to pomp and ceremony in the worship of God.They took neither meat nor wine, and they condemned marriage. This ascetic and abstemious life was as far removed as possible from the seclusion, the fastings, flagellations, exposure to the weather, and hermit or desert life of the stricter orders of monks and nuns in the Greek and the Roman churches.
They had no organized hierarchy. When their numbers became large the elder most highly esteemed in a province or country. appointed or called to the work twelve apostles, or messengers, who went forth two and two to their work, but with equal powers, rights, and privileges with the elder himself; and if he found it necessary, he called forth "other seventy also." These were all from the ranks of the Perfecti, but among the believers, there were often those who, prompted by religious zeal, devoted themselves to Christian work. This simple organization was very probably drawn from the civil organization of the Sclavonic tribes. Among these the patriarch, who was the father and ruler of a numerous household, became, as his influence widened, by the voluntary selection of his equals, the zupan, or elder, of a commune, and one of these zupans, by the choice of his fellow-zupans, became the grand zupan, or elder, of his tribe or province, with the chance of being called to the still higher station of ban (prince), or czar (chief ruler or king). But in the Bogomil eldership there was nothing analogous to the Latin archbishop or pope, or the Greek archimandrite, patriarch, or metropolitan.
|The persecution of the heretic|
The Bogomils spread westwards and settled first in Serbia; but at the end of the 12th century Stefan Nemanja, Great Župan of Serbia, expelled them from the country. Large numbers took refuge in Bosnia, where they were known under the name of Patarenes or Patareni. There, they were also brought into connection with the indigenous Bosnian Church, which was also considered heretical by the Pope and Byzantines, but was not actually Bogomil in nature. From Bosnia, their influence extended into Italy (Piedmont). The Hungarians undertook many crusades against the heretics in Bosnia, but towards the close of the 15th century, the conquest of that country by the Turks put an end to their persecution. It is alleged that a large number of the Bosnian Paterenes, and especially the nobles, embraced Islam. Few or no remnants of Bogomilism have survived in Bosnia.Bogomilism spread over much of the Byzantine Empire during the 11th and 12th centuries. Its popularity in Constantinople resulted in the imprisonment of many prominent Bogomils and the burning of their leader, Basil, in about 1100. The heresy continued to spread, until by the early 13th century there was a network of Bogomils and followers of similar philosophies, including Paulicians and Cathari, that stretched from the Black Sea to the Atlantic Ocean.
In the 13th and 14th centuries, several delegations of Franciscan missionaries were sent to convert heretics in the Balkans, including Bogomils; those they failed to convert were expelled from the region. Still Bogomilism remained strong in Bulgaria until the 15th century, when the Ottomans conquered parts of southeastern Europe and the sects began to dissipate. Remnants of dualistic practices can be found in the folklore of southern Slavs, but little else remains of the once-powerful sect.
Under Turkish rule, the Armenian Paulicians lived in relative safety in their ancient stronghold near Philippopolis, and further northward. Linguistically, they were assimilated into the Bulgarians, by whom they were called pavlikiani. In 1650, the Roman Catholic Church gathered them into its fold. No less than fourteen villages near Nicopolis, in Moesia, embraced Catholicism, as well as the villages around Philippopolis. A colony of Paulicians in the Wallachian village of Cioplea near Bucharest also followed the example of their brethren across the Danube.
In the 18th century, the Paulician people from around Nicopolis were persecuted by the Turks, presumably on religious grounds, and a good part of them fled across the Danube and settled in the Banat region that was part of the Austrian Empire at the time, and became known as Banat Bulgarians. There are still over ten thousand Banat Bulgarians in Banat today in the villages of Dudeştii Vechi, Vinga, Breştea and also in the city of Timişoara, with a few in Arad; however, they no longer practice their religion, having converted to Roman Catholicism. There are also a few villages of Paulicians in the Serbian part of Banat, especially the villages of Ivanovo and Belo Blato, near Pančevo.