The Church of St. Leonard in Bukovo is one of the oldest churches in the Cerkno region. Old records reveal that it already stood here in 1594 and that in 1633 visitator Mihael Bassi ordered the removal of the iron chain on the fence surrounding the church.
The founding document of a chaplaincy in Bukovo, which was signed on 22 January 1747 in Tolmin, was also found. The signers were Andreas Foramiti, a canon and archdeacon, and Franciscus Locatelli, a notary and chancellor, and Lovrenc Rojc was named as the first chaplain. A record of a visitation from 1767 was also found, which says that communicants were given wine in Bukovo to wash their mouths with. Since nothing similar was mentioned at the visitations of other churches, historians believe that this wasn’t common in other churches in the area of Tolmin. In 1842 Janez Mlakar, who was originally from Zakojca, paid for the ecclesiastical unit in Bukovo to be promoted to a parish. He also took on the position of the first parish priest in Bukovo. He died in 1855 and was also buried here, but his grave is not preserved. Also still preserved is the folk tradition, which says that the church on the hill at the end of the village already stood there more than 300 years ago and that the first church was wooden and that it had a silver bell.
The tale of how the silver bell came to the wooden church in Bukovo is also interesting. The old generation still remembers that people who lived at the Brovč farm in the village of Zakojca before the current owners inherited a cask of gold coins. One of the women in the house even said that it would be impossible to eat so many gold coins, even if they ate them with a spoon every day. The heirs to the farm were two brothers. One of them was a monk in Trieste and he bought a silver bell for the church in Bukovo out of his share. The other brother had no luck with his share of the wealth. His farm went bust and in the end it was bought by the ancestors of the current residents on the Brovč farm.
Oral tradition also says that the current church was built with the money that the locals received by selling the silver bell. The original statue of St. Leonard, which once stood in the wooden church, is now in the chapel behind the old parish house. The chapel was renovated and painted with new frescoes in 2002.
The church was always an important part of the village, which can also be seen in the folk tale written in Zgodovina Tolminskega (History of the Tolmin area) by Simon Rutar, which tells of the Turkish invasions in the area. One Saturday towards the evening, the Turkish army was going to the village from the direction of the Baška Grapa valley. When they reached the top of the Bukovsko Sedlo pass, they heard the bell in the Church of Leonard tolling, as the villages warned each other with bells that the Turks are coming. The commander responded to the bell, “Just you toll, but as soon as tonight my mules are going to feast on oats on your altar and my soldiers will drink wine from your goblet!” As they wanted to continue their way to the village, the mules started sinking into the mud and they had to turn back. Even now that place is called “V Žrelu” (In the gullet). It was said that out of gratitude for being saved from the Turks by St. Leonard the villagers used to toll the bell every Friday at three.
In the book Življenje pod Bevkovo Kojco (Eng. Life under Bevk’s Kojca) by Franc Hvala it is written that Austria took two small bells out of the bell tower in Bukovo during WWI, which were returned by Italy in 1928. The new bells had a fascist symbol on the outer side. The bells were taken down during the war and when they were put back, it so happened that the fascist symbol came straight under the hammer when it struck quarter past the hour. The fascists found out about this and accused a local named Cvede of being the culprit behind this and started a trial against him. He had to sell his cow to cover the costs of a lawyer, but the ending was happy, since they could not prove his guilt. The church tower has three bells now and the last and the biggest was brought to Bukovo and blessed in August 1994.
The church in its current shape is very homely and warm. It has a nice main altar with a new statue of St. Leonard and two built-in side altars. St. Leonard, a hermit, is also the patron saint of livestock and a guardian of prisoners, which is why he is depicted in a black monk’s robe and with a broken chain in his hand. There is also something special about the hill behind the village, where the church stands. There is always a breeze here and the hundred-year-old linden trees prove that the place below the church and by the old parish house was always a popular meeting point of the villagers, who live in the villages of Bukovo and Zakojca. It remains so until today, since the previous parish priest Marjan Rozman put several gymnastic props here.