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The Glagolitic Tradition PDF Print E-mail
The Glagolitic Tradition
Bascanska plocaThe beginning of Glagolitic liturgy is related to the activities of the brothers Cyril and Methodius, the Byzantine missionaries who created the new Slavic alphabet “Glagolitsa” and translated important liturgical books of the Eastern liturgy into Slavic. The Glagolitic liturgy started spreading probably at the end of the 9th century, when Cyril and Methodius’ pupils had to leave Moravia after Methodius’ death, where they had served with the Pope’s approval. Due to extreme resistance from the German clergy they were persecuted, and moved to Bulgaria, Macedonia, Serbia and Croatia. While the Cyrillic alphabet soon became used in church books in Serbia and Bulgaria, “Glagolitsa” was retained in Croatia.

The term Glagolitism includes activities run by the Glagolitic monks regarding culture, religion and enlightenment among the Croats from the 11th to the 19th century. “Glagolitsa” first appeared in Istria approximately in the 11th or 12th century. During that period Glagolitism strengthened its position in those areas where its presence had only been tolerated earlier. The Glagolitic tradition and its history in Istria can be traced by monuments and inscriptions (the Plomin inscription, Valun board, Krk inscription, Baščanska board, Vinodol Law, Istrian divorce). From the 14th century thicker codices, missals and breviaries began to appear, including biblical contents, prayers, legends, Old and New Testament apocrypha, early Christian legends, homilies and Biblical texts. Beside church books, Glagolitic monks and clergy used the Glagolitic alphabet for legal documents, acts of donation and laws. They were also obliged to speak Latin, which can be seen looking at the texts they translated from Latin into the Old Slavic language.

The first book printed in the Glagolitic alphabet and the Croatian language is the Missal for Duke Novak from 1483, in which the Glagolitic monk Juri Žakan from Roč ‘announces the spreading of the Croatian language’.  From the 14th century onward Roč was an important centre of Glagolitism in Istria.

Roc glagoljska tiskaraAs for the rest of Croatia, there was a Glagolitic printing press in Senj working from 1494 to 1508. During that period seven valuable editions, mostly of liturgical and religious content, including, among others, a missal, a handbook for confessions, a collection of Lenten homilies and Mary’s miracles, were published there. Sometime later, in 1530 and 1531, after the Latin alphabet became more dominant in Croatian literature, another Glagolitic printing press was opened in Rijeka. It was founded by a refugee, Modruš-Krbava bishop Kožičić, famous as a Glagolitic humanist and the author of texts in Latin and Old Slavic. There were six editions published in this printing press, including, apart from liturgical texts, a historical overview of the Roman popes and kings ‘Žitije ot rimskih arhijerov cesarov’. The Croatian Glagolitic printing tradition symbolically ends in 1561, when the so-called ‘Brozić’s breviary’ was printed in Venice, probably because the printing presses in Croatia were closed down. Printing books in the Glagolitic, Cyrillic and Latin alphabets did not stop in that year, but moved to the Slavic Printing Press in Urach, which was working from 1561 to 1565. The lengthiest Protestant book in the Glagolitic alphabet printed in Urach was Consul and Dalmatin’s translation of the complete New Testament into Croatian.

In the 16th century a number of Istrian Glagolitic monks joined the Protestant movement which was increasingly spreading from Germany and Carniola, most probably because of the political and cultural connections between Istria and Carniola and Lower Austria and due to the idea that the Slavic language could be used for church services. Trying to become involved in the printing, proofreading and distribution of Croatian books in Slavic alphabets contributed to the motivation of those Reformers.


[1] Josip Bratulić, "Juri Žakan," in Istarska enciklopedija (Zagreb: Leksikografski zavod Miroslav Krleža, 2005), 360.

[2] See Alojz Jembrih, "Hrvatsko protestantsko tiskarstvo od ideje do ostvarenja," in Ivan Kosić (ed.), Hrvatske protestantske knjige XVI. i XVII. stoljeća u Nacionalnoj i sveučilišnoj knjižnici (Zagreb, 2005), 43.

[3] See Josip Bratulić, Aleja glagoljaša Roč – Hum (Zagreb, Pazin, Roč, 1994), 58 – 59.