The secrets of Zographou

Scattered heritage

THE SECRETS OF ZOGRAPHOU

The most significant monastery for the history of Macedonian culture and Orthodoxy is the Monastery of Zographou. Historic resources reveal that three monks from the Ohrid region in late 9th or early 10th century founded this monastery in the Monks' Republic. The monastery is especially significant and interesting for the Macedonian handwritten tradition. According to some sources, the three spiritual brothers arrived to Mt. Athos and formed a "monks family" in 898—according to other sources, it happened in 911—which means after the arrival of Clement (and Naum, who followed Clement) in Ohrid in 882. This Mt. Athos monastery was the centre of the Macedonian monkhood in the middle Ages. Many of the greatest Macedonian spiritual and enlightenment workers—such as Partenij Zografski, Ilarion Zografski, Nathanail Kučeviski, Cyril Pejčinović, and Anatoly Zografski—stayed there.

The Monastery of Zographou was demolished and burnt several times, which means that its ecclesiastical and art valuables were destroyed along with it. It still has a wealth of artistic, historic and ecclesiastical items such as: iconostases, old icons, frescoes, crowns of bishops, golden objects, expensive church robes, etc. From all those valuable things, most information is preserved about the old manuscripts, a part of which has been carried away and can now be found throughout Europe. The most prominent manuscripts that were preserved in this Monastery are the Gospel of Zographou and the Papers of Zographou from the 10th century. The monastery's library, even today, stores numerous old manuscripts, among which are manuscripts of Macedonian origin, such as: the Menaion of Dragan from the 13th century, the oldest hagiography of St. Naum Ohridski, manuscripts of Jovan Kratovski and others.

Mt. Athos is considered to be a closed world, but the Monastery of Zographou is literally padlocked. Namely, according to one of the few Macedonian men that recently visited this Monastery (the access to women has always been prohibited), Dr. Simon Drakul—who wrote in the monograph of his own ancestor, Anatolij Zografski from Lazaropole—the keys from the padlocks, which hide away all the tacit places of Mt Athos' treasury of our spiritual heritage relics, are partly in the hands of the Greek territorial autonomy, partly in the special Mt. Athos' Internal Police Control, and partly in the possession of the Bulgarian-state-sanctioned authorities who adopted the monastery, usurping the Macedonian hereditary rights.

This mysteriousness, as well as the apparent presence of old Macedonian manuscripts on Mt. Athos, increases the curiosity about Macedonian cultural treasures even more. And only the small insight we have into it speaks volumes of the written heritage that is there on this sacred peninsula.

In the 19th century, only few curious visitors and researchers of literary treasures were fortunate enough to visit Athon. Among the first visitors was the Croat Antun Mihanović, serving as Austrian consul in Salonica. After him came the Russian scientists Viktor Grigorovič and G. Ilinski.

Grigorovič stayed on Mt. Athos from September 1844 to the 1st of January 1885, mostly in the Monastery of Zographou and at Anatoly Zografski's. Thus, Grigorovič is one of the greatest experts on the treasures of the Mt. Athos monasteries. He wrote that there were 13,000 books and even 2,800 manuscripts, 455 of which were Slavic ones. He stated that most of the Slavic manuscripts were written during the 14th and 15th centuries, and a smaller amount was written in the 13th century, at the same time as the Glagolitic Gospel of Zographou.

Considering that Slavic literacy began on Macedonian territory and due to the fact that Mt. Athos is situated within the borders of the Macedonian ethno-geographical territory (in the past even more so), it is very likely that those manuscripts were created in Macedonia. But unfortunately, just as from every other part of Macedonia, these written monuments were destroyed or transported somewhere else. Historic sources reveal several such cases. One of the biggest outflows from the Mt. Athos libraries took place in the 15th century when many manuscripts and books were taken to the Library in Florentine. In 1517 many manuscripts were taken to Russia; with the help of Arsenij Suhanov, no fewer than 700 manuscripts were taken to Moscow. (When discussing the destruction of the manuscripts, it should be considered that the monasteries were often affected by fires, so that the monastery libraries, along with the handwritten treasures in them, were often damaged; only one of the 20 existing monasteries has never been affected by fire during its existence). These manuscripts, states Dr. Simon Drakul, were either transcribed in the monastery cells or were brought by monks, who came to Mt. Athos in their older age.

But many Macedonian manuscripts, and Slavic manuscripts in general, on Mt. Athos were destroyed in a different manner. Viktor Grigorovič wrote in one of his books that in the past there had been more Slavic manuscripts than the amount he stated, but they had rotted or had been deliberately burnt. He also quotes eyewitnesses' testimonies about burning manuscript piles: "In Zographou, not much before my arrival, a pile of manuscripts had been burnt. From eyewitnesses I learnt that they were burnt without any second thought, and it happened in the monasteries of Vatopedi, Xenoph, Simona-Petre and Philotes… Many manuscripts were lost in the monasteries' inaccessible places, because when the Greeks came to rule a monastery, they would bury the whole of its library, so that any reminders of its former rulers were wiped out".

If you consider the above, writes Dr. Simon Drakul in his Monograph of the Archimandrite Anatoly Zografski, along with the information that no learned visitor of Mt. Athos in the past had ever left the site without taking a book in his luggage, it is amazing how such important books can still be discovered. The above refers to Barski and Mihanović as well. The latter, as an Austrian consul, informed Grigorovič about the existence of the Glagolitic Gospel in Monastery of Zographou. Mihanović himself was brought enormous amounts of books for review from Mt. Athos; he, according to his own criteria, from all that treasure selected only three loads for himself. At that time no one cared about the value of the Macedonian literary heritage – Zographou monks gave the Glagolitic Gospel as a gift to the Russian tzar Alexander in 1860; and the Chilandar monks gave the Gospel of Miroslav to the Serbian king Aleksandar in 1896. The brotherhood of the monastery Esphigmenou sold lots of books to an English traveller, because at the time monks from some Balkan countries (primarily the Greek monks), instead of preserving Macedonian literary treasure, insisted on getting rid of it, the easier the better – so that it burnt not only in accidental fires, but in monastery furnaces as well.

One of the greatest experts on the Mt. Athos written monuments is G. Ilinski, who stayed on Mt. Athos in 1908. He discovered that in the Monastery of Zographou at the time there were still 184 Slavic manuscripts, seventeen of which were from the 13th century (the total amount of manuscripts, however, used to be several thousand).

Ilinski wrote that Mt. Athos had preserved for science the oldest, the greatest and the most valuable Glagolitic monuments. The Monastery of Iveron preserved the document considered to be, according to its date, the oldest monument not only of the Glagolitic alphabet, but also of all Slavic ones. Of those without dates, according to Ilinski, the most significant are the Glagolitic Gospel by Zographou and the Tetragospel of Maria. According to him, the best and the oldest transcripts from St. Clement's School in Ohrid and from the Preslav School were preserved on Mt. Athos. 

To be continued...

Nove Cvetanoski

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