February 29, 2016

Macedonian collections in serbian libraries

Scattered heritage


The biggest damage inflicted upon Macedonian handwritten heritage was done in the 19th and 20th centuries, after the founding of some neighbouring countries, i.e. after the increase of foreign church propaganda and influence. The theft was first carried out by priests from the neighbouring churches (literary heritage was mostly kept in the holy buildings), and afterwards by anyone who could do so – from soldiers to passers-by.

The old manuscripts and books that were collected by travellers such as Stefan Verković, Viktor Grigorovič, Antun Mihanović and others, are most often kept in libraries and museums throughout Europe. However, those in Bulgaria, and even in Serbia, especially in the Serbian and some Montenegrin monasteries, are not yet fully available to Macedonian researchers. Most often they are concealed or, when they are being exhibited, their origin isn’t mentioned, so that our researchers have to obtain information indirectly (from descriptions in articles or from catalogues). Such difficulties notwithstanding, Macedonian scholars of handwritten and literary heritage have catalogued and briefly described around seven hundred manuscripts that reside in European libraries and museums. Even this list isn’t complete, though, since some of the older manuscripts in the collections are described as Serbian, Bulgarian or Russian, even though they originate from Macedonia.

Many valuable Macedonian literary artefacts are to be found in Serbian institutions. In Belgrade's "Svetozar Marković" University Library, among other things, there are two important Macedonian manuscript collections. One of them is from the Lesnovo monastery, and it consists of 31 manuscripts and 10 manuscript fragments. The manuscripts were taken from the Macedonian monastery by the Serbian authorities during the Balkan Wars in 1913, and then taken to the Serbian Seminary at the Belgrade's University. After World War II they were taken to the "Svetozar Marković" University Library in Belgrade (instead of the University Library in Skopje). After a while the collection was not catalogued as a Lesnovo collection, but was renamed (so that its origin is obscured) as The Collection of Ćorović (after the manuscripts catalogue editor!). The second collection consists of 28 priceless Macedonian manuscripts that Josip Cvijović, the once Bitola bishop who later became the Skopje Metropolitan, collected. Those manuscripts mainly originate from the Bitola region. Cvijović took them to Belgrade in the 1930s.

The Serbian Royal Academy, which later grew into the Serbian Academy of Sciences and Arts (SASA), even in the 19th century, collected literary artefacts from Macedonia. In the SASA library today there are many Macedonian manuscripts, the most important of which are: Oliver's menaion (written in 1342 in the Lesnovo monastery; 232 sheets), the Lesnovo prologue (written in the same monastery in 1330; 321 sheets), Speeches (written in the Markov monastery in the 14th century; 318 sheets), a Tetragospel from the Lesnovo monastery dating from early 14th century (258 parchment sheets), a Macedonian Collection from the 18th century, a Requiem of the St. Blagoveštenie monastery in Skopska Crna Gora, a Pčinja "krmčija" (14th century, written in the St. Prohor Pčinjski monastery), a Tetragospel from the 14th century, on 321 parchment sheets (written in the same monastery), and a Collection dating from the 17th century, which contains articles on the Macedonian educators Prohor Pčinjski, Gavril Lesnovski and Ilarion Meglenski.

Before World War II, when the Serbian Orthodox Church was present in Macedonia, via its priests and via all sorts of contests, it managed to collect many old manuscripts and books. One of the most determined collectors at the time was Radoslav Gruić, who collected for the State Museum in Skopje, and from there he took away the manuscripts and books in 1936-37 for delivery to Belgrade. After his death (following the war), his collection was transported to the Museum of the Serbian Orthodox Church in Belgrade. Today, among other manuscripts, in the Gruić collection in the Church Museum there are six extraordinarily significant Macedonian manuscripts: a tetragospel from the 13th century and one from the 14th century, the Apocryphal Collection of Adži Baba the Teacher (17-18th cent.), a Collection dating from the 18th century, a "Čin na eliosveštenie" (13th century) written on 72 parchment sheets, and a Kičevo octoechos (13th century). In the Serbian Orthodox Church's collection there is also: a Pentecostarion (spring triodion) dating from 1520, Hagiographies and teachings from 1350, and a Kučevište menaion from 1622-23. A part of the manuscripts obtained by the Serbian Orthodox Church can also be found today in the Serbian Patriarchy Library, and the most important of those are: a Psalter from the 16th century, a Requiem of the St. Jovan Bigorski monastery from 1869, a Missal dating from the 16th century, a "Mitarstvo" from the 18th century and a tetragospel from the 15th century.

There's a library rich in old Macedonian manuscripts and books in the Dečani monastery, too. The Russian researcher A. Gilferding, as early as 1857, found in the Dečani monastery several old Macedonian manuscripts from the 13th and 14th centuries (among which the Dečani Psalter and the Dečani Gospel), which he took to the Public Library in St. Petersburg. It is assumed that this monastery, as well as other Serbian monasteries and churches, has Macedonian manuscripts and old books that, because of their inaccessibility, haven’t been catalogued by Macedonian scholars. In the Chilandar monastery, which is run by Serbian priests and monks, there is also a rich Macedonian handwritten and literary heritage, which includes several dozen manuscripts dating as early as the 14th century!

In Belgrade's National Library, which was destroyed during German bombing in 1941, there used to be a large Macedonian literary heritage, i.e. several hundreds of old Macedonian manuscripts, among which there were 36 manuscripts that Jordan Hadži Konstantinov – Džinot dispatched. During the bombing many Macedonian manuscripts were destroyed, among which around thirty from the 14th century, of which not even a photocopy was saved; that is, the biggest Macedonian manuscript collection that has ever existed in a library was destroyed. It is interesting to mention that before the bombardment all the manuscripts were placed in special crates and were ready to be transported to a safe place. During the attack, they were in the library's ground floor, which the fire reached on the third day of the bombardment. But in the meantime no-one had thought of the several thousand manuscripts. However, during World War II the same library began to form a new collection, once more out of Macedonian manuscripts. Among the first ones in it were the Gurište Tetragospel dating from the 15th century, the Poreč Tetragospel from the 16th century etc. Of course, after the war, Macedonian manuscripts were collected in the same library in Belgrade, instead of in Skopje.

Similar neglect of Macedonian manuscripts happened during World War I as well, when the manuscript collection from the National Library in Belgrade was accidentally left at the Niš railway station. Some Austrian soldiers took several manuscripts from it, and some of the manuscripts were Macedonian.

To be continued...

Nove Cvetanoski

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