February 21, 2016

The consul's and the secret agent's passion

Scattered heritage


In the 1840s, the Croatian Antun Mihanović was an Austrian consul in Salonica. Besides his consul duties, he had another passion – he collected old Macedonian manuscripts, and in order to do it he travelled all over Macedonia, also visiting the Mt. Athos monasteries. He was the first person to systematically collect old manuscripts throughout Macedonia, to urge people to give them away as gifts, to borrow them or to buy them. Jordan Hadži Konstantinov – Džinot wrote in "Tzarigradski Vestnik" (issue no. 208, on 1/1/1855) that Mihanović took from the Lesnovo monastery alone three loads of manuscripts in 1842. After he had taken them, someone instructed the people from Kratovo to ask for the manuscripts back, so they complained about it to Avzi-pasha in Skopje. Nonetheless, Mihanović managed to keep 17 manuscripts, whereas the others were never returned to the Lesnovo monastery, but were scattered across Skopje. Word spread that Mihanović paid for manuscripts well, so people sought him in Salonica to sell manuscripts to him.

After Mihanović's death in 1861, his heirs sold his manuscript collection to the bishop Juraj Strossmayer, who then donated the manuscripts to the Zagreb academy, today's Croatian Academy of Sciences and Arts (formerly known as the Yugoslav Academy of Sciences and Arts). No historical sources have been found until now that would reveal the fate of every manuscript that Mihanović took away from Macedonia. However, the ones that were saved are in the CASA archive today, as a collection comprising 38 Macedonian manuscripts (10 of them are Lesnovo manuscripts). The more significant manuscripts from Mihanović's collection are: the selective gospel of priest Jovan dating from the end of the 12th or the beginning of the 13th century; the selective gospel of Radomir, from the mid-13th century, which belongs to the Kratovo literary school; the tetragospel of Bogdan, the Vranešec epistle and an octoechos (called the Mihanović octoechos, consisting of 112 parchment sheets) – all dating from the 13th century; the Ilovica "krmčija" from 1263 (which contains entries from Skopje and from the Markov monastery). The collection also includes seven manuscripts dating from the 14th century, among which is the Mihanović Macedonian gospel (containing 146 parchment sheets and 11 page fragments). In fact, the manuscripts in the CASA collection originate mainly from the Lesnovo, the Prohor Pčinjski and the Markov monasteries, as well as from several Mt. Athos monasteries.

In the Croatian Academy of Sciences and Arts in Zagreb there is another, larger and more significant, collection of Macedonian manuscripts, which were gathered by the Bosnian ethnologist, archaeologist and folklorist Stefan I. Verković. He was involved in secret Serbian propaganda in South Serbia, Albania and Macedonia, and from 1850 to 1875 he was a Serbian secret agent in Macedonia. His agent duties were veiled mostly by his activity of collecting folklore material, but he also collected old manuscripts from the monastery and church libraries throughout Macedonia. He founded an antiques shop in 1857 in Ceres and developed the Macedonian manuscripts trade. In addition to dispatching some to the Society of Slavic Literature in Belgrade, Verković sold manuscripts in Russia and Bulgaria as well, keeping some for himself. Today in the National Library in St. Petersburg alone there are 71 manuscripts that he collected.

Slavic manuscripts of Orthodox provenience, i.e. Macedonian manuscripts that Verković had collected, also turned up in Catholic Croatia. In his collection at CASA there are twenty manuscripts taken from the St. Jovan the Baptist monastery in Slepče, near Demir Hisar. After Verković's death (he died in 1893, two years after his stay in Russia where he sold Macedonian manuscripts), i.e. in 1902, Verković's manuscripts were accidentally taken to Zagreb (where he had previously left some manuscripts for storage). Among the more important ones are: the Slepče tetragospel and octoechos, both from the 14th century, a lenten triodion from the end of the 13th or from the beginning of the 14th century, a missal from the late 14th century, the Žitog tetragospel and another tetragospel dating from the 16th century.

In addition to these two collections, in the Croatian Academy of Sciences and Arts there is another manuscript archive of Macedonian origin. This archive includes: a lenten triodion and a spring triodion from the Ohrid school dating from the first half of the 13th century, a selective gospel and a Bitola selective octoechos from the 13th century, a Bitola missal and a Lesnovo selective gospel (both from the 14th century), the Collection of Vladislav Gramatik from the 1469, and a tetragospel from the Skopje area dating from the first half of 15th century.

In the CASA archives there are also 15 fragments of old Slavic manuscripts. Some of them are from Macedonia, including a parchment sheet of the Gospel according to Matthew, written at the end of the 13th century at Mt. Athos.

In addition to the CASA manuscript collection (which consists of 113 works), old Macedonian manuscripts can also be found in other Croatian libraries, museums and scientific institutions. The National University Library in Zagreb has 21 manuscripts, among which, for instance, is a fragment of a lenten triodion dating from the first half of the 13th century. One manuscript resides in Zagreb's City Library, whereas in the History Museum of Croatia there are 56. Old Macedonian manuscripts can be found in the science libraries in Zadar and Dubrovnik, as well as in Cavtat (in the Valtazar Bogisić collection), Kninsko Pole, Mokro Pole and Šibenik (catalogued as being the property of the Serbian Orthodox Church, but there is no information on their condition after the war between Serbia and Croatia in the 1990s.)

Old manuscripts that originate from Macedonia are saved in Slovenia, as well. The University Library in Ljubljana has the Macedonian Kopitar lenten triodion, which dates from the middle of the 13th century and belongs to the Kratovo literary school. It is a parchment manuscript, but only fragments of it remain, i.e. 72 pages only.

Macedonian manuscripts and books can be found in other European cities, as well as in private collections. Few of them remain in Macedonia (a little more than 400), whereas there are many more all over the world. They belong to the Macedonian spiritual and cultural heritage, but not to the Macedonian scholars and to the people who created them, since our people's inheritance rights have been appropriated in times of foreign rule and war, by a robber's passion. 

To be continued...

Nove Cvetanoski

No comments: