March 20, 2016

The biggest manuscript work - in Sofia

Scattered heritage


In Bulgarian libraries and museums there is a rich manuscript heritage indeed, the extent of which is not exactly known. After 1879, when Bulgaria was set free from Turkish rule, and after the establishment of the Bulgarian Exarchy, the Bulgarian propaganda in Macedonia intensified. With it, the collecting of manuscripts and other relics increased, mostly done by the exarchy teachers and priests.

The bulk of the valuable objects were taken away during the wars of 1912-1918, which can be seen from the following information about old manuscripts. Namely, in 1909, in Sofia's "Vasil Kolarov" library there were 609 manuscripts, and then volunteering collectors throughout Macedonia kept enlarging that number so that in 1920 it rose to 964, whereas in 1923 it reached the number of 1090 manuscripts. Thus, during this period alone (and to this library alone) probably 481 manuscripts were taken away from Macedonia, whereas that number cannot be applied to the collected and saved manuscripts residing in the Republic of Macedonia today. Besides to Sofia, manuscripts were also taken to Plovdiv, so that in Bulgarian libraries today there are many valuable manuscripts dating from as early as the 12th and 13th centuries.

Bulgarian libraries and museums conceal such information, but Macedonian scholars, nonetheless, have been able to point out some exact manuscripts that can be found there.

One of the world's depositories richest in Macedonian manuscripts is the "Cyril and Methodius" National Library in Sofia. According to information obtained by Macedonian manuscript heritage researchers, there are 398 manuscripts in this library. Among the most important are: a fragment of a lenten triodion from the end of the 11th century, two parchment sheets from a menaion-prologue dating from the 12th century and 127 parchment sheets (out of 175 in total) from the Dobrejšo tetragospel, which dates from the first half of the 13th century. The older they are, the more valuable for science they are, and in this library there are several manuscripts from the 13th century as well: a Skopje holiday menaion (279 parchment sheets), two octoechoses (73 and 32 parchment sheets), a tetragospel (171 parchment sheets), three menaions, two lenten triodions, three selective epistles, a selective gospel and several fragments of an octoechos, lenten triodions, a psalter and parts of a menaion.

In addition, in Sofia's National Library there are several dozen 14th-century manuscripts, almost all written on parchment. Among them, the more significant ones are: a selective gospel consisting of 201 parchment sheets, a Tetragospel with an epistle (215 paper papers), the Speech of Isaac Sirin (239 sheets), a Lesnovo parenesis (315 parchment sheets).

There are many valuable Macedonian manuscripts in the library of the Bulgarian Science Academy, too. In its archives there are several pages in Cyrillics, which originate from the 10th or the 11th century. Furthermore, there is also the Bitola triodion from the 12th century (101 parchment sheets), written in the Debar region, discovered in 1898 in the Bitola region, taken to Sofia in 1907 (and it is considered to be one of the most important handwritten artefacts, parts of which are written in the Glagolitic alphabet, in phonetic signs of the oldest variety, in rare musical "tita" signs, because of which it is also considered as one of the earliest artefacts of Macedonian music culture). Additionally, in the Bulgarian Science Academy there are: a psalter (106 parchment sheets), a selective gospel (fragment), eight parchment sheets of a triodion, a prologue (113 parchment sheets) – all dating from the 13th century; then a triodion (77 parchment sheets), an octoechos (192 paper sheets), a pentecostarion, a prologue in three parts (431 sheets), a Veles collection and many other manuscripts from the 14th and, of course, later centuries.

In the National Library in Plovdiv, among other things, there are several older literary artefacts from Macedonia, such as: nine parchment sheets of a gospel dating from the 12-13th century belonging to the Kratovo literary school; then a lenten triodion from Bitola; fragments of a lenten triodion from Kičevo, eight parchment sheets of a gospel, a selective gospel (91 parchment sheets) – all dating from the 13th century, as well as a collection of speeches and hagiographies from the 15th century.

In the Sophia National museum, where many valuable Macedonian relics are kept (among which the Ohrid Archbishops' precious stones crown as well as other archaeological and museum items) there are manuscripts from Macedonia, too. Particularly valuable and rare are the two parchment sheets from a menaion dating as early as the 12th century and a hymnbook from the 13th century on 64 parchment sheets.

However, Macedonian manuscripts can be found even in the Archaeological Museum in Sofia, as well as in some Bulgarian monasteries and churches. Thus, for instance, in the Rilski monastery, among other things, there are to be found almost the earliest Macedonian (literary) traces. Namely, among the saved Macedonian handwritten heritage there are eight Macedonian Glagolitic papers from the 11th century, six of which are in the Rilski monastery, whereas two are in the Russian Academy of Sciences. Furthermore, this monastery also has a parchment gospel dating from the 14th century, a collection from 1473 and from 1479, which originate from Macedonia, and other items.

Still, in addition to the earliest Macedonian Glagolitic papers, other old Macedonian manuscripts have also been split apart, as is in fact the fate of Macedonia's entire handwritten heritage. Thus for instance the Slepče epistle—dating from the 12th century and especially significant for several reasons, such as its rich ornamentation—has been taken apart, and parts of its 154 sheets are today in Moscow, Kiev, Plovdiv, St. Petersburg and Odessa. (A similar thing happened to the Dobrejšo tetragospel dating from the beginning of the 13th century, which used to have 175 parchment sheets, 127 of which are in the possession of the National Library in Sofia, whereas the other 48 sheets used to be kept in the National Library in Belgrade, but were destroyed during the city's bombardment on the 6th of April 1941.) Thus, valuable Macedonian manuscripts were stolen and torn apart and scattered by anyone who could do so, taking them wherever they could. 

To be continued...

Nove Cvetanoski

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