A Glagolitic Christmas : the December 2015 Slavonic item of the month

IMG_5535This month, we look at a 1528 Croatian Missal, published in Venice and printed in the Glagolitic alphabet.  The first illustration here shows a woodcut of the nativity scene, which accompanies the introduction of the third mass on Christmas Day.  It begins, from the large letter to the right of the woodcut, with the standard nativity quotation from Isaiah 9:6 which starts “For unto us a child is born.”

The Glagolitic alphabet was introduced by Saints Cyril and Methodius and used for liturgical texts in Eastern and Southeastern Europe.  In the East, it was rapidly replaced by Cyrillic (a younger alphabet), but it remained in religious use in Croatia until the 19th century.  Glagolitic items number very few in the University Library, particularly in terms of early original books such as the Missal.  Among our non-original holdings are various critical editions of facsimiles, including a wonderful 1971 reproduction of the earliest printed Glagolitic Missal – a 1483 incunable (872.b.119).  Both this and the 1528 Missal are in a form called uglata glagolicja – angular Glagolitic, the typical Croatian typeface – and in the Croatian recension of Old Church Slavonic.

Only a very brief record for the Missal was in the catalogue, but several happy coincidences and opportunities have allowed me to start upgrading it.  A draft guide to Glagolitic transliteration for cataloguers recently written by a Slavic colleague in Chicago – Thomas Dousa – helped me get started, and Tom himself very kindly completed a transliteration (and translation) of the lengthy title page.   I then came across a reference to Cambridge’s Missal on the website http://www.croatianhistory.net/ and was delighted to find that it also referred to another UK-held copy.  This is in the British Library, and I made a trip to see it last Friday.  The BL’s Southeast Europe curator, Milan Grba, kindly arranged for me to spend a good hour or so studying it and provided on-hand linguistic advice, and his cataloguing counterpart, Lora Afric, talked to me about how best to improve and co-ordinate the catalogue records for our two copies.


The front page of the British Library’s Missal, reproduced with kind permission (©BL)

It was a wonderful treat to study the British Library’s Missal.  Some text on the last printed page of our copy had been rather hard to make out, so it was a relief to find clearer ink on the BL’s copy.  That page gives the details of the editing and printing of the Missal and includes a little woodcut of Tobias and the angel, echoing the much bigger woodcut on the title page which shows a delightfully cross-looking angel (here the Archangel Raphael) leading a small Tobias, complete with fish, and with his dog in the background.  The reproduction to the left is from the BL’s copy, since the Cambridge copy’s front page is sadly partially darkened by glue used in an ancient “repair” job.

Cambridge’s copy is in a very early binding.  Beautiful and intricate (complete with clasps), it keeps the pages rather stiff, so the British Library copy’s modern binding was in some respects a relief to handle, with the whole volume easier to leaf through.  In terms of provenance, both copies have had a interesting and varied history, with multiple languages and scripts used in their various inscriptions.  The seven photos below show manuscript provenance details from the two copies.  Five are from the UL’s copy – including, for example, a note from the Missal’s year of printing, 1528, recording ownership by a Bucharest (?) canon in Mleci (the old Croatian name for Venice) – and two from the BL’s.  Milan and I hope that colleagues at the Croatian National Library might be able to help us decipher the Croatian inscriptions.  Thoughts from this post’s readers about any of the provenance notes would also be very welcome!

Click on each image to see it enlarged.  Images of the BL Missal reproduced by kind permission; ©BL.

The UL’s copy was clearly used actively in private devotion, with prayers in at least two different hands written on its preliminary pages, and the calendar section of the Missal annotated to mark the deaths of those known to the owner.  It eventually came to the Library in 1938, one of many purchases made through the bequest of Arthur Bromby Wilson-Barkworth.  It can be consulted in the Rare Books reading room (F152.d.2.10).  Work to upgrade its record and those of related books will continue in the new year.

We wish you, in Croatian, a Happy Christmas – Sretan Božić!  Which is, of course, in Glagolitic:


Mel Bach

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