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The Resilience and Beauty of Glagolitic Letters in Croatian History

Glagolitic is the oldest way that Slavic people wrote things down. There are two main scripts for Slavic languages: Glagolitic and Cyrillic. Many experts think that it came first before Cyrillic. 

Unlike Cyrillic, which slowly changed from the Greek alphabet, Glagolitic was made by one person, Constantine the Philosopher. He was a Greek from Thessaloniki, and he made it in the 9th century for a mission to teach the Slavs in Moravia. Constantine and his brother Methodius wanted to teach the Slavs how to read and write. They were invited by Prince Rastislav, with support from the Byzantine Emperor Mihajlo III. 

Glagolitic

As part of their mission, the brothers translated important religious texts from Greek into Old Slavonic or Old Church Slavonic. This language is thought to be the first written language for all Slavic people. Most experts think it came from the area around Thessaloniki. 

Each letter in Glagolitic has a name. The first two letters are called “az” and “buki,” so we call it the Glagolitic alphabet, just like how we talk about the Latin or Greek alphabets. 

The names of the letters have a meaning. The first nine letters spell out a message: “I who know the letters I am saying that it is very good to live on Earth.” This idea shows that knowing how to read and write is important for a good life. 

The name “Glagolitic” was made much later, in the 17th century in Croatia. It comes from the Croatian word “glagolati,” meaning ‘to speak.’ It became widely used in the 19th century, especially for Catholic priests who use Glagolitic books to say mass in the Croatian Church Slavonic language. 

Round and Uglata Glagolitic

There are two types of Glagolitic script: “obla”and “uglata” (angular or Croatian) Glagolitic.

The oldest form is called “obla”, and it is believed to have been created by St. Cyril. This script was used for all Slavic people and is found in the oldest Slavic books, like Assemani’s, Marijnski’s, and Zograf’s Gospels. Monuments with the round Glagolitic script date from the 9th to the 12th century. 

After the 12th century, only Croats continued using Glagolitic. They adapted it to create a new type called “uglata” or angular Glagolitic script. Croats have been using the angular Glagolitic script for 11 centuries, recording Church Slavonic Croatian and the Old Croatian language, mostly the Chakavian dialect. 

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Glagolitic was the first script Croats used to write their language in the 10th/11th century. Later, the Cyrillic alphabet was used in the 12th century, and the Latin alphabet in the 14th century. The oldest Croatian monuments with Glagolitic inscriptions carved into stone date from the 11th and 12th centuries. They show a transition from round to angular Glagolitic. 

The golden period of Croatian Glagoliticism was in the 14th and 15th centuries, during which many manuscripts, breviaries, missals, psalters, rituals, and legal documents were preserved. 

Glagolitic

Some famous Croatian liturgical texts in this script include Vatican Missal Illirico 4, Prince Novak’s Missal, Hrvoj’s Missal, Ročki Missal, First Vrbnič Breviary, Second Novlja Breviary, Vida Omišalan’s Breviary, Lobkovic’s Psalter, Fraščić’s Psalter, Academy’s Ritual, Klimantović’s Collection, and more. There are also narrative and legal texts like the Paris collection, Ivančić collection, Petris collection, Žgombić collection, Vinodolski zakonik, Istarski razvod, etc. 

Today

Even though people stopped actively using Glagolitic in the 19th century, it’s still a part of life in Croatia, just in a different way. 

Today, the alphabet is a symbol that represents Croatian identity. It’s important in things like culture, art, and design. Many artists find inspiration in it, and it’s a common symbol in certain groups of fans. People even get tattoos of Glagolitic letters. 

People also study and research the script because it’s an important part of Croatian culture and history. In fact, in 2014, the art of reading, writing, and printing Glagolitic was declared an important part of Croatian culture. And in 2019, the Croatian Parliament made February 22 the official Day of the Croatian Glagolitic Script and Glagolitic Writing. This means that on that day, people celebrate and remember the significance of the script in Croatia.     

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