Spreading the Word

Codex Zographensis

Codex Zographensis
Codex Zographensis
St. Petersburg, National Library of Russia, MS. Glag. 1, ff. 76v–77r
Ink and pigments on parchment, ff. 303; 183 x 260mm
Gospels; Glagolitic
Macedonia; late tenth–eleventh century

The oldest preserved Slavic texts, of which the Codex Zographensis is an important example, were written in Macedonia and date from the late tenth and eleventh centuries. These include several other early manuscripts in the Glagolitic language (Old Church Slavonic): Codex Assemianus, the Psalter of Sinai, the Euchologion of Sinai, the Bojana Palimpsest, and perhaps the Codex Marianus, which may have been copied from a Macedonian original on Serbo-Croatian territory. Ihor Sevcenko has suggested that they were influenced in their make-up and decoration by Italo-Byzantine manuscripts from southern Italy and that the Euchologion of Sinai and the Codex Zographensis are the earliest.The origins of written Slavic are contentious. The invention of the Glagolitic alphabet and script, which gave rise in turn to Cyrillic, is commonly attributed to two brothers from Thessaloniki, Saints Cyril (or Constantine) and Methodius, “Apostles to the Slavs” during the ninth century. It has been argued, however, that there may have been some proto-writing system previously in use, as with the Gothic and Germanic experience of conversion and the reception of literacy. The possibility of earlier influence from the Gothic mission of Ulfilas, from Italy, and from the Carolingian Church has also been suggested.

The volume comprises 288 leaves of a gospelbook (known in Old Church Slavonic tradition as a tetraevangelion), followed by a synaxary or list of feasts of the saints, with short accounts of their significance, of sixteen leaves and a calendar of saints’ days with an indication of the gospel for the day written in Cyrillic script of a later date. The illumination is brightly colored and features headpieces containing display lettering, in Byzantine fashion, and decorated initials with interlace and other infills and simplified acanthus-ornament extensions. It is related to that of the Euchologion of Sinai but is rather more rectilinear and refined, if somewhat less exuberant.
MPB (author bios)

Jagic, 1879; Sevcenko, 1982, pp. 131 fig. 26, 142, 145, 147.

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