Visitors who come to admire the Church of the Holy Trinity in the southwestern Slovenian village of Hrastovlje tend to focus on the magnificent Dance of the Dead fresco, which shows people from all walks of life being led to their deaths by skeletons. Some, however, may notice an inscription in an unusual script. The writing is in the Glagolitic alphabet, now a little-known script but one that left an important mark in the Slovenian Lands.
The script was developed in the Middle ages by St. Cyril, who, together with his brother St. Methodius, helped to spread Christianity among the Slavs. He was determined to introduce a script that would be acceptable to Slavs of both Catholic and Orthodox faiths. And for a time, his alphabet was a success.
It eventually emerged in two varieties: The original round style, and the later square lettering. Whatever the form, Glagolitic was the first alphabet conceived specifically for the Slavic languages, and it did its job very well: It included separate characters not just for sounds now represented by the letters Č, Š, and Ž, but also various nasal sounds commonly used in Slavic languages at the time.
Evidence of the Glagolitic script is found on a number of inscriptions throughout the Slovenian Lands, as well as in prayer books from Carniola, the Slovenian heartland.
The immediate popularity of Glagolitic soon triggered a backlash from religious circles, however. Protestants saw the script as a Catholic tradition. The Catholic Church preferred the Latin script, even though Glagolitic was granted official Papal recognition. And in Eastern Orthodox countries, the script was largely replaced by Cyrillic, an alphabet developed by St. Cyril’s students and based on Greek.
Still, small groups of priests continued to use the Glagolitic script. They were relatively rare in the Slovenian heartlands, but more common on the edges of Slovenian-speaking territory, near the modern-day borders with Italy in Croatia, where they survived into the 20th century. In fact, several Slovenian churches still used Glagolitic when Mussolini’s Fascists came to power in Italy. There, Slovenian priests tried to circumvent the ban on the Slovene language by pointing to the Papal permission to use Glagolitic (but to no avail).
Even though several attempts were made to revive Glagolitic in the 20th century – including a call for it to become recognized as an official script in Yugoslavia – were unsuccessful, and the alphabet fell out of use. Today, however, it is seen not just as a historical curiosity, but also as a key to understanding religious books and inscription of centuries gone by – priceless artifacts of Slovenia’s cultural and religious history.
Source: RTVSLO.si | Jaka Bartolj