Beginnings of church literature, and therefore literacy as well, in medieval Bosnia are in close correlation with spread of Christianity which, in this area, had two separate and unequal phases. First one, literary sterile, is linked with work of Latin clergy from roman cities in Dalmatia who, according to Constantine Porphyrogenitus, started spreading Christianity and Latin religious books at incentive of Byzantine emperor Basil I (867-887). This first phase encompassed Serbs in continental areas neighboring Adriatic Sea, and Bosnia was one of them.

Second, more productive phase in expansion of Christianity in South Slavic areas with Slavic religious books, commenced with pupils of the Thessaloniki brothers, who, after being banished from Pannonia and Moravia continued to preach “the word of God in Moesia, Dalmatia and Dacia”. Thanks to them, at the end of IX century, almost at the same time, two South Slavic centers of literacy were formed, one in the east in Preslav and Ohrid, and the other in the west, in northern Dalmatia, with main center being on the isle of Krk.

In beginning linked by common language and letter and almost identical fund of biblical books, both of these branches of South Slavic literacy started to diverge due differences in liturgical practice of Eastern and Western church. Divergence was, at the start, confined to incompatible repertoire of liturgical and non-liturgical titles while later on, with development of different redactions, it grew to encompass differences in liturgical language and letter. In the west, under insistence of the Catholic Church, even with opposition of the local roman clerics, adaptation of the fund of biblical books translated into Old Slavic to the liturgical norms of the western church was done. Old Slavic Evangeliary and Apostoliary, already adapted to liturgical practice of Catholic Church in Moravia, and Old Slavic translation of Latin Sacrementar, fragmentary preserved in Kiev and Vienna pages, with additionally translated antiphonary were all used in creation of full missal of the older Glagolitic redaction which became basic liturgical and ceremonial book in Croatian users of Glagolitic. This confirms, on one hand, that fragmentary and complete Glagolitic missals are all structured “according to law of the Roman court” and on the other, the words of bishop of Krk from 1252 that Glagolitic Benedictines in Krk bishopric, like their predecessors, perform service on Slavic language according to template of Roman Church.

Franciscan redaction of the complete missal of the older redaction, in second half of the XIII or at the start of the XIV century, with more adherent adaptation of Old Slavic translation of biblical books to text of the Vulgate and Chakavian dialect only emphasized the separation of the western branch of South Slavic literacy from the earlier common Old Slavic core.

Codicological and liturgical shaping of biblical books of the fund translated into Old Slavic in the east, in Bulgaria and Macedonia, took a different path. Through redaction of the first Evangeliary and Apostoliary, Aprakos-gospels and apostles where made and with additions to them, praxapostles and Tetra-Gospels which are, according to Greek sources, divided into Ammonius and extensive chapters while liturgically shaped according to templates of the Eastern Church.

Structural and codicological separation of the eastern and western branches of the initial South Slavic literature was followed with different development of alphabet. In the west, the round Glagolitic was adapted, based on Latin alphabet, to angled forms of letters while in the east, already in X century, Glagolitic was mostly replaced by more practical Cyrillic which was closer to Greek alphabet and less of an issue with the untrusting Greek clergy. Lesser oasis of Glagolitic remained, until the end of XII century, only in some of the mountainous regions of Macedonia and Serbian areas by the sea, that is, Dioclea, Travunia and Zachlumia which were, in period of Cyrillic expansion, under religious jurisdiction of Catholic bishoprics by the sea. Unobstructed use of Slavic alphabet and Slavic religious books of the Eastern church outside the jurisdiction area of Ohrid archiepiscopate, which after fall of the Samuil state still retained its Slavic character, was protected by the Byzantine rule in Dubrovnik under whose archiepiscopate were all Serbian seaside regions, even after Schism of 1054. The fact that during reigns of Mihailo and Bodin the Serbian state of Dioclea was on the rise (at its greatest extent it encompassed Rascia, Travunia, Zachlumia and Bosnia) was also significant factor in this state of affairs. 

In these areas, which fell under newly formed Bar archiepiscopate in 1089, Roman curia officially approved the use of liturgical books in Slavic. These were first in Glagolitic, which is confirmed not only by the Glagolitic fragments of the Mihanović and Gršković apostles (transcribed from Macedonian Glagolitic in Dioclea and Zachlumia in the half of the XII century by older Serbian, Zeta-Zachlumia redaction) liturgically conceptualized by the templates of the Eastern church, but also by the somewhat later, written also in Zeta-Zachlumia redaction but in Cyrillic, transcription of Miroslav Gospel directly or indirectly from Macedonian Glagolitic source.

There is general consent that the in newly formed Bosnian bishopric, and the other regions of the Dioclea state, Slavic language was used in liturgical service. This conclusion is based on reports from Roman popes and chroniclers from Dubrovnik saying that Bosnian bishops lack knowledge of Latin language and Catholic Church rituals and that during ordination, they say their oaths in Slavic language. Slavic character of the Bosnian bishopric and use of biblical books of the Eastern Church within it is indirectly confirmed by abjuration of the Bosnian krstjani whose representatives, on Bilino polje near Zenica in 1203, in presence of papal envoy Ivan de Kazamaris, archdeacon of Dubrovnik Marin and ban Kulin, renounced publicly the “schism, obviously the liturgical practice of the Eastern Church, because of which they were very notorious”, promising the in the future they “will live according to orders and instructions of the holy Roman Church” and that they shall besides “New Testament use books of the Old Testament as well”.

Information from Bilino polje abjuration on circulation of New Testament books through Bosnian bishopric which are formed according to codicological norms of the Eastern Church are further confirmed by domestic sources. In his charter to Dubrovnik, ban Kulin takes an oath on “Holy Gospel” which was probably in Cyrillic and aprakos, similar the oldest preserved Bosnian gospels, Vatikansko, which belonged to ban Matej Ninoslav and somewhat later fragments of an Grigorović-Giljferding gospel. The first one is complete aprakos of the Eastern Church, linguistically, orthographically and structurally identical to the gospel of Vukan, son of Stefan Nemanja, Catholic and supporter of Catholic Church in Serbia, while the other one is shorter aprakos of the Eastern Church which linguistically and orthographically follows the tradition of a somewhat older Miroslav Gospel, transcribed directly or indirectly from Macedonian Glagolitic source in Serbia of Stefan Nemanja.

Preserved source materials convincingly points out that the Bosnian bishopric, in terms of church jurisdiction was under Catholic church, but in terms of literature, it belonged to the eastern branch of the South Slavic literature and Byzantine sphere of influence due to use of Cyrillic alphabet and liturgical books of the Eastern Church. Linguistic, orthographic and structural compatibility between Vatikansko and Grigorović-Giljferding aprakos with somewhat older gospel of Vukan from Rascia and Miroslav from Zachlumia, which were transcribed in Serbia state of that time, shows that biblical books came to Bosnia from the East, from Macedonia, one way being across Zeta and Zachlumia and the other one being across neighboring Rascia. Regarding language, both of these Bosnian gospels were written in older Serbian, that is Zeta-Zachlumia redaction, and Rascian redaction, while text-wise they relate to first or second generation of Cyrillic gospels transcribed from Macedonian Glagolitic.                                       

Cultural link of Bosnia with eastern branch of South Slavic literature was not significantly impaired with change of religious affairs and organization of church of Bosnian krstjans sometimes in the half of the XIII century. They, though untrusting towards both Eastern and the Western church, kept a positive attitude towards the whole literary heritage of the east accepted in previous times. However, they did introduce one specific filter in this complex process of reception, especially towards non liturgical repertoire if it wasn’t an integral piece of biblical books. This is confirmed, on one side, by fragmentary remains or complete biblical books which are all, without exception, in codicological and liturgical terms, conceptualized according to biblical sources of the Eastern Church, while on the other side, by remains of exegetic, hagiographic, homolithic and liturgical-ritual texts which belong to the eastern branch of South Slavic literature. In the west, in literature of Croatian users of Glagolitic these codicological forms of biblical books remains unknown because they did not enter the liturgical repertoire of the western church, and the complete non-liturgical repertoire of medieval Bosnian literature, which was, through east branch of South Slavic literature, taken from Byzantine literature.        


Taken from the book of Dragoljub Dragojlović, “History of Serbian literature in medieval Bosnian state”, Novi Sad, 1997, 18-23.


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