May 24th – celebrating Bulgarian Education and Culture, and Slavonic Literature
Today’s post will be dedicated to 24th May – Bulgarian Education and Culture, and Slavonic Literature Day – the brightest Bulgarian holiday. It is my great pleasure to introduce all of our foreign readers to the following exciting journey back to the very roots of the Bulgarian language and the people behind its creation.
St. Cyril and St. Methodius, also known as the Thessalonian brothers, are the creators of the first Slavonic alphabet – the Glagolitic (“Glagolitsa” in Bulgarian). The Glagolitic and the subsequently invented Cyrillic alphabet, derived from the Greek uncial script from the 9th century, are the oldest known Slavic alphabets and were created by the two brothers and their students, in order to translate the Bible and other texts into the Slavonic languages.
According to the trilingual dogma that dominated the 9th century, the only three languages that Christianity could be preached in were Latin, Greek and Hebrew.
In 862, Rostislav, the Knyaz (Prince) of Great Moravia, who was aiming to weaken the influence of the East Frankish Priests in his Slavic Kingdom, asked the Byzantine Emperor Michael III to send him some well educated missionaries who would be able to teach Christianity in the Slavs’ native language. In response, Emperor Michael III sent to Great Moravia two brothers – Cyril and Methodius. Constantine the Philiosopher, more widely known by his religious name Cyril, and his elder brother Methodius had already created the Glagolitic alphabet (Glagolitsa).
The brothers settled in Vellegrad, Great Moravia’s capital, founded the Great Moravian Academy, and began teaching a number of disciples. They also started translating the Bible and preached Christianity in Slavonic language. They achieved great success promoting the Slavonic script but also angered the hostile German priests, who accused them of heresy for breaking the trilingual dogma.
So in 886, an East Frankish bishop of Nitra named Wiching banned the script and jailed 200 followers of Cyril and Methodius. After that they were expelled from Great Moravia and many of them (including Naum, Clement, Angelarious, Sava and Gorazd) managed to reach Bulgaria, where Boris I of Bulgaria gave them refuge and asked them to teach the future clergy of the country into the Slavic languages.
After the adoption of Christianity in Bulgaria in 865, all religious ceremonies and liturgy were still conducted in Greek by clergy sent from Byzantine Empire. Thus, the introduction of Slavic alphabet and language in church use was cleverly perceived by Boris I as a way to limit the Byzantine influence, and preserve the political independence and stability of Bulgaria.
Academies in Ohrid and Preslav were then founded. From there, the students traveled across Bulgaria and spread the use of their alphabet.
The development of the Cyrillic alphabet, which almost entirely replaced the Glagolitic in Middle Ages, takes place around the end of 9th century and is widely attributed to Saint Clement of Ohrid – one of Cyril and Methodius’ s most prominent disciples. The Cyrillic alphabet spread quickly in the Slavic lands due to its benefit of being an alphabet specifically designed to fit the sound system of Slavic speech. The alphabet, nowadays used by the Bulgarian and over 50 other languages, was named after St. Cyril.
Both Cyril and Methodius were canonized as Saints in 1881 for their great linguistic, cultural and literary achievements and contributions.
Nowadays St. Cyril and Methodius day is celebrated in many countries such as Russia, Czech Republic, Slovakia, Macedonia, etc.
In Bulgaria it is celebrated on May 24th and is known as the Bulgarian Education and Culture, and Slavonic Literature Day (in Bulgarian: Ден на българската просвета и култура и на славянската писменост).
It is a Public holiday in Bulgaria that has been celebrated for 160 years now – which makes if the longest celebrated holiday in Bulgaria’s late history.