GLAGOLITIC BREVIARY OF
© by academician Branko
written on the occasion of 600th anniversary of the breviary
VITUS OF OMISALJ (1396)
(on this web-site with permission)
Guttenberg's discovery of print characters made it possible
to print a lot of copies of a book at a lower cost and with more
But a book of the Middle Age was an expensive, unique copy,
written with feather on parchment or paper. If a book had
to be copied, the number of copyists had to match the number of copies
needed. Those copyists would sit, each at his own desk, with a feather
in his hand, an ink pot and a piece of parchment in front of him.
One of them would slowly a
distinctly read the text, and others would write it down. It was a
hard and painful work. Crouched over their desks, with a feather
between three fingers, staring at letters at poor light, copyists
were martyrs, with pains in their backs.
One French copyist wrote down his agony at an edge of a
codex: ''God, have mercy! My back is breaking and I have cramps
in my fingers''. Our copyists were invigorative people and more relaxed
in their work, which can be seen from some notes written in
At an edge of a book , one of them wrote with a sigh: "The
copyst wants to drink!"
Copier of books, copyist, had a Latin name of "scriptor",
and a place where copies were made by hand was called "scriptorium".
Our Glagolitic writers were also copyists and they copied
hand. Instead of the Latin name "scriptor", we used the name
of "pisac" or "supisac" (writer) in the Middle Age. Among such
our "writers" there was also Vitus of Omisalj, one of the manufacturers
of Croatian Glagolitic manuscripts. Of
all his work, only one book has remaind preserved until
today, and that is his breviary.
is a book, comprised of predetermined sequencing of
texts (prayers, psalms, excerpts from the Holly Scriptures for
particular hours of prayer, writings of church teachers and legends
of the lives of saints) from which a priest, alone or together with
other priests, prays in a particular time of day.
Vitus of Omisalj's breviary contains offices for Lord's
and Sundays (Proprium de tempore). It is characterized by volume,
richness and extensivness of the texts.
It is a codex bound in leather, consisting of 468 pages of
weighing almost 10 kg. Its pages are 26.7 cm wide and 35.5 cm long.
It is being kept in Vienna, in what used to be the Imperial, and
is now the Austrian National Library, among valuables, under the
signature Cod. slav. 3.
Knowing that the book is made of quinternions (five
parchment units folded twice), it is easy to calculate that 117
sheep skins (three herds of a
40 sheep) were needed for the production of the parchment.
This is only to explain the value of the material on which
Vitus of Omisalj's breviary was written.
we know about Vitus of Omisalj and his work is found in a
note he wrote down in the breviary: ''In the name of Christ in the
year A.D. 1396 in the month of March, on the 11th day, Vitus,
a writer from Omisalj, commenced writing this book. Every "kvaderna"
for half a mark and 2 soldi, on my paper. Whoever helps, either with a
big or small
re, may the Lord, the blessed Mary, St. Bartholomew, St.
Anthony and all God's saints help him.'' We learn from
- About the date when writing of the codex was started: March
- About Vitus of Omisalj's name and origin. We can also
conclude that, lacking a clerical title of a deacon or a priest,
he was a literate, educated and professionally trained laic, who made
living for himself and his family by copying books by hand.
- How much he was paid for his work, including hi
nt. He set the price to half a mark and 2 soldi per "kvaderna",
in fact quinternion. Since the whole breviary consists of 49
quinternions, he earned 35 marks gross, which is today's equivalent
of 7 or 8 cows.
- That Vitus wrote his breviary at the request of a church in
Istria. Asking for the heavenly help to all who support the making
of the breviary with their donations, he mentions, in particular, St.
Bartholomew and St. Anthony, which are the patron saints of
the two main churches in Roc.
that the final form of breviary, as it was accepted and spread through
its church by the supreme church authorities in Rome, was created in
the 13th century.
In order to put the breviary together following
the pocedural Roman order of texts, Vitus had to have an exemplar in
front of him, and it was a Roman breviary written in Latin. Therefore,
one of the Glagolitic priests in Omisalj or on the island of Krk,
had to be able to read and understand a text in Latin, and then at
least partially, to make a flawless translation into the liturgical
language of the Glagolitic priests. This was the old Slavic
language in use in Croatia. The ornamentation in Vitus' breviary proves
that he had a copy of a book in Latin in front of his eyes. From that
manuscript he copied into his Glagolitic text certain Latinic
initials. Initials are the bigger and accentuated first letters of
certain paragraphs that are more important. When Vitus was shaping his
Glagolitic initials, he used the same ornaments he saw in Latinic
manuscripts. All those motifs are characteristic for the 14th century
codexes: lilies, pearls, buds, ribbons, braids and rings interwoven
with the shape of a certain letter. The initials and the few miniatures
are drawn in feather, in black, red and yellow colors.
of the texts of Vitus of Omisalj's breviary did not have
to translate all texts from a Latinic breviary. Most of the texts
had already existed in some older Glagolitic liturgical manuscripts.
They probably had several Croatian Glagolitic breviaries out of which
they copied most of the texts that were already translated. Linguistic
and grammatical analysis of Vitus' breviary reveals that its redactors
used some liturgical manuscripts from Bosnia, written in the Cyrillic
alphabet. This conclusion is also supported by the fact that those
few miniatures we find in Vitus' breviary, remind very much of Bosnian
miniatures. There are four symbols of the evangelists, with names
not in the Glagolitic but in the Cyrillic script: S(aint)t Lucas and
In its travel through centuries every book has its destiny: Habent sua
fata libelli. So did Vitus of Omisalj's breviary collect a lot of
additions and data on its pages. With its daily use in the church in
Roc, the breviary's first binding and cover needed replacement. This
was done by a professional binder and a Glagolitic priest, Gregory
Kraljic from Senj. At the very end of
the 15th and the beginning of the 16th century (between 1497 and 1502,
to be exact) he lived in Istria
Beram, Draguc and "near Pazin". In this period he rebound five
Glagolitic liturgical manuscripts, missals and breviaries, among which
of Omisalj's breviary in Roc. His bindings can be identified through
notes and ornamentation on the covers of the manuscripts rebound.
Gregory made covers from small boards bound in leather, and while it
was still damp, he pressed ornaments into it, using warmed metal
This is the so-called "blind press" technique. Composition of his
cover ornaments match the style of the German bindings,
and the motifs are wide or narrow frame lines with big or small
climbing plants, palmettes and lillies to fill the frame.
This way we can associate the work of two Glagolitic workers with the
manufacturing of Vitus of Omisalj's breviary and other Glagolitic
codexes. There is also a number of other people of Roc who wrote down
their notes in the empty spaces of the breviary.
Translated from Croatian by prof. Branko Antolic
A sample of Glagoljski brevijar Vida Omišljanina,
written by academician Branko Fučić, has been given as a gift to
pope John Paul II on June 5th, 2003 on the occasion of his hundredth
apostolic travel, after he landed in Croatia on the Omišalj
airport on the island of Krk. Twenty years earlier (1983) the same Pope
proclaimed him a knight Commendator of the Order of St Gregory the
Great. See [Galović, p. 221].
conference dedicated to the memory of Branko Fucic
Croatian Glagolitic Script