by academician Branko Fucic, written on the occasion of 600th anniversary of the breviary
(on this web-site with his permission)
[in Croatian]

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 efficiency. 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 pressed 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 manuscripts. 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 books by 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.

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 holidays 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 parchment, 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 double-page 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.

Everything 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 this note:

  • About the date when writing of the codex was started: March 11, 1396.
  • 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 Roc, 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.

We know 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 ornamented 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.

Redactors 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 written not in the Glagolitic but in the Cyrillic script: S(aint)t Lucas and S(ain)t John.

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 Vitus of Omisalj's breviary in Roc. His bindings can be identified through his 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 stamps. 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

Branko Fucic

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].

Branko Fucic

International conference dedicated to the memory of Branko Fucic

Croatian Glagolitic Script