The Archivist’s Nook: Neither Quenya nor Klingon – Glagolitic books in the Clementine Library

– How many languages does the Church speak?
– All of them.
(a Sunday school joke)

Books from the Clementine Library, a collection of some 9,600 volumes, acquired by CUA in 1928, which came from the libraries of the Albani family of Urbino and Rome, Italy.
University Libraries, Rare Books, Clementine Library

By proclaiming being “Catholic” (meaning “universal”), the Catholic Church highlights its missionary effort to bring the light of the Gospel to every corner of the world and all nations. And often, there’s no other way to reach a community except by learning the language it speaks and the traditions it follows.

Such universality is evident to anyone browsing stacks in Mullen Library with books in various languages, both modern and ancient, usually well-known and spoken or studied today. In Rare Books, though, visitors may encounter volumes that can deeply puzzle any enthusiast willing to identify, not to mention – study them closely. Among them, there are several humbly-looking 17th and early 18th-century volumes that are part of the Clementine library, one of the crown jewels of our collection.

These volumes intrigue and raise questions. What script is that? What language? Who were these books meant for and what’s their purpose? Is it one of the mysterious languages, like the famous Voynich Manuscript, or an example of the “invented” ones like Tolkien’s Quenya or Star Trek’s Klingon? Are there nations that use it still? For most, it won’t look familiar at all, except maybe for some fans of modern video games, who may say that it definitely rings a bell. (Spoiler alert: They are not mistaken!)

A page from the Azbukidarium, or an Alphabet of the St. Jerome's language, published in Rome in 1693. Part of the Clementine Linbrary (University Libraries, Rare Books).
Azbvkidarivm Illyricum Hieronimianum, Romae, 1693, University Libraries, Rare Books.

Our volumes are maybe less mysterious, but they will definitely require deciphering skills. The oldest of them were printed in Rome in the 1630s-1640s at the press of the Congregation of Propaganda Fide (today – Dicastery for Evangelization), and the texts they contain, are in a local version of the Old Slavic language, used in the territory of modern Croatia. Most of them are printed in the script called Glagolitic, an older brother of the Cyrillic and one of the two main writing systems of Slavic nations. Today the Glagolitic is rather extinct.

Glagolitic Script

Whether invented by the holy brothers and missionaries Cyril and Methodius in the 9th century as a writing system for Slavs, as it’s commonly believed by Eastern Christians or, according to an old Western tradition, by St. Jerome, native to Dalmatia, who may also have translated the Bible in his native tongue using “Alphabetum Hieronimianum”, it still remains a mystery what Glagolitic was inspired by and whether it was just an act of pure invention of a brand new and unique writing system for an already existing spoken language.

"Witcher 3" video game screenshot: Map fragment of the kingdom of Kaedwen with its capital Ard Carraigh written in Glagolitic. One can read it easily using the pamphlet with the Glagolitic Alphabet published in Rome in 1693 (see previous photo).
“Witcher 3” video game screenshot: the kingdom of Kaedwen and its capital Ard Carraigh.

Soon, Glagolitic was followed, and ultimately, replaced by Cyrillic, a more familiar and easy-to-use script. But it managed to survive in some territories until the 19th century and was revived recently to be used as a script within the “Witcher” video game series, based on the fantasy universe created by Polish writer Andrzej Sapkowski.

Latin and vernacular languages

Contrary to popular belief, Latin was not the only official language of the Roman Rite in the Catholic Church before the Second Vatican Council. At various times, missionary efforts required using other scripts and languages of nations the Church tried to reach and teach, and such practice was not reserved by Rome for only some “far away” lands, labeled on maps as “here be dragons”, but also for the nations right across the Adriatic Sea.

This set of volumes, preserved and accessible today in University Libraries’ Rare Books, was meant to be used among the people in Dalmatia and Croatia. It consists of a few primary liturgical books revised, approved, and published soon after the Council of Trent.


Missale Romanum Slavonico idiomate (Rome, 1706)

The first one to be published was the “new and corrected” Roman Missal in the Old Slavic language (also called Illyric in Rome). It was translated by a Croatian priest (later – bishop) Rafael Levaković, O.F.M. and was printed in 1631 in Glagolitic by order of Pope Urban VIII. Our copy is the 2nd revised edition of the Missal, published in Rome in 1706.

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Missale Romanum Slavonico idiomate iussu S.D.N. Urbani Octavi editum… Romae, typis Sac. Congreg. de Propaganda Fide, 1706 (2nd revised edition).
Call number: CL 264.6 M678


Breviarium Romanum Slavonico idiomate (Rome, 1688)

The Roman-Illyrian Breviary was the second volume to be published by the same translator. It came out of the printing press in 1648, after a long editorial process initiated by the Congregation of Propaganda Fide, which required the psalms to be consistent with the newly approved text of the Latin Bible. Our copy is the second printing of 1688.

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Breviarium Romanum Slavonico idiomate iussu S.D.N. Innocentii PP. XI editum… Romae, typis & ompensis Sac. Congreg. de Propaganda Fide, 1688.
Call number: CL 264.3 B846S 1688


Rituale Romanum [Illyrica lingua] (Rome, 1706)

Meanwhile, the Rituale Romanum, another important liturgical volume, was translated. This time, by a Jesuit Bartol Kašić (1575-1650) and not into the ancient Old-Croat-Slavonic, but into the vernacular. According to scholars, this edition “marks the beginning of the standardization of the Croat literary language” [1].

The volume was published in Rome in 1640 and, after a period of discussion and consideration, in Latin script. Nevertheless, this book is part of the same corpus of liturgical books published for Christians in Croatia by the Congregation of Propaganda Fide.

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Rituale Romanum Urbani VIII, Pont. Max. issue editum. Illyrica lingua… Romae, Ex typographia Sac. Congreg. de Propaganda Fide, 1640.
Call number: CL 264.12 R615


Azbukidarium Illyricum Hieronimianum (Rome, 1693)

An additional item in our Glagolitic collection is a small pamphlet that serves as an introduction to the script and language. It contains both the Glagolitic and Cyrillic versions of the alphabet, some basic words, abbreviations, and a few popular prayers. One can assume, it may have been a starting point for everyone willing to get familiar with the language.

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Azbvkidarivm Illyricum Hieronimianum, habens correspondentes characteres Cyrillianos, seu Seruianos, & Latinos, Romae, Typis Sacrae Congr. De Propaganda Fide, 1693.
Call number: CL 411 A456.


Research value 

These books are not just another curiosity in our collection. Their unique content may be of interest to scholars of a range of disciplines, from church history and liturgy to Eastern European language and history studies.

The researchers willing to study them deeply will have to face countless questions about their history and purpose, translation techniques and language features, relationships between Western and Eastern Christians, missions among non-Catholics, such extinct traditions as Glagolitic and Aquileyan liturgical rites, and more.

One of the mysteries that puzzle our staff members is the controversy around the Slavic Psalter printed with the Breviary. The original, and rather standard text of the Psalter, commonly used by Eastern Orthodox Churches, was rejected by Rome, and a committee was established with a Ukrainian Catholic Bishop Methodius Terleckyj as its head with the task to review the text and make it consistent with the promulgated text of the Latin Vulgate. But how many corrections were made and how significant they were? How much the revisions were influenced by Ukrainian liturgical tradition [2]? These are some of the many intriguing questions one can encounter while approaching these volumes. And only they can provide an answer and help us to know our past better.


These books can be accessed by appointment in Rare Books (Mullen 214, lib-rarebooks@cua.edu) by any patron or researcher interested in studying them more closely.

 

Sources:

Thomson, F.J. (2005). The legacy of SS. Cyril and Methodius in the Counter-Reformation: The council of Trent and the question of scripture and liturgy in the vernacular, together with an account of the subsequent consequences for the Slavo-Latin (Glagolitic) rite and the Bible in Croatian translation. In E. Konstantinou (Ed.), Methodios und Kyrillos in ihrer Europäischen Dimension (Philhellenische Studien, 10)(pp. 87-246). Peter Lang. doi:10.1017/S0022046906429882, http://www.europa-zentrum-wuerzburg.de/unterseiten/Band10-Thomson.pdf 

Žubrinić, D. (2009). Hrvatska glagoljička kultura s osvrtom na Francusku. Croatia: Overview of history, culture, and science. https://www.croatianhistory.net/etf/francegl.html

References:

[1] Thomson, 2005, p. 82.

[2] See Thomson, 2005, p. 78.

The Archivist’s Nook: Rare but Numerous – ‘Imitation of Christ’ in Rare Books

Thomas à Kempis, De Imitatione Christi, Leiden, 1658

“Why do you need so many copies of the same work in your collection?” Such a question can be easily asked by any patron after finding in the library catalog that Rare Books houses 36 cataloged copies of The Imitation of Christ by Thomas à Kempis. It blows some people’s minds and raises questions: Why so many? Is not one or two copies enough, especially since there are multiple modern editions and translations available in the general stacks?

As the matter of fact, most of the books, pamphlets, and other kinds of resources housed in Rare Books are preserved on our shelves not only because of the text they contain (though this may be the case for some extremely rare or unique editions) but rather because of some other unique or special features of the books as physical objects, such as print and type, binding and tooling, illuminations and miniatures, paper and watermarks, corrections and marginalia (personal notes, images, and doodles left on margins by previous readers), bookplates and inscriptions, association with prominent historical figures, items left between the pages, and many more. Similar to twins, that develop unique features of their look and character as they grow, so the books even if they came out of the same printing press on the exact same day, will differ significantly in their appearance and each will have its own story to tell.

Scholars in various disciplines study rare books as objects that possess historical, evidential, and informational value through their physicality. They can provide insights on the history of book printing and binding, circulation and ownership, reading habits and purposes (both recreational and educational), aesthetic preferences, changes in society, and more. That’s what makes our books special: they are always ready to give a personal witness to the past.

Thomas a Kempis, De Imitatione Christi, Cologne, Germany, 1507
Thomas à Kempis, De Imitatione Christi, Cologne, Germany, 1507

“The Imitation of Christ” is one of such popular works translated and reproduced abundantly through the centuries. It has always and continues to be deeply respected, loved, read, studied, and praised by many, religious and laypeople, artists and soldiers, and novelists and scholars alike. It has brought comfort to many historical figures, such as St. Theresa of Avila, George Eliot, Thomas Merton, and St. Thomas More, who, according to some, had a copy of The Imitatio with him while waiting for his execution, as well as fictional characters such as Agatha Christie’s Miss Marple, who used to keep a copy at her bedside and read a few chapters every night. But the main reason, it has been chosen as the hero of this story is its astounding 600 years jubilee which we celebrate today.

Well, not exactly “today,” for we do not know the year in which De Imitatione Christi was composed. Various scholars agree only on the timeframe between 1410 and 1425, which gives us still plenty of time to commemorate the date and salute this great work. Though it first appeared anonymously, De Imitatione Christi is now commonly attributed to a German-Dutch canon regular and member of the modern devotional movement (aka Devotio Moderna) Thomas Hemmerken from the town of Kempen, better known as Thomas à Kempis (c. 1380 – 1471). 

In homage to his inspirational work, we’d like to highlight today three of our special copies of The Imitation of Christ, offering also a glimpse into Rare Books holdings and encouraging everyone interested to come and see the original volumes in person.

A copy with a secret (Cologne, Germany, 1503)

Various museums and libraries in the U.S. and overseas preserve peculiar books that have a hidden compartment in their bindings. Sometimes it can be as wild as a place to hide a pistol. Our volume is not a book of a criminal or a smuggler, but rather of an early 16th-century passionate reader, who just wanted a convenient spot to keep their reading spectacles and to never have to ask one of the eternal questions of mankind: “where did I put my glasses?

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An annotated copy (Cologne, Germany, 1507)

There are always people who like to make notes on the margins of a paper book one studies deeply: agreeing or arguing with the author, developing their own ideas about the topic, or recording insights and expanding the perspective. That is one of the ways to collaborate with the author and create a personal relationship with the book: both, the work and the object (Though we don’t encourage it in any other than one’s own books!). Another of our early 16th-century copies of the Imitatio, which was previously part of the collection of a book lover and our great donor Msgr. Arthur Connolly, holds marginal notes of a scholar who was deeply immersed in the text. It’s still waiting for its researchers who would like to transcribe and study the thoughts and insights of this early reader of the Imitation of Christ.

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The Musica Ecclesiastica (New York, 1891)

As a devotional work, The Imitation of Christ was meant to be not only studied by the educated but read and put into practice by anyone. To assist with that, there were numerous attempts conducted to translate it from Latin into vernacular languages making it accessible to everyone. There are multiple translations of the Imitatio known and available today, but in this unique late 19th-century American edition, the translator, an English theologian, Oxford professor, and a personal friend of Lewis Carroll, H. P. Liddon, endeavored to preserve its original beauty. According to him, the Imitatio was also called “Musica Ecclesiastica” or “The Church Music”, because of the rhythm and melody of the original Latin, which the translator wished to catch and preserve. Maybe it’s not as old as other copies that are shown here, but it is trying to be faithful to the original intent of the author as well as is faithful to the spirit of its own time: in its language, appearance, binding, and other features.

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Each one of these books, as well as any other copy of The Imitation of Christ in our collection, can be accessed by appointment in Rare Books (Mullen 214, lib-rarebooks@cua.edu) by any patron or researcher interested in studying them more closely. 

 

Sources:

  • Becker, Kenneth Michael. From the Treasure-House of Scripture: an Analysis of Scriptural Sources in De Imitatione Christi. Turnhout, Belgium: Brepols, 2002.
  • Thomas, à Kempis. The complete Imitation of Christ. Translated and commented by Father John-Julian. Brewster, Mass.: Paraclete Press, c2012.
  • Thomas à Kempis, De Imitatione Christi, Leiden, 1658