While sightseeing or even just strolling around Croatia, you might have noticed some unusual characters carved into stone tablets, scratched into walls, or even emblazoned on souvenir T-shirts and bags. Have you ever wondered what exactly this mysterious, blocky script is?
Well, it’s called Glagolitic, and it’s one of three scripts historically used by Croats, along with Croatian Cyrillic and Latin script. Scholars generally believe that the missionaries St. Cyril and St. Methodius invented the Glagolitic alphabet in the 9th century to facilitate the conversion of the Bulgarians and Moravians. The two missionaries essentially created an alphabet based on Slavic sounds and modeled in form after Greek letters.
Glagolitic eventually spread to Croatia, where it became a widely and frequently used script for ecclesiastical texts and was adapted to an angular, geometric form, called Croatian script, by the 12th century. In 1248, Philip of Senj obtained permission from Pope Innocent IV for liturgical use of Glagolitic script, and it continued to be used for centuries before it finally died out in the 1800s.
It is believed that Croatia is the only country where Glagolitic inscriptions were carved in stone. Though several Croatian cities hold Glagolitic artifacts, the most well known is the Baska Tablet, the longest of the early Croatian Glagolitic inscriptions, dating to around 1100. The 100-word inscription is carved into a white limestone tablet and describes Croatian King Zvonimir’s donation of land to the Church of St. Lucy in Jurandvor on the island of Krk. This inscription is particularly significant because it is the first time the national Croatian name is mentioned, as part of Zvonimir’s title. The tablet journeyed from Krk to Zagreb in August 1934, and it has been housed in the Strossmayer Gallery of Old Masters since then.
You can also find Glagolitic inscriptions in towns throughout Kvarner and Istria; in particular, on the island of Krk and in the Istrian village of Hum, where inscriptions mark the town’s main entrance. Several Glagolitic manuscripts are on display in Rijeka at the permanent exhibition of Glagolitic script.
Several modern monuments in Croatia honor Glagolitic script. A 1941 Glagolitic inscription in the Zagreb Cathedral commemorates the 1300th anniversary of the baptism of the Croatian people, while two contemporary projects celebrate the form of individual Glagolitic letters. On the island of Krk, 34 stone sculptures of Glagolitic characters create a path between the Treskavac mountain pass and the town harbor in Baska. In Istria, 11 monumental Glagolitic letters form a trail, known as Glagolitic Alley, between Hum and Roc. For even more Glagolitic artifacts and monuments, check out the list compiled by Darko Zubrinic at Croatian History.
One more fascinating ode to Glagolitic: after discovering the ancient script during a visit to the Zagreb Cathedral, Nenad Hancic, who was visiting Croatia from Germany, became so intrigued by it that he painstakingly developed two Glagolitic fonts based on historic documents – Croatica and Glagolica Missal DPG – so that, in his words, “Glagolica will neither be forgotten nor disappear in our electronic age.”