SpeakerSreten Ugričić

Institution National Library of Serbia

SubjectMiroslav’s Gospel

Miroslav’s Gospel (Мiroslavljevo jevanđelje), a manuscript from the second half of the 12th century, ornamented with 296 miniatures of exquisite beauty, is an outstanding representative of a rare group of illuminated manuscripts of particular style and iconography, created as a blend of elements of the Western (Italy) and the Eastern (Byzantium) cultural axes in Europe.

Miroslav’s Gospel, the oldest Serbian illustrated manuscript written in the Cyrillic alphabet is a gospel book by composition, with texts in Serbian Church Slavonic (the orthography characteristic for the Raška region), organized according to the readings during the church year. As testified by a note on the last page, the manuscript was commissioned by Prince Miroslav from Hum, which fact dates it to the 1180’s (but not later than 1194, the last year of Prince Miroslav's rule). Miroslav, the ruler of Hum (today’s Herzegovina) was Great Zhupan Stefan Nemanja's brother, and Rastko Nemanjić's (Saint Sava) uncle.

As the principle means of expression, the miniaturist used line and sharp contrast of colors – green and red – along with yellow and gold illumination. Artistically and iconographically, the painting of the manuscript combines the Romanesque style and Byzantine tradition. With that synthesis prevailing in the scriptoriums in central Italy, they are believed to be the most likely source of influence.

This oldest Serbian book, sharing the concept of decorations with the manuscripts of other Orthodox Slavs, and the style and aesthetics with the miniatures created in the scriptoriums of central Italy, is an invaluable testimony to the movement of artistic influences, which, once intertwined, code an integrated European symbolic infrastructure.

Miroslav’s Gospel is a constitutive document and a symbolic asset of the single European imaginarium. Such an integrated pan-European imaginarium was made possible due to the fact that the descendants of the ancient Romans continued to live on both the Italian and the Balkan Peninsulas after the epochal rift in the 5th century.

The emerging culture in the Balkans has developed in all its aspects for two and a half thousand years to become the modern day Europe, with equivalent history and a horizon of sense both in its West and in its East, in Rome and in Constantinople, in Moscow and in Canterbury. The oldest Serbian book, Miroslav’s Gospel, is the tangible and artistic evidence issuing from the very center - temporal and geographic - of this supreme civilizational dynamism.

In 2005, Miroslav’s Gospel was inscribed in the UNESCO’s register of the world documentary heritage – the Memory of the World.