Sensational discovery: 18th century gospel written in Macedonian language

 The Konikovo gospel is the oldest record written in the Macedonian language, even older than Danail’s Lexicon Tetragloson which dates back to 1802. The text is written in an Aegean dialect, more precisely in the Voden-Enidzhevardar folk language, using the Greek alphabet, and seems to be the first attempt at popularizing the Macedonian folk language and rejecting the Church-Slavonic language.

The oldest discovered written record of the Macedonian folk language was found in the Alexandrian Library by a team of Finnish researchers. The discovered book was published in 1852 in Solun and is known as the Kokinovo Gospel. Its discovery is having Slavists saying that this is a first-class sensation. The gospel is written in the same folk Macedonian language that was spoken at the end of the 18th century and is the oldest written record found to contain the Aegean dialect of the Macedonians who lived in Greece. The book was named after Kokinovo, the village from which its author/editor Pavle Bozhigropski originated and is signed Orthodox clerk Pavel born in Voden Region. Linguists believe the original version on which Pavel Bozhigropski was doing his editing is the oldest record of the Macedonian language ever found, older than Adzhi Danail from Moskopole’s Lexicon Tetragloson which dates back to 1802, but sadly there is no information on its author. The text is written in an Aegean dialect, more precisely in the Voden-Enidzhevardar folk language, using the Greek alphabet, and seems to be a first attempt at popularizing the Macedonian folk language and rejecting the Church-Slavonic language.

In August of this year the Finnish academy of Arts and Sciences made the discovery of “The Konikovo Gospel” known through the editorship of Jouko Lindstedt and Yuhani Nuorluoto from Finland . The editor from Macedonia was Professor Ljudmil Spasov.

This original handwritten gospel represents a splendid but somewhat damaged specimen of a book. The damage appears to be from excessive use. There are also many droplets of candle wax and oil on it and the pages at the lower edge are worn down from turning. There are also holes made by worms typical of old documents found in libraries. 

Greek anti-Macedonian politics

Today, according to the Finnish publishers, in Konikovo generally speaking there are no Macedonians because they were cleansed from the village between 1912 and 1928, and the Greeks have renamed the village to Ditiko where only imported Christian settlers from Turkey live. The Voden dialect which was used to write the gospel was investigated by the Finns and with help from Vinizhito volunteers was discovered to also exist in Griva, a neighbouring village of Kokinovo . The foreigners in the team including those from Finland , who met the Macedonian population in Greece , were delighted that finally a new Greece was being uncovered, which they say they always knew existed but for them it was inaccessible.

Victor Friedman professor of Balkan and Slavic studies from Chicago wrote that the discovery of the Konikovo gospel is priceless: “The dialect in the Konikovo gospel is of extraordinary importance because it comes from the region that was given to Greece after the Balkan Wars in 1913. A region where later hundreds of thousands of refugees who only spoke Greek and Turkish were settled as a result of population exchanges between Greece and Turkey (1922-1923). Greece , between the two world wars, attempted to create a homogeneous state by destroying all minority languages. A little later many violent battles were fought in this region especially during the Greek Civil War which resulted in thousands of Macedonians being evicted after 1948, leaving very few to speak this dialect today.”

The significance of the written material found is enormous because persecution against the Macedonian language and literature dates back to the time of the Byzantines to the 11th century, when all the books written in the Cyrillic alphabet were destroyed, and by the beginning of the 18th century the Cyrillic language in Greece was completely eradicated. The gospel represents evidence of resistance against Greek politics. 

During the Ottoman occupation, even though millets (people) were identified by their religion, Orthodox Christians for example, in the non-Muslim categories there was always awareness that not only religion, but also language represented a division in people which became a basis for national identity, and precisely for that reason the gospel was written in the Macedonian folk language.

Professor Friedman writes: “Our understanding of the development of the Macedonian language and identity in the 18th century and early 19th century is considerably enriched with the discovery of the Konikovo gospel because this is the period from which the written form of the language appeared from which today the standard Macedonian language is derived. The Konikovo gospel is the earliest text discovered to use the colloquial Macedonian language as a written language. And while Pavle Bozhigropski the author attempts to write Macedonian for the first time, with his own corrections he is attempting to standardize that language!

Greek opposition to the Macedonians in Greece continues from that time to today, as attested by the publication of the Abecedar in 1925, intended as a primer for the Macedonians in Northern Greece but never used.”

By Atanas Kirovski, Translated and edited by Risto Stefov