The Konikovo Gospel (Bibl.Patr.Alex. 268)

A bilingual vernacular Gospel manuscript from Macedonia

(late 18th – early 19th century)

In the winter of 2003/04, researchers from the University of Helsinki found an interesting bilingual manuscript, written in what is now Greek Macedonia in the late 18th or early 19th century. It contains a Greek evangeliarium (Gospel lectionary for Sunday services) and its Slavic translation, both written in Greek letters. What makes the manuscript unique is its bilinguality, and the fact that both the Greek and the Slavic texts represent the vernacular, not the church language. The Slavic part is the oldest known text of greater scope that directly reflects the living dialects of Southern Macedonia. It is also the oldest known Gospel translation in Modern Macedonian.

The beginning of the Slavic text, with corrections by Pavel Božigropski, was printed in Thessaloniki in 1852–1853, and these four pages have been known in Slavic studies as the “Konikovo Gospel” after Pavel’s home village (nowadays known as Dytikó). The newly found manuscript shows, however, that the translation came into being earlier and in a fashion other than has been assumed. The manuscript also reflects the sound structure of the local dialect better than the short printed text did.

The manuscript must originally have contained about 124 pages, 74 of which have been preserved. The Slavic part is a valuable source for research into the dialects and more recent history of Macedonian. The Macedonian language is the closest relative of Bulgarian. It did not acquire a definitive standard language until after World War II.

The Greek text in the manuscript represents a vernacular Gospel tradition that originated in the 17th century. During the 19th century, these vernacular Gospels gradually fell out of use in the church.

The first to take notice of the manuscript in the library of the Greek Orthodox Patriarchate of Alexandria and all Africa was Mika Hakkarainen, who is carrying out research in the library on the basis of an agreement between the Partriarchate and the Academy of Finland's Centre of Excellence "Ancient and Mediaeval Greek Documents, Archives, and Libraries", led by Jaakko Frösén. In Helsinki, the manuscript is now being studied by a group that includes, besides Hakkarainen, the scholars Nina Graves, Jouko Lindstedt (research group leader), Juhani Nuorluoto and Max Wahlström (all four from the West and South Slavonic Languages and Cultures, University of Helsinki), as well as Maria Basdekis and Martti Leiwo (both from the Department of Classical Philology, University of Helsinki).

The Helsinki research group has prepared a scholarly edition of the Konikovo Gospel in a close collaboration with a Macedonian research group, led by Prof. Ljudmil Spasov from the University of Skopje (see the publication data below).

In 2004, Victor Friedman, Professor of Slavic and Balkan Linguistics at the University of Chicago, wrote about the manuscript as follows:

The significance of the Konikovo Gospel for the study of Macedonian cannot be overestimated. At the same time, this Gospel will also contribute to the study of colloquial Modern Greek. In the case of Macedonian, the southern dialect of the Lower Vardar (or Voden-Kukuš) type represented in the manuscript is one that is in most urgent need of documentation and study. Owing to the domination of the Church Slavonic tradition on the territory where Macedonian was spoken from the Middle Ages until the nineteenth century, we have very little manuscript evidence documenting the changes that took place in the spoken language during that crucial period. Moreover, such documentation as we do have comes mostly from manuscript traditions produced in Macedonia’s southwestern periphery (Ohrid) and the northeastern region (Kratovo). The southeastern dialects of the type represented by the Konikovo Gospel are thus very important in helping us complete our picture of the development of Macedonian. At the same time, because the Lower Vardar dialects were almost all spoken in a region which was assigned to Greece at the end of the Balkan Wars in 1913, one in which hundreds of thousands of Greek- and Turkish-speaking refugees were settled as a result of the exchange of populations between Greece and Turkey 1922-23, one which was the focus of Greek attempts to create a homogenous nation-state by stamping out minority languages during the inter-war period, and one which saw the most serious fighting during the Greek Civil War and from which thousands of Macedonian-speakers fled after 1948, our data on these dialects is extremely limited. There are very few speakers of the dialect left in the region. In addition to the vicissitudes of war and persecution which reduced such data concerning these dialects as has come down to us, there is the additional complication that activists from this region who sought to promote a Macedonian ethnic and national consciousness wrote in a different dialect — the West Central (Veles-Prilep-Bitola-Brod) one — as this was, by general consensus, even at the beginning of the twentieth century, the most distinctive and at the same time most readily comprehensible to the largest number of people. The Konikovo Gospel is thus an extremely rare and precious testimony both to Macedonian literary activity and at the same time a valuable resource for an inadequately attested but linguistically important Macedonian dialect.

An edition and study of the manuscript:

Lindstedt, Jouko & Spasov, Ljudmil & Nuorluoto, Juhani (eds.). 2008. The Konikovo Gospel – Кониковско евангелие: Bibl. Patr. Alex. 268. Helsinki: Societas Scientiarum Fennica. (Commentationes Humanarum Litterarum, 125.) 440 + LXXXIV pages. ISBN 978-951-653-366-0.

Reviews: Ignacy Doliński in Rocznik Slawistyczny 58 (2009), pp. 170173. | Christian Voß in Zeitschrift für Slawistik 55 (2010) 1, pp. 115–116. | Cynthia M. Vakareliyska in Slavic and East European Journal 54 (2010) 2, pp. 407–410. | Anne-Laurence Caudano in Canadian Slavonic Papers / Revue canadienne des slavistes 52 (2010) 1–2, pp. 205–206 | Grace E. Fielder in Scando-Slavica 56 (2010) 1, pp. 123–125. | Joseph Shallert in Journal of Slavic Linguistics 19 (2011) 1, pp. 131–152. | Maxim Makartsev in Acta Slavica Iaponica, Tomus 36 (2015), pp. 105–109.

Other publications by the Helsinki group

  • [Lindstedt] Lindstet, Jouko. 2006. Za istorijata na Konikovskoto evangelie. Pp. 237–245 in Predavanja na XXXVIII meǵunaroden seminar za makedonski jazik, literatura i kultura (Ohrid, 3.VIII–21.VIII 2005 g.). Skopje: Univerzitet “Sv. Kiril i Metodij”, Meǵunaroden seminar za makedonski jazik, literatura i kultura.
  • Lindstedt, Jouko. 2008. The road to Konikovo: Thoughts on the context and ethics of philology. Pp. 168–182 in Jouko Lindstedt & al. (eds.), S ljubov'ju k slovu: Festschrift to Arto Mustajoki.(Slavica Helsingiensia 35.) Helsinki: Department of Slavonic and Baltic Languages and Literatures.
  • Nuorluoto, Juhani. 2003. Rakopisot na Konikovskoto evangelie kako izvor za fonološki opis na egejskite makedonski govori. Prilozi na Makedonskata akademija na naukite i umetnostite, Oddelenie za lingvistika i literaturna nauka 28:2, pp. 69–79.
  • Nuorluoto, Juhani. 2005a. Die Konikovo-Evangeliumshandschrift: Ein neuer Fund. Pp. 327–340 in Stjepan Damjanović (ed.), Drugi Hercigonjin zbornik. Zagreb: Hrvatska sveučilišna naklada.
  • Nuorluoto, Juhani. 2005b. Nov naod: Rakopisot na Konikovskoto evangelie. Pp. 233–237 in XXXI naučna konferencija na XXXVII Meǵunaroden [seminar] za makedonski jazik, literatura i kultura (Ohrid, 16–17 avgust 2004 g.). Skopje: Univerzitet “Sv. Kiril i Metodij”, Meǵunaroden seminar za makedonski jazik, literatura i kultura.
  • Nuorluoto, Juhani. 2006. Grafemskite odliki vo rakopisot na Konikovskoto evangelie. Makedonski jazik 56 (2005), pp. 49–53.
  • Wahlström, Max. 2008. On the graphemics of the Konikovo Gospel. Pp. 153–162 in XXXIV naučna konferencija na XL Meǵunaroden seminar za makedonski jazik, literatura i kultura (Ohrid, 13–30 VIII 2007): Lingvistika. Skopje: Univerzitet “Sv. Kiril i Metodij”, Meǵunaroden seminar za makedonski jazik, literatura i kultura.
  • Wahlström, Max (to appear). Grafemika Konikovskog evanđelja u usporedbi s drugim makedonskim tekstovima pisanim grčkim pismom. In XXXV naučna konferencija na XLI Meǵunaroden seminar za makedonski jazik, literatura i kultura: Lingvistika. Skopje: Univerzitet “Sv. Kiril i Metodij”, Meǵunaroden seminar za makedonski jazik, literatura i kultura.

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Electronic resources

The complete Macedonian text of the manuscript according to the first hand

A KWIC index of the Macedonian text

A sketch of the watermark
(still unidentified!)