Freising (Brižinski) Manuscripts

The three oldest Slavic manuscripts

Freisinger Manuscripts in Slovenian  Brižinski spomeniki are thousand-year old manuscripts written in Slovenian language of the time. They are part of a church codex – most probably used by the bishop of Freising himself - consisting of 169 pages and containing 70 items in Latin. Of these nine pages - three complete texts - are written in Old Slovenian presumably spoken in the area during the 10th century. The preserved Brižinski spomeniki are thought to be copies of even older 9th century originals in Upper Carinthia or in Freising in the territory of the present day Austria and most probably written by German and possibly Slovenian priests for their flock.

The Brižinski spomeniki consist of three texts. Brižinski spomeniki I, and Brižinski spomeniki III are translations of unidentified Old High German confession formulas. The first text was repeated after the priest in fragments in what has been liturgical practice to the present day, Brižinski spomeniki II is a homily on sin and its consequences for mankind.
On the basis of the script preserved in the documents, it is possible to determine the precise period of the origin of Brižinski spomeniki II and Brižinski spomeniki III, which were written between May 972 and the year 1000. The Brižinski spomeniki I came into being later, most probably around 1022 or 1023.

The Brižinski spomeniki have been known for nearly 190 years. Joseph Docen found the manuscripts in 1806 in one of the volumes acquired by the Munich National Library from the nearby Freising Diocese. Without fully realising their value, he placed them linguistically in the interest sphere of the present day Slovenian language speakers, recognising it as "the Carinthian or Illyrian dialect". The name Freising was translated into Slovenian as Brižinj in 1854 and so the name Brižinski spomeniki.

The codex was not distinguished for its quality, both the paper and ink were quite ordinary. However it soon became clear that the codex was remarkable precisely because of its non-Latin texts, which are not only the oldest preserved writing in Slovenian but the oldest Slavic manuscript in general. Joseph Dobrovsky, the greatest and most distinguished linguist of his period, was among the first Slavists to see the texts. He copied them and sent the first text to Baron Žiga Zois in Ljubljana in recognition of its importance for Slovenes. Dobrovsky’s letter which reached Ljubljana in September 1812, indicates clearly that the Slovenian identity of the Brižinski spomeniki was never in question among the scholars. Zois failed to publish the find, so generously yielded by Dobrovsky. However the first texts, Brižinski spomeniki 1 were published by a Slovene , Jernej Kopitar in 1822, while all three texts were published together in 1827 in Saint Petersburg by Peter Ivan Koepen.

The texts comprise some 1014 words and are logically divided into three distinct volumes or "monuments". They were written in the miniscule script of the German scribal centres at the threshold of the 11th century which had developed from the Carolingian miniscule, a script without capital letters.

The language in which Brižinski spomeniki are written a thousand years ago shows many characteristics which confirm continuity to the present day Slovenian. There are also many differences, not just in vocabulary, but also in some phonetic structures of both vowels and consonants.

The most recent edition of the Brižinski spomeniki was prepared in 1991 by the Institute for Slovene Literature and Literary Sciences of the Slovene Academy of Sciences and Arts, presenting in single volume the sources and material behind various scholarly illuminations. This edition includes transcriptions, translations, speech reconstructions, bibliographies, synthetic surveys, and a very precisely printed colour facsimile. A second edition was published in 1992, differing from the first only in a less elaborate facsimile.

Brižinski spomeniki are a remarkable historical document, important in establishing the place of Slovenian people and culture within the existing European civilization, and a matter of national pride. In words of Jože Faganel: "From the same period, the Italians, a nation that supposedly preserves most of the cultural wealth off the world can only show an introductory sentence in a list of landowners in the famous Monte Cassino document."

Translated into present day Slovenian by Ramovš:
"Če bi naš praded ne bil grešil, bi večno živel, ne bi se staral in ne bi nikoli imel skrbi, tudi ne nesrečnega telesa, marveč bi vedno živel. Ko pa je bil po hudičevi zavisti pregnan od božje slave, so na človeški rod prišle bolečine, žalosti, bolezni in navsezadnje smrt. Vendar pa, bratje, spomnimo se, da se imenujemo sinovi božji. Zato opustimo ta mrzka dela, ki so hudičeva dela, kakor malikovanje, obrekovanje brata, tatvina, uboj, poltenost, nespoštovanje priseg, ki jih prelamljamo, sovraštvo; nič ni bolj ostudno pred božjimi očmi kot ta dela."

Translated into English by Aleksandra Čeferin:
"If our forefather had not sinned, he would have eternal life, he would not get old, would not have troubles, or pain, but would live for ever. When he was driven from God's glory, because of devil's envy, pain, sorrows, illness and finally death came over mankind. However, brothers, let us remember, that we call ourselves the sons of God. Therefore, let us give up these hateful works, which are devil's works, like idolatry, speaking ill of your brother, theft, manslaughter, fleshliness, dishonouring oaths which we break, hatred; nothing is more loathsome in God's eyes than these works."

Note: reading the Brižinski spomeniki texts today can be compared to reading texts written in Middle High German.


Faganel, Jože, The Brižinski Spomeniki - Elements of National Self-Confidence, Slovenija Magazine, Ljubljana: No.2 Vol. IX, 1995.