The Senj Missal

The Missal in Keeping with the Roman Court Law

The first Croatian printed book, the Missal According to the Law of the Roman Court, so named after the first two lines, Početie Misala po zakonu Rimskoga dvora /Beginnings of the Missal According to the Law of the Roman Court/, was printed in 1483, only 28 years after the completion of the forty two-lined Bible, printed in Mainz from 1453 to 1455 using mobile printing letters by Johannes Gutenberg (1394/1399-1468), at the same time also being the first European book not printed in Latin alphabet. Let us mention, by the way, that the Austrians printed their first book in 1461, the Italians in 1465, the Swiss in 1468, the French in 1470; followed by Belgians, the Dutch and Hungarians in 1473; the Spaniards and the Polish in 1474; the English in 1475, the Slovaks in 1477, the Czechs in 1478, the Danes in 1482, the Swedes in 1483, the Portuguese in 1487, and the Montenegrins in 1494. It should be pointed out, though, that the first Croatian book positively known to have been printed on Croatian soil, the Missal According to the Law of the Roman Court or the Senj Missal, was printed in the Senj Glagolitic printing shop in 1494.



The Senj Missal from 1494

The colophony does not include any data as to the place of printing, or the printer i.e. publisher. There is only the date: Letb G(ospod)nihb -č-u-o-v- m(ese)ca pervra d(b)ni -i-b- [22. veljače 1483.] ti misli biše svršeni /The year of the Lord [22 February 1483] these thoughts were completed. The comprehensive copy of the Missal contained the 220 papers of quarter format, while the text was actually published in Church-Slavic language with Croatian editing, in black and red, on paper, but also on a volume, in two rows and 36 lines, with space left for the initial letters in the height of two or three lines, so that they could be subsequently introduced by hand and decorated.

The Croatian first edition was published on the feast of the Chair of St. Peter (“Prestolb svetago Petra apostola”), which was honoured as a symbol of educational power as of the 1st century. Namely, the Croatian priests saying Mass from the Glagolitic (old Croatian) Missal were constantly being accused of not being faithful enough to the Roman Church, because they were not using Latin in liturgy, but Church-Slavic, and Glagolitic alphabet invented by Saint Cyril Constantine. In order to refute these  accusations and protect themselves against the attacks, the fathers started to associate the printing of Glagolitic books with the revival of the cult of St. Jerome – one among the great Latin Church Fathers and translator of the Holy Scripture into Latin. They made him the heir of the work of the Holy Brothers, the Slavic apostles Cyril and Methodius, so that they managed to raise the interest of European humanists for this truly unique alphabet (littera Hieronymiana, characte-res Hieronymiani).

Was it Venice – as is assumed by a part of the scientific public – or Rome, or again Kosinj, Modruš, Izola, or some other place on Croatian territory, that was the scene of the printing of the first Croatian book, the experts still have not agreed upon until the very present day, so that the question remains open. Finally, it would be necessary to thoroughly review Venetian archives from the second half of the year 1482 and the first half of 1483 and establish with complete certainty if the Missal was printed in Venice or not. If not, the investigation should take on another course, following some other lead.

The Lord’s Prayer (the Our Father) from the Missal

The Missal is – in terms of its printing and technical properties – the first Croatian bestseller, a masterpiece of Glagolitic printing skill. It could only have been prepared for printing by top masters of the “black art”, as our ancestors used to call one of the greatest human inventions.

The circulation of books at the time was approximately some two hundred copies, so that was probably also true of our Missal. Different Croatian institutions hold six copies: Two at the National and University Library in Zagreb, two at the library of the Friary of St. Francis Xavier in Zagreb, one at the library of the Croatian Academy of Science and Art in Zagreb, and one at the library of the Dominican friary in Bol on the island of Brač. Foreign institutions keep five copies: two at the Vatican Apostolic library in Rome, one at the Congress library in Washington, one at the Russian National library in Sankt—Petersburg, and one at the Austrian National library in Vienna, so that eleven copies altogether have been preserved worldwide; alas – incomplete. Of two copies preserved in the holdings of the Collection of Manuscripts and Old Books, the first one came to the National and University Library in Zagreb from the National Museum library, because the Act on University Establishment of 5 January 1874 envisaged the joining of the National Museum library with the then Royal University library. The other copy, in original wooden cover with black leather, was part of the buying off of the library of Ljudevit Gaj (1809—1872), the leader of the Croatian national revival. The Croatian government has bought off and donated Gaj’s manuscripts and books collection to the Royal University library, with the takeover taking place in 1894.

The attention of the scientific community was drawn to the Missal first by the Zadar Archbishop Matej Karaman (1700-1771), and then also by the Slovenian linguist Bartolomej Jernej Kopitar (1780— 1844), as well as by the White Russian expert for Slavic and Oriental languages Mihail Kirillovič Bobrovskij (1785-1848). In 1820, in a letter addressed to Kopitar about our first edition, he made a funny remark that the edition in question was “rarer than white raven”. Writing again to Kopitar on 20 September 1821, this time from Paris, he stated that, at the Vatican apostolic library, among the rest of the Slavic riches, he saw the Glagolitic Missal printed in 1484 {inter alia rei Slavonicae cimelia vidi Missaleglagoliticum infol. impressum anno 1484). Bobrovskij correctly wrote the year of the printing in Glagolitic alphabet: -č-u-o-v- [= 1483], pointing out that the Missal is the first book published in Slavic language (Liber saneprimus, qui in lingua slavonica impressus lucem aspexerai). However, the first Slavic book was printed in the Czech Republic:  The Chronicles of Troy, around 1478, in Old Slavic language, in the town of Plzen.

In 1971, the Liber publishing house from Zagreb has reprinted the Missal, and accompanied it with the studies of the most renowned Croatian experts from the field. In the end, let us point out that the exact date of the printing of the first Croatian book – the Missal According to the Law of the Roman Court — 11 February — has been proclaimed the day of the National and University Library in Zagreb.

Dr. sc. Ivan Košić


Adress:Samostan sv. Frane
Trg sv. Frane 6
51557 Cres

Phone no:tel. (051) 571-217

Priests:Fr. Vitomir Glavaš, Guardian
Fr. Ferdinand Ćavar
Fr. Josip Petonjić, Magister of the Postulants




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