Cyril and Methodius Route – Cultural Route of the Council of Europe

Cyril and Methodius cultural Legacy

Cyril and Methodius Legacy

The main focus of the Cultural Route of Saints Cyril and Methodius, also known as the Holy Brothers or Apostles to the Slavs, are cultural ideas and cultural content that the two brothers of Greco-Byzantine upbringing introduced during the mission they led primarily among the Slavs of Great Moravia from 863 to 868 (their mission activities also included the Slavs of the polity of Lower Pannonia). This initial period was followed by equally intense activities led by Methodius (after Cyril died in 869), and, after Methodius’ death in 885, by the two brothers’ direct disciples who, expelled from Great Moravia, spread the Cyrillo-Methodian legacy across the Slavic world.
The mission led by Cyril and Methodius was undertaken as a response from Byzantine Emperor Michael III to the request of Duke Rastislav of Great Moravia, with the main task of introducing an intelligible language for the sacred and public use in that Slavic polity, as well as of buttressing and strengthening Christian faith of their inhabitants.

Cyril and Methodius, however, did not only refine the Slavic vernacular (by supplementing vocabulary and grammar) to meet the needs of theological, philosophical, legislative, administrative, and literary discourse, but boldly went even further, with Constantine inventing a script tailored to fit the Slavic phonemic system, that is, the Glagolitic script. At the end of the 9th century, the Cyrillic script was created in the South Slavic lands, most likely in the Bulgarian Khanate. While Glagolitic script was still relatively widely used during the 11th century (especially within the Ohrid Literary School) from the 12th century onward the Cyrillic script prevailed, serving as the equivalent of the Greek alphabet for Slavs of the Eastern Rite, who lived in the civilizational and political environment of the Eastern Roman Empire. The Glagolitic script remained in use among Croatians, with the last Glagolitic text printed in 1927.

Geographically speaking

The Mission and its cultural heritage was present over a rather large area. Great Moravia was situated primarily on the current territories of the eastern Czech Republic and western Slovakia, but also of Hungary and Austria. The Slavic polity of Lower Pannonia was located mainly in today’s Hungary, but also in parts of Croatia and Serbia. The life paths of Cyril and Methodius, before and during the Mission, also included regions currently within the borders of Greece and Turkey, Germany, Slovenia, Italy, Ukraine and Russia (in the territory of Crimea and historic Kievan Rus).
Once Cyril and Methodius’ direct disciples were expelled from Great Moravia, Cyrillo-Methodian cultural ideas and contents spread among Slavs inhabiting territories that are currently part of Bulgaria, North Macedonia and southern Albania, Croatia, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Serbia and (including) Kosovo, Montenegro, Romania, the Republic of Moldova, and Poland. Today, if taken consistently, Cyrillo-Methodian heritage is present in all countries with Cyrillic script.

Cyril and Methodius cultural heritage is identity-oriented

It is impossible to define the Cyrillo-Methodian heritage without pointing out an important fact: it has always been and is irreversibly oriented towards questions of culture and identity. This was evident from the very beginning of this heritage, i.e. from the moment when Rastislav turned to Emperor Michael III. and Constantine and Methodius set out on their mission – its aim was the (re)formation and development of a cultural (but also political) Slavic identity that would be distinct from the already firmly established and mature cultural (and political) identity of the German or Byzantine ones.
The core of Cyril and Methodius’ cultural legacy has its intangible and tangible aspects. The intangible ones include, first of all, the written variants of the Old Slavonic language as well as the Glagolitic and Cyrillic alphabets. The tangible aspects consist mainly of the texts written in the specific languages and scripts associated with the Cyrillo-Methodian legacy, but also a number of archaeological and historical monuments dating from the period of the Cyrillo-Methodian mission, as well as monuments testifying to the respective stages of the subsequent development of Cyrillo-Methodian cultural ideas in individual countries.

Cyril and Methodius heritage in the context of European values

Saints Cyril and Methodius significantly influenced the cultural development of European nations and laid the foundations for the development of Europe’s culture. The saint brothers remain symbols of the fundamental values of European civilisation, such as human dignity, tolerance, democracy, freedom of thought, conscience, religion and expression, the rule of law, and the right to a fair trial. By spreading the European values that Saints Cyril and Methodius helped create in the 9th century and keep creating as copatron saints of Europe even today, the Cyril and Methodius Route contributes to promote the concept of modern Europeanism, i.e. mutual understanding, cultural dialogue, and the unity of the continent.
Since Cyril and Methodius’ cultural legacy centres around such fundamental cultural areas as language and literacy, it was destined from the beginning to have a profound and lasting impact on the cultural history and identity of the Slavic people. Indeed, Cyril and Methodius’ cultural thought and its contents have proven sufficiently pregnant and complex that they have retained an inspirational charge in modern times and have been consistently used as a distinctive claim to Slavic identity over other cultural or political identities.

Cyril and Methodius Route

Scripts of the Cyril and Methodius heritage

1. Glagolitic script. Cyril, taking seriously both his missionary task and the fact that the Latin script was not suitable for writing down a Slavic language, constructed the Glagolitic script to fit the Slavic phonemic system.

2. Cyrillic script is based on the Greek uncial script, also taking into consideration the Glagolitic azbuka. From the 10th century onwards, along with the territory of what is today Bulgaria and North Macedonia, it has also spread to all the other countries of Orthodox background

Tangible heritage

1. Original documents in the (Old) Church Slavonic language and in the Glagolitic and (Old) Cyrillic scripts, as well as replicas/facsimiles of such texts/inscriptions.

2. Sites and artefacts of important events and stages in the lives of Cyril, Methodius, and their direct disciples, as well as of Glagolitic and Cyrillic literacy.

Early medieval battle of Slavs

Intangible heritage

1. Cultural programmes and events, celebrations, and festivals, i.e. concerts of spiritual choral music, authentic so-called Glagolitic singing, the feast days of the Holy Brothers and other occasions of veneration. 

2. Educational programmes, such as workshops, schools, seminars, public lectures focused on passing knowledge of and about Glagolitic and Cyrillic script, as well as the Church Slavonic language, and pertaining to literature with the intent to pass Cyrillo-Methodian knowledge and skills on to present and future generations.