The Missions of Saints Cyril and Methodius, c. 850

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Map Code: Ax02392

Cyril and Methodius were brothers born in Thessalonika in the early 9th century. The missionary Cyril (826–69) proved a brilliant linguist, while Methodius (815–85) was a sound administrator, who had risen to become an abbot of a monastery. The patriarch of Constantinople sent both the brothers when Prince Ratislav of Greater Moravia requested a missionary for his subjects. The Slavs of Moravia had already been converted to Christianity by Latin missionaries, but Ratislav now sought to preserve his independence by attracting Byzantine patronage. For Cyril, underpinning the work with a written Slavic language became an all-consuming vocation, and he created his Glagolitic (Slavic for ‘sound’) alphabet for transliteration purposes. His linguistic proficiency impressed the Slavs and contributed to a highly successful mission. However, Frankish clergy insisted on a Latin liturgy and ultimately a compromise had to be agreed with the pope: the brothers were permitted to use the native vernacular, provided that the service was first conducted in Latin. Following the deaths of Cyril and Methodius the Western Latinists renounced his teaching and thereafter maintained their authority in the territories that constituted Greater Moravian and Pannonia, which adhered to the Catholic church. The Glagolitic alphabet did not last; but the more accessible Cyrillic alphabet, created by St Naum of Preslav and St Clement of Ohrid, is used today throughout eastern Europe and named in St Cyril’s honour.

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