Sacred Illuminations

MY INSPIRATION                  

 

My family taught me to love nature, the arts, and music. My father, artistic director of the puppet theater in Gabrovo, Bulgaria, has the soul of an artist and creates graphical images through crafts and painting. I studied landscape architecture and designed municipal gardens and parks, rich in color, flowers, and spaces for recreation and meditation.

In America, I received degrees in Biblical and religious studies from the Institute of Christian Studies/Abilene Christian University and Information science from the University of Texas at Austin. Pursuing the Ph.D. in Information Science, I encountered Slavic and Byzantine manuscripts in critical condition and pitied those poor orphans, left without love and care, locked away and hidden in the black dust of time in the HACI archive in Sofia. Insects, moisture, filth, and rot had pierced their clothes and bodies, while deep in their margins they hid a secret history of the Balkans and beautiful illuminations, texts, and marginalia. After an intense year of restoration, this darkness, dust, and chaos became one of the finest manuscript research facilities in Eastern Europe.

An estimated 95% of Slavic manuscripts have disappeared due to fire, theft, neglect, and expatriation. The remaining 5% give a window into the Eastern Orthodox soul. Lack of access, however, has kept these treasures from Western medievalists, most of whom have never encountered a Slavic manuscript. Compared to Western manuscripts such as the Book of Kells, Slavic manuscripts appear to be orphans, dressed in worn leather covers or no covers at all, consumed by time and exposure, and bearing the marks of fire and sword. They also bear the tears and blood of their scribes and readers because non-Orthodox overlords punished Orthodox worshipers. Hidden in cellars and caves, these manuscripts bear the marks of moisture and rot.

The value of these orphans rests not so much in the aesthetic realm, but as primary historical evidence. They witness the challenges confronting the people of the Balkans under foreign rule. Early marginal authors demonstrated humility before God. Later authors described the social and political calamities of foreign conquest. That they wrote at all is a testament to courage. In this manner, the Orthodox heritage survived and endured.

I resolved to save those treasures and to present them to the West. The project developed into publications, websites, and conference presentations, and most recently to my dissertation that explores historical marginalia inscribed during the Ottoman rule of Bulgaria. I seek to continue in the footsteps of those medieval scribes and to create in relative isolation simple and meaningful illuminations of beauty. The original scribes had a rather small color pigment spectrum and virtually no gold for illumination. Paper was scarce. I recreate their original designs, adding a bit of gold, somewhat enriched colors, and my prayers, to re-create what I believe to be their original vision.

 These manuscripts are precious to God and to humanity for preserving Slavic culture during centuries of foreign subjugation. To their scribes, I humbly bow and dedicate this catalog of my interpretations of manuscript illuminations, to provide illumination and inspiration to our world today.