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HISTORY OF BULGARIA AD ANNUM CHRISTI 1761

Author: Blasius Kleiner

Editor's Note: There are couple of things that we wish to add about this exceptional book. i./ most notably, it was written in that far away 18th century and at a place where bulgarian ethnos didn't have traditional roots by any means. The cloister at Alvinz, Transylvania existed at a locality, where small Hutterite community had found a convenience dwelling from persecutions. Historically, bulgarians from the catholic town of Chiprovtzi sought refugee there, too. This man Blasius Kleiner was probably a descendent from them. Today the place of the monastery doesn't exist in modern Rumania; ii./ it is mentioned in the text, that the author used various sources for the book and primarily the most authoritative reference for that time - such as, "Ecclesiastical Annals" by famed Italian historian Cardinal Caesar Baronius. Another primary source from the early seventeenth century is from the Irishman Lucas Wadding (1588-1637) - particularly, a librarian in Rome and compiler of the Annales Minorum sive Ordinum A. S. Francisco Institutorum. The latter is less known, but equally pertinent work; iii./ the original manuscript was firstly mentioned by the Bulgarian Franciscan Eusebius Fermendzin,  in his Acta Bulgariae ecclesiastica (Zagreb,1887). Lately, the book was partly translated by I. Duychev in the 1940s and fully translated / edited by Karol Telbizov in this present edition. The "History of Bulgaria" from B. Kleiner is part from the cultural repository of the bulgarian people.

 

BLASIUS KLEINER'S HISTORY OF BULGARIA

 “I felt as if I was about to enter a thick forest studded with thorns, when it occurred to me to present in brief a series of worthy acts of the Kingdom of Bulgaria. It was not only because the job seemed quite difficult, since the Kingdom of Bulgaria, which way back lived in prosperity, did not have its chronicler who would hand down to future generations the vicissitudes of the fate of the kingdom and of its people famous worldwide. It was also because foreign chroniclers, mostly Greek writers, who had often seen the power of Bulgarians, speak about them in only few words, and only occasionally.”

***

This is the opening paragraph of a Bulgarian history book written by Franciscan monk Blasius Kleiner. It was written in Latin in 1761 in the Bulgarian Franciscan Monastery of Alvinz, Transylvania. Transylvania had a strong Bulgarian community consisting of refugees from Bulgaria, which at that time was under Ottoman rule. In the foreword to the book the monk admits that he felt almost like an adopted child of “this people worthy of great praise”.

In 1977 the book was released in Bulgaria with a translation by Prof. Karol Telbizov. Its Bulgarian language title is History of Bulgaria by Blasius Kleiner compiled in 1761. It is the first part of a major work and reviews Bulgarian history till mid-15th c. The second part completed in 1764 highlights the development of Catholicism in the Bulgarian ethnic territory and the activities of the Order of Minorites founded by St. Francis of Assisi. The third part represents a chronicle of the Bulgarian Franciscan community from 1366 till 1775 when it was written.

Blasius Kleiner wrote his History of Bulgaria at a time when an economic and spiritual revival had already started in the Bulgarian lands dominated by the Ottoman Empire. The focus on the country’s glorious past was a key vehicle behind the process of the National Revival. Kleiner’s book was completed a year prior to the circulation of "Slav-Bulgarian History" by the Bulgarian monk Paissi of Hilendar: a patriotic essay, which played a major role in the awakening of the national self-conscience of Bulgarians.

Comparing the two books Prof. Ivan Duychev, editor of Kleiner’s Bulgarian translation, noted that the two monks had used Annales Ecclesiastici or Ecclesiastical Annals by famed Italian historian Cardinal Caesar Baronius (1583-1607), which provided access to a wealth of historical facts. Prof. Duychev however noted that while Paissi of Hilendar had borrowed facts from Baronius to edit and remake them in line with the patriotic backbone of his work, Blasius Kleiner had worked impartially, lacking in the fire that sparkles throughout the Paissi history. Kleiner was more unbiased and objective in presenting the historical events from the Bulgarian past.

On another instance, Prof. Duychev has drawn attention to the way the Franciscan monk presents pages from Bulgaria’s history. For Kleiner the Bulgarians were a nation that had originated in the Scythian lands to the north of the Black Sea, whose name had come from the name of the glorious River Volga. When writing about Khan Telerig (768-777), the monk accentuated Bulgaria’s victory in the sphere of diplomacy - something more infrequent than victories in the battlefields. He provided a balanced assessment of Khan Krum (802-814), despite Krum’s open hostility to Christians. The Catholic monk wrote with tolerance and understanding about Prince Boris I who had introduced Christianity to Bulgaria following a dual diplomatic exchange with both the Orthodox and the Roman-Catholic churches. According to Kleiner medieval Bulgaria collapsed and was seized by the Ottoman Turks because the Bulgarians had conceded to be lead by the Greeks and had broken away from the genuine Mother Church, so in the end were punished to fall under Turkish Yoke.

According Prof. Ivan Duychev some of Kleiner’s views about events and personalities from the Bulgarian past reflected his negative stance to the Orthodox Church. Nevertheless, his book based on numerous sources, is the most detailed and scientifically viable study of the Bulgarian history written during the five centuries of Ottoman rule. The fact that the book had been written in Latin, hampered its earlier circulation in Bulgaria, but has not hurt its role and importance.

 

Picture 1: Photograph of Alvinz Monastery located at the area of Vintul de Jos, 50 miles away from the town of Sibiu.

(i). The photograph below was taken by Prof. I. Duychev in the 1940s, while being on a private trip in North-Western Rumania. The Alvinz Monastery was uninhabited at that time and almost in ruins, ditto.

 

 

Copyright © 2007 by the author.