The Earliest Verbal Image of the Seven Saints: Mechanisms of Invention

Summary: 

The article presents an analysis of some of the structural mechanisms in the invention of the collective image of the Seven Saints in the first discovered source constructing and celebrating their shared memory, the so-called Berat or Venetian Service. The author emphasizes that although the liturgical work is a compilation, the image that is being constructed is new, largely original, and is a precedent as regards the later tradition. The observations are made on over 100 examples, presented in the original and in Modern Bulgarian translation.
            The creation of the image of the Seven Saints is marked by the aspiration to affirm the signified and the signifier within the linguistic sign Ἑπτάριθμοι. The very construction of the community of Seven Saints is not arbitrary but part of a system: the group consists of three hierarchical couples and one single saint.
            The construction of the image of the Seven Saints is complemented with historical and geographical references, generally represented by the realia Bulgaria and Bulgarians, more often used independently, but accidentally accompanied by other similar realia – Moesia, Moesi and Dalmatia, Dalmatae. The context of the readings including Moesia and Moesi suggests they are identical with Bulgaria and Bulgarians. The independent uses of Dalmatia and Dalmatae are significantly fewer and are evidence of a careful balance between the connection of the Seven Saints and Bulgaria, which is accepted as historically plausible, and the cult of their holy relics, which are believed to have been laid at the cathedral in Belograd (Berat).
            The idea of the Seven Saints features several visual registers among which most distinct are the light/enlightening imagery, the metaphoric representation of the saints as a peculiar Bulgarian home of Wisdom and the musical imagery highlighting the unity and the harmony among them.
            Within the framework of the composition of the work, the small vespers observe more strictly the initially set structure of the group of saints and focuses on their connection with Bulgaria above all. While the liturgical work unfolds, the connection between the saints and Dalmatia and with the town that celebrates their memory, Berat, gains prominence.
            Compiled in a late historical period and drawing on literary sources and local legends, the Berat Service cannot be used as a historical source about the work of the first teachers Cyril and Methodius and their disciples. However, it is an important document marking the occurrence and the institutionalization in the multiethnic milieu of the southern Albanian lands of a new cult which was about to spread and establish itself mainly among the Bulgarians in the Balkans.

Evgeni Zašev (Sofia, Bulgaria)
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