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Exploring Europe at the British Library

30 May 2014

A collection of Primož Trubar Slovenian and Croatian Protestant books in the British Library

Woodcut portrait of Primož Trubar in a decorative border
Woodcut portrait of Primož Trubar by Jacob Lederlein printed in the second edition of Trubar’s translation of the New Testament, (Tübingen, 1582) C.110.b.7.

Primož Trubar (or Primus Truber, 1508-1586) was the founder of the Slovenian literary language, a Protestant priest and a leader of the Protestant Reformation in the Slovenian lands. Trubar was the author of the first printed book in the Slovenian language, a Catechism and Primer (Tübingen, 1550) intended for the education of all Slovenians.

Trubar’s literary and cultural legacy will be celebrated at the forthcoming Balkan Day seminar at the British Library on 13 June 2014.

As a Protestant priest Trubar believed that religious books should be written in a language that people could read and understand. He based the Slovenian literary language on the central Slovenian dialect spoken in his birthplace near Ljubljana, the provincial capital of Carniola. Trubar’s literary engagement becomes all the more important knowing that before him the Slovenian literary tradition was virtually non-existent and the German language was progressively introduced in administration and in church services in place of Latin. Trubar’s literary and educational activities aimed at the Slovenian people had achieved a long-term impact on the Slovenian national written heritage and cultural tradition during and long after the suppression of Protestant church activities in the Slovenian lands.  

Title page of Trubar's New Testament with a woodcut printer's device of a lamb defeating a dragon
Title page of Trubar’s New Testament (Tübingen, 1557-77; C.110.e.6.), featuring the emblem of Trubar’s Tübingen printer Morchart: a lamb standing on a defeated dragon, holding a ‘Victoria’ banner.

The image above is a title page of Trubar’s main work, a translation of the New Testament, which he accomplished over a period of 20 years from 1557 to 1577. Trubar used Latin for the Slovenian alphabet which most people could read and write. The only differences between Latin and Slovenian scripts were the new characters in the Slovenian Latin script for Slovenian sounds which did not exist in Latin and German languages. On the title page above, sh represents Slovenian sounds š and ž.

Trubar’s total output as an author, translator and editor consists of 26 Slovenian books; his last work was printed posthumously in 1595. His heterogeneous work included catechisms, primers, poems, prayers, devotional books, parts of the Old and New Testaments, theological interpretations, and a book of Protestant regulations. His opus is nearly a half of the total Slovenian Protestant book production of about 56 books. The Slovenian and Croatian Protestant books which survived the Counter-Reformation period are very rare today,  preserved in  only a small number of copies.

The British Library holds 13 of Trubar’s most important books, including the complete New Testament and the Catechism (Tübingen, 1575; C.110.b.6.) in Slovenian Latin, and in the Croatian Cyrillic and Glagolitic  alphabets. Some of Trubar’s books (C.110.a.15.(1- 4)) came to the Library in 1753 as part of the foundation collection of Sir Hans Sloane, but the majority were acquired in the 1840s and the last acquisition of an original edition by Trubar, a complete New Testament in Cyrillic (Urach, 1563, C.51.e.8.), a valuable and extremely rare book, was in 1953.

The Library’s collection of Trubar’s books is also very important for the study of Croatian Protestant literature and culture in the 16th century. Baron Hans von Ungnad, Freiherr von Sonnegg (1493-1564), a former provincial governor of Styria (Štajerska in Slovene), established a Bible Institute with a printing press in Urach near Tübingen (1560-1564). Trubar was appointed as a director of the Institute which employed nine people. Its  main aim was to produce Protestant books and to spread the Gospel to people of all faiths in Croatia, Dalmatia, Slavonia, Bosnia, Serbia, Bulgaria, and as far as Constantinople. To achieve this goal Trubar employed two Croatian Protestants, Stjepan Konzul Istranin (1521-1579) and Antun Dalmatin (d.1579), who translated his religious works into Croatian in the Glagolitic and Cyrillic alphabets. To complement this South-Slavonic enterprise, two Serbian Orthodox monks from Serbia and Bosnia, Matija Popović and Jovan Maleševac, were employed to proofread the Cyrillic script of Konzul’s and Dalmatin’s translations.

Page showing four forms of the Glagolitic alphabet A Glagolitic alphabet presented in four slightly different forms for study and spelling  (Urach, 1561)  C.110.a.15.(3.))

A printed page with four forms of the Cyrillic alphabetA Cyrillic alphabet presented in four slightly different forms for study and spelling (Urach, 1561, C.110.a.15.(2.))

The British Library holds nine items from the Urach press in Glagolitic and Cyrillic scripts, all the Konzul and Dalmatin translations of Trubar’s works: Catechism and Primer (1561, C.110.a.15(1-4)), translations of Liturgical Epistles and Gospels (1562, C.65.l.9.), a compilation from the Augsburg Confession (1562, C.27.e.8. and C.27.e.10.), and the translation of the New Testament (1563, C.24.a.18. and C.51.e.8.). The books of the Urach press which bear the Tübingen imprint are of great bibliographic rarity and, although printed in about 25,000 copies, only about 250 are known to have survived to the present day in some 50 European collections.

Title-page of 'Tabla za dicu' The title page of Trubar’s Primer which included a small catechism, Tabla za dicu, in Dalmatin’s translation and transcription into Cyrillic in the Ikavian (ikavica) variant of the Čakavian dialect of the Croatian language in Cyrillic script, considered also as Western Cyrillic.

The Library also holds a significant collection works about Trubar and Slovenian Protestant books and culture in the 16th century, acquired over a period of 170 years from 1844 to the present day. The collection includes works about Trubar in Slovenian, German and other languages; reprints and facsimile and bibliophile editions of Trubar’s works; and other primary source materials such as correspondence; there are transcriptions into modern languages and translations, collections and anthologies, fiction and poetry, biographies and bibliographies, exhibition catalogues,and anniversary books including the most recent celebration of the 500th anniversary of Trubar’s birth in 2008.

Milan Grba, Lead Curator of Southeast European Studies


Digital versions of Trubar’s books and further references from the Memmingen city archive.

Digital version of Trubar’s posthumous book published by his son in 1595 from the Slovenian Digital Library.



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