THE BASKA TABLET
Only 150 years ago the perception of the history of Croatian cultural history was completely different. Much was not known about Glagolitic script, nor about the beginnings of the Croatian language and writing, while the inscribed monuments that were known - lacked scientific evaluation. The national philology, in the reflections of the founding of the Slavic studies of that time, was yet to be established. In the middle of the 19th century, in 1851 to be exact, in other words 150 years ago, in the midst of the professional coming of age of the first modern generation of philologists who will finally assemble a complete picture of the history of the Croatian language and literature, the Baška Tablet was discovered in the church floor of the Abbey Church of St. Lucy in Jurandvor, near Baška on the island of Krk, in the Kvarner Bay.
It is a stone monument (carved white limestone) 99.5 cm high, 199 cm wide, and a thickness in the range of 7.5 to 9 cm. Originally it was carved on the left pluteus of the one-time altar septum in the mentioned St. Lucy church, at least up until 1752 when it was last attested that the septum was standing. Later the tablet was placed on the floor, like a kind of tombstone and in 1851 it was first noticed and called attention to as an important monument of philology by Petar Dorčić, at that time a student of divinity from Krk. The top part of the tablet has an edging in the form of vine tendrils, whilst the remaining space, just like on the somewhat younger Senj Tablet, is filled with a text (of about a hundred or so words carved in 13 lines!). This fullness with text in the case of both tablets differs from other pluteus partitions of the same period that were filled with ornamental work instead of texts. In 1934 the Baška Tablet, after various trials and tribulations and resistance on the part of the inhabitants of Jurandvor (to the extent of their hiding the tablet under the floor of the local schoolhouse), was moved to Zagreb, at first to the Museum of Archeology, and afterwards following conservation to the atrium of the Croatian Academy of Arts Sciences, where it can be seen to this very day. The tablet is still the ownership of the bishop of Krk (at the same time, the present abbot of St. Lucy), and in recent times there have been discussions regarding the eventual return of the tablet to its home ground. After almost a century and a half, Croatian philologists agree that the time of its appearance was at the turn of the 11th and 12th century. Some insist that indeed the time was about 1100, whereas others are committed concretely to the end of the 11th century or beginning of the following one. In the long run, the range of possibilities of its appearance (in spite of certain attempts, from a historical-artistic standpoint, to move its appearance to a much earlier time) is in point of fact not great: in this connection we mainly rely on the historical circumstance recorded on the tablet itself. From all said, it follows that the text of the table (firstly recorded in the charter of the church) appeared shortly after the death of Croatian king Zvonimir, between 1087 and 1089. (The act of Zvonimir's donation bears testimony to a historical fact of utmost importance: it shows that the power of the Croatian king at that time extended as far as the island of Krk, which belonged to Byzantine Dalmatia.) Carving of the text into stone might have occurred somewhat later, but not fundamentally, and in any case that would not be of any substantial philological significance. The original graphic and linguistic information certainly did not undergo any change in the process of carving.
The quantity of information passed on to us through this composite and never conclusively read and interpreted text on a level of graphics, linguistics, literature and history, is of such importance that - in spite of its not being our oldest Glagolitic monument (the Plomin Tablet, Valun Tablet, Krk Inscription, are older and certainly all appeared in the 11th century) and in spite of the fact that it was not written in the Croatian folk language (but in a Croatian form of Old Slavonic) - it is nevertheless called "the jewel of the Croatian language" and the "baptismal certificate" of our literary culture.
It is usually said that the script of the inscription reflects a transition from the older rounded Glagolitic to the angular, and it contains certain Latin and Cyrillic letters. It is interesting that all the presumed Latin letters could at the same time be Cyrillic letters (M, O, N …), whereas two letters are definitely Cyrillic (V, letter for the soft semitone).
To date, the entire text of the Baška Tablet has been read, but in varying degrees of reliability. The reading of its most damaged parts should be taken with constant reserve: from the very beginning of the first line, as well as of the fifth and sixth line. In a succession of top Croatian philologists who endeavored to optimally contribute to the reading of the inscription (Franjo Rački, Ivan Crnčić, Vjekoslav Štefanić…), in the second half of the 20th century the name of Branko Fučić can be added to this renowned list. Of all the readings that have thus far been offered, his is mainly considered as the most adequate, although not conclusive in all details, of course.
The contents are divided into three basic parts. The first belongs to the introductory utterance - the invocation, with its atypical beginning "az?" (= Croatian: I ): "Az? v? ime Ot?ca i Sina i Svetago Duha". The second part restates the chartered record about King Zvonimir's bestowing fallowed ground, probably for the building of the church of St. Lucy (along with a list of witnesses, formulated as an oath, and an invitation for prayers): " Az? opat? Dr?žiha pisah? se o ledine juže da Z?vinimir? kral? hr?vat?sky v? dni svoję v? Svetuju Luciju. I svedomi: župan? Desimra Kr?bave, Mratin? v? Lice, Prb?nebža s? posl? Vinodole, Ekov? v otoce. Da iže to poreče kl?ni i Bog i 12 apostola i 4 evanjelisti i Svetae Lucie amen?. Da iže sde živet? moli za ne Boga. And the third part refers to the theme of the building of the church itself: Az? opat? Dbrovit? s?dah? crek?v? siju i svoeju bratiju s devetiju v? dni k?neza Kos?m?ta obladajucago v?su k?rainu. I beše v? t? dni Mikula v? otoč?ci s? Svetuju Luciju v? edino…" The interpretations on the historical personages being referred to, or about the exact localities (and are they localities at all!?) are many, and there is quite a lot of discord over these matters among readers.
The choice of wording from the charter (which records important events linked to the church and the abbey) continued over to the right hand side of the pluteus, which has not been preserved (a few stone fragments with Glagolitic text also found in the St. Lucy Church, the so-called Jurandvor fragments) perhaps belong to the one-time right hand side of the tablet.
As we have already said, The Baška Tablet is not a monument of the oldest linguistic (Glagolitic) inscription. But in spite of that, it is of the greatest importance for our earliest period of literacy, in the first place because is our most information-rich text, namely with regard to all its elements: graphic, linguistic, and the historical information contained. Therefore the great attention that has been dedicated to it since its discovery, in the mid-19th century to this very day, when we commemorate its grand anniversary (900 years of subsistence and 150 years since its discovery).
Dr. sc. Mateo Zagar