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EU Month of Culture Spotlight: Bulgaria

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As part of the European Month of Culture in May 2016, we focus on scholars from European Union member states who have conducted research at The John W. Kluge Center at the Library of Congress.

Wish to apply for a fellowship at the Library? Applications are now being accepted for Kluge Fellowships. Scholars worldwide who have earned a terminal advanced degree within the past seven years are eligible. Apply today

Svetlana Kujumdzieva, Kluge Fellow

Dr. Svetlana Kujumdzieva
Dr. Svetlana Kujumdzieva of Bulgaria was a Kluge Fellow in 2003 and again in 2009-2010. Photo provided by the scholar, used with permission.

In 1950, nearly 1,700 rolls of microfilm and 1,284 photographs from St. Catherine’s Monastery on Mount Sinai were made publicly available for the first time by the Library of Congress. The Orthodox Monastery of St. Catherine stands at the foot of Mount Horeb where, according to the Old Testament, Moses received the Ten Commandments. Founded in the 6th century, the monastery is considered of great historical significance for its Byzantine architecture and its collection of early Christian manuscripts. It is the oldest Christian monastery still in use for its initial function.

Roughly half of the monastery’s manuscripts were microfilmed and indexed by the Library as part of an expedition to the Sinai led by Dr. Kenneth W. Clark of Duke University. Clark reported that two-thirds of the St. Catherine library comprised Greek manuscripts with other items in Arabic, Persian, Georgian, Syriac, Ethiopian and Slavonic. The oldest items dated to 1600 B.C. They included liturgical and canonical texts, Biblical chapters and verses, and works in philosophy, geography, astronomy, mathematics, grammar, medicine and law. They also contained a stellar collection of Byzantine music.

Bulgaria detail
Map of Bulgaria. Image courtesy the CIA World Factbook. Source:

Sixty years later, Dr. Svetlana Kujumdzieva arrived at the Kluge Center from Bulgaria to study the collection. Kujumdzieva is Chair of the Music Division of the Bulgarian Academy of Sciences, Institute of Art Studies and holds two doctoral degrees. The author or co-author of ten books and a prolific scholar of Eastern Orthodox music, when she arrived at the Kluge Center for a second time in 2010, her intent was to review the musical manuscripts from St. Catherine’s in order to determine what was chanted and how those chants spread throughout the Eastern Orthodox world. Her argument was that this music was representative of music from the Byzantine era and, by extension, of all Orthodox music that entered the orbit of Byzantine Christian civilization.

Using the microfilmed manuscripts at the Library, Kujumdzieva reconstructed the complex development of Byzantine music during this period. Among the questions Kujumdzieva sought to answer was which music gets to be called “Byzantine”? The term encompasses both ecclesiastical music sung in Eastern Orthodox churches and music of the Byzantine Empire, whose borders spread from Russia to Spain. Much like the whole of Byzantine culture, the music defied simple categorization into one ethnicity or geography. As Kujumdzieva stated in her 2010 lecture, this music represented a phase in the development of Mediterranean culture and drew on the concepts of Byzantine rites and practices. The Sinai manuscripts offered an excellent view of these rites and the convergences between them. Byzantine music and notation went through several stages, and these stages were documented in the Sinai manuscripts.

Map of Europe with Bulgaria highlighted. Image courtesy the CIA World Factbook. Source:

Kujumdzieva found that the Sinai manuscripts represented an unparalleled heritage of the Orthodox Christian church and insight into the development of Orthodox culture. They presented an integral picture of Orthodox Christian practice from a dynamic period in Christian culture, the 6th through the 12th centuries, influences which can be felt today. Kujumdzieva stated that the collection “seems to be the richest homogenous collection of its kind in the world.”

Church singing in Bulgaria today has its origins in the music of 1,000 years ago. It still relies heavily on traditions of Greek and Byzantine music documented at St. Catherine’s. Svetlana Kujumdzieva’s work as a Kluge Fellow helps to reveal the evolution of that music from the middle ages to today, illuminating its complex origins, diversity and influences.

Learn more about Kujumdzieva’s work:

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More about the European Month of Culture can be found here or on social media at #EUMC2016.

Check back all month for additional posts in this series.

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