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Bulgarian Bogomil and Apocryphal Images in British Culture XII-XIX centuries

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This collection is dedicated to the great Bulgarian writer and humanist Stefan Gechev (1911—2000) who suggested to this author the topic of bogomilism and directed his research.

Bulgarian Bogomil and Apocryphal Images 

Bulgarian Bogomil and Apocryphal Images in British Culture XII-XIX centuries

We live in a time of significant cultural and historical revision. Until some twenty years ago, the general consensus among historians was that the heresy of the Bogomils and Cathars spread across medieval Europe, without ever reaching British soil. To this day the Catholic encyclopedia states that, “Until the late XIV c. England was remarkably free of heresy.” (vol. 9) Despite such claims, however, new research has identified a profound and lasting presence of Bogomil and Bulgarian apocryphal ideas and images in English culture of the period XII - XIX c. For instance, a XII c. prayer book at the abbey in St. Albany features the scene of Christ’s descent into Hell and freeing the souls of the damned (p.8) . Similarly, William Blake’s painting of the archangel Michael defeating Satan belongs to the early XIX c., but in fact follows the story outlined in the XII c. apocryphal manuscript Oratione of St. John Chrysostom How Michael Defeated Satan. In a surprising discovery, we learn that the great British poet John Milton in his Paradise Lost and Paradise Regained borrowed literary material from The Book of Secrets of the Bogomils, as well as from the apocrypha Dispute of the Antichrist with Our Lord Jesus Christ and Oration of St. John Chrysostom How Michael Defeated Satan (p.39). Moreover, we find that the spiritual leader of the English Lollards and author of the first medieval translation of the New Testament, John Wycliffe (p.23), defended his ideological position with arguments based on the Bogomil-Cathar philosophy and the worldview of the dualists. William Tyndale (p.25), who was next to translate the Bible, as well as John Milton -- this time as a prominent ideologist of the Reformation -- both followed in Wycliffe’s footsteps by relying on Bogomil-Cathar philosophy and practice in their argumentation. Finally, we find the image of Christ Plowman in the ceramic series from the now nonexistent church of Tring, London (p.12). The tiles are an exceptionally accurate rendition of a scene from “The Story of the Crucifixion Tree” by the monk Jeremiah (XI c.), and thus stand out as a culmination of Bogomil influence on medieval English culture.

The layperson may wonder why we do not find such images on Bulgarian soil; the answer to this question lies in the very theology of the Bogomils. In its early stage, Bogomilism declared all visual representations superfluous to communication with God and His Word; however, some time after XIII c., both Bogomils and Cathars revised this tenet, and began to view visual representations as valid and meaningful -- unlike many other religious movements, we might add. This is why today we find Bogomil tombstones in Bosnia, Cathar’s monuments in southern France, and the image of Christ Plowman in England.

The album is very rich in images arranged in chronological order. It was presented as an exhibition 2008 at the Bulgarian General Consulate in New York, as well in Skopje the same year.

Translators from Bulgarian to English: George Niagolov, Elitza  Miltcheva.

Product Details:

Publisher Toronto Slavic Quarterly
Published April 27, 2015
Language English
Pages 48
Binding Perfect-bound Paperback
Interior Ink Full color
Weight 0.08 lbs.
Dimensions (inches) 6 wide x 9 tall