The origins of Glagolitic go back to ninth-century monks Cyril and Methodius, dispatched by Central Europe by the Byzantine emperor to convert the Slavs to Christianity. In order to translate the Gospels into the Slav tongue, Cyril and Methodius developed a new alphabet better suited to its sounds than either Latin or Greek. They never made it to the Adriatic, but their followers subsequently disseminated the script among Croatian priests.
The script, which came to be known as Glagolitic (because so many manuscripts began with the words “U ono vrijeme glagolja Isus…” or “And then Jesus said…”) is an extremely decorative 38-letter alphabet which borrowed some shapes from Greek, Armenian and Georgian, but which also contained much that was original. Other disciples of Cyril and Methodius made their way to Bulgaria, where they produced a modified version of the script, called Cyrillic in recognition of one of their mentors, versions of which are still in use today throughout Eastern Europe.
The use of Glagolitic in Croatia was gradually edged out by the Roman alphabet.
Although it retains enormous symbolic and visual appeal – the characters look great on souvenir mugs and T-shirts. Aesthetic considerations aside, the number of Croats who could write their name in Glagolitic remains very small indeed.