Saturday, June 28, 2008

Saint Vitus' Day - Vidovdan (Julian reckoning)

Saint Vitus was a young Christian martyred in Sicily under Diocletian. He is one of the Fourteen Holy Helpers. He is asked to intercede for those with epilepsy. He has been popular in central europe and the balkans. The cathedral in Prague is dedicated to him. In art he is sometimes pictured as being boiled in a pot of oil. In regard to the Serbs his day is, especially, poignant.

The Turks, Ottoman, were expanding into Europe, into the Balkans. The Serbs had a small empire and had aspirations. The Serbs had recently twice defeated the Turks. They met each other, again, on June 15, 1389 at Kosovo Polje, the Field of Blackbirds. The Turks had about double the manpower, and both armies were of the tens of thousands strong.

The only turkish sultan, Murad, who would die in battle, died there. In Turkish fashion, when his son, Bajezid, received the news, he had his brother, Jakub summoned. The brother was strangled and the Turks had a new sultan. The Serbian military nobility was cut down, including their tsar Lazar. Proportionately the Serbs lost in the heavy carnage. The Serbs would be hostage to the Turks for centuries.

Rebecca West in the late 1930s went to the Balkans. In 1941 there appeared her book, Black Lamb and Grey Falcon: A Journey through Yugoslavia. It was over a thousand pages, in two volumes; it was a blend of history and travelogue. As T.E. Lawrence championed, and explained, the Arabs in his Seven Pillars of Wisdom, she explains the Jugoslavs. She came to the grey (siva) falcon (soko) from the poem about Lazar, where he and the Serbs receive the Eucharist before the Turks attack:
Poletio soko titsa siva,
Od svetinje, od Jerusalima,
I on nosi titsu lastavitsu ...
The black lamb is an illusion to the sacrificial nature of the Christian. The Serbs (and West) see themselves as the sacrificial protectors of christian civilisation before the onslaught of the moslem Turks.

In the twentieth century June 15 O.S. was 28 June N.S., and the day again, and again was politically significant:
  • In 1914, the first world war began in Sarajevo
  • In 1919, the Treaty of Versailles was signed to end the war
  • In 1921, king Aleksandar introduced the Vidovdan Constitution (Vidovdanski ustav), proclaiming the Kingdom of the Serbs, Croats and Slovenes (Old Jugoslavija)
  • In 1989 Milošević went to the site and, thereafter, succeeding disasters visited the nations
  • In 2001 Milošević was deported to the Hague to be tried for war crimes
The Turks destroyed the mediæval Srbija and Milošević severely blackened their modern identity. Kosovo fell again and again. The historical presence of the Serbs, the Gypsies and Christianity are being obliterated in the province to-day.

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