Tetraevangelia of Tsar Ivan Alexander

Tetraevangelia of Ivan Alexander

The Tetraevangelia of Ivan Alexander or the Four Gospels of Ivan Alexander (Четвероевангелие на (цар) Иван Александър, transliterated as Chetveroevangelie na (tsar) Ivan Aleksandar) is a 14th century illuminated manuscript Gospel Book in Middle Bulgarian, prepared and illustrated during the rule of Tsar Ivan Alexander in the Second Bulgarian Empire. The manuscript is regarded as one of the most important literary treasures of the medieval Bulgarian culture and arguably the one with the greatest artistic value.

The manuscript, currently housed in the British Library (Add. MS 39627), contains the text of the Four Gospels illustrated with 366 (or 352, depending on the grouping) miniatures and consists of 286 parchment folios, 33 by 24.3 cm in size, later paginated with pencil. Folio 74, most likely the one where the miniature illustrating the Judgement Day scene was, has been cut and stolen in modern times.


The manuscript was written by a monk named Simeon in 1355–1356 on the orders of Ivan Alexander. It is not certain whether Simeon also illuminated the Tetraevangelia or simply was a copyist and calligrapher. The handwriting of the manuscript shows definite similarity with the Manasses Chronicle (1344–1345), another product of the Tarnovo Literary School of the time. The manuscript was initially plated with gold, gems and pearls, but part of this plate later disappeared and was replaced with the current one.

After the fall of Tarnovo to the Ottomans in 1393, the manuscript was transported to Moldavia possibly by a Bulgarian fugitive. It spent a number of years there and was later bought on the orders and with the resources of Prince Alexandru cel Bun, which is evidenced by a red-ink marginal note on folio 5.

The later fate of the manuscript until its arrival in the Mount Athos monastery of Agiou Pavlou (St Paul) is uncertain, but the document was recorded as part of the monastery's collection in the 17th century. English traveller and collector Robert Curzon (later Baron Zouche), who visited the monastery in 1837, was given the Tetraevangelia as a present by the abbot. This saved the manuscript from being destroyed by the fire that burnt down the whole monastery and its entire collection in the end of the 19th century.

Curzon released an inventory of his collection of manuscripts in 1849, thus marking the first time the Tetraevangelia was presented to the scientific world. Direct work with the original was, however, impossible, which caused speculation, supposition and rumours related to the manuscript.

After Curzon's death in 1873, his entire collection was given to British Museum in 1917 by his daughter Darea, which enabled more detailed scientific research of the document. When the British Library was created in 1973, it was transferred to it.

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