THE SUPERSTITIOUS CHORBAJI
… and his magical reference book
born from the strive to create A BOOK that has no likeness in history, BUT AT THE SAME TIME – to somehow TO INCLUDE IT TO OURS.— Stopan
Once upon a time, in a cozy Balkan village, there was a rich merchant. Fate had him accept in his property both his fellow Bulgarians and the Turkish rulers alike. Everyone called him thus – chorbaji!
He wasn’t too happy with all the attention and felt troubled. Who to listen to? The priest or the bey? Should he save his soul or the skin on his back? Many nights he slept badly, thought, wondered, and still did not know what was right in the end. He wondered who would be the crook that took his riches first. Whether to be afraid of his own or others – he did not know, so he was afraid of everyone. All he knew was that he had to protect his name and his family, help as much as he should, but no more.
He went to church, but only for a little while each time. Visiting herbalists and mystics was a regular pastime. He did not go to funerals, neither did he go out at night. Didn’t go to any festivities too, only showed his face to say his short greetings. Before travel, he asked for prayers from both the priest and the hodja. He gave them coins for gospels and psalms. Always fiddling with the rosary, always with a worry in his head. To escape from this fear, he went far and wide. He bought a written Quran from Constantinople, and then reached God’s tomb and became a pilgrim – a hajji. He saw many things to the east. Scrolls, books, dervishes and heard countless unknown prayers.
He wrote down what he could from us and the foreigners, memorized the rest in his mind, and finally returned to his beautiful village. He went to the scribes and bookbinders to order a book to keep him protected. He poured a lot of coins for this, because he wanted it to be a secret. It was not clear who worked on this strange book, because they were all afraid of a bad omen. The chorbaji, however, erased everyone’s fear with more bags of coins.
One summer, as never before, towards the crowd appeared with a heavy step our chorbaji. On his bulging chest, beneath his scarlet fez, shone the strangest necklace, with braided belts patterned like charms, red leather like blood, with round mother-of-pearl like full moons, and with shining silver like fluffy clouds. Our chorbaji was walking proudly and he knew that nothing could outwit him anymore.
Everyone wondered what was behind the covers of this thing, but he still did not show. He was no longer the timid loner he had been before and even tripled his lands in only one year. Everyone who entered the village first passed through his house to kiss his hand and everyone said the same thing – that he did not remove the necklace from himself. To the ones who showed him respect, the chorbaji took a piece of paper and with a confident hand drew some bizarre signs, and gave them as a gift. He wished for something good, gave instructions and slowly the people started looking for him for any kind advice. He always had an answer, accompanied by these signs of his. If he wondered about something, only then did he take off the necklace, place it on the table, and unfold its illegible pages.
Years passed. The villagers went to look for work in the cities. Already as old men they remembered the chorbaji and told the younger ones about him. They also showed the signs he drew to them, because they still held them in their bosoms. Some even went looking for him, but no one found the roads to this beautiful Balkan village again…
THE SUPERSTitious CHORBAji takes us back TO THE 17TH-18TH CENTURIES – A TIME OF OPPRESSION, OF NEW BULGARIAN SELF-CONSCIOUSNESS AND OF A blazing STRIVE FOR ENLIGHTENMENT AND FREEDOM. Regardless, or because of the hardships though, THE PEASANT’S ABILITY TO SCULPt THE SUPERNATURAL REALITY AROUND HIMSELF WITH THE stroke OF AN ARTIST IS UNDISPUTABLE.
The work combines Christian and Oriental mysticism with a time-appropriate naivete. It takes the chorbaji out of the contradictory narative about him as an undeserved wealthy fool, or an honest hard-working supporter of the Bulgarian liberation movement. We get into his daily worries. My dream is that apart from carved ceilings and a curved roof for his property, silverware and finely engraved boxes for snuff, mother-of-pearl buckles for the daughter and other orders from the Bulgarian master craftsmen – there is a possibility that in other circumstances he ordered and a book to fit into the context of all these treasures and of his personality as well.
Petar Morozov (1880-1951)
Chorbaji House in Arbanasi,
Aquatint. Bulgarian National History Museum.
Before diving into the written description of the work, I invite you to watch the dedicated film about the book to experience it in even greater detail. It is divided into three parts, namely: Overview, Inspiration and Making.
Film About the Work
We are greeted first by the box, which consists of two large parts. The first serves as a bed and is sealed with adjacent elements that keep the book fixed. Each of them is decorated with printed pieces of paper / amulets, which are also present in the content. The top cover also has a similar mosaic on the inside. The box is completely lined in thick, red linen fabric. It is hand-glued with rice paper and starch glue before applying.
The lids are further reinforced with a panel lined in dark calfskin. These panels serve both for color contrast and to provide grip when opening the box.
THE unique TRIPLE STRUCTURE OF THE BOOK COMBINES TWO OPPOSITE SQUARE BOOKS DIVIDED AT AN ANGLE FROM A TRIANGULAR one. EACH BOOK HAS A SEPARATE UPPER COVER, BUT THEY ARE UNITED INTO A COMMON BODY WITH THEIR LOWER common COVER.
The square books are made in neo-Byzantine style and their covers are at the levels of the edges of the book body itself. Due to this feature, the endbands rise above their level.
The triangular book does not share this style and in order to keep the distance even between the books, the endbands and its covers are on the same level. Another of its functions is to coincide with the location of the sternum when worn and to bring harmony between the book structure and the human chest.
The endbands themselves are a symbiosis of two bookbinding traditions. There is sewing, both to the book body and to the covers, which is typical for the Byzantine type of bindings. Instead of woven decoration, however, a perforated piece of leather is sewn around the core, reminiscent of some curious cases from the German Gothic binding tradition.
The leather pieces are strongly folded while the book is closed, but when it is opened, they unfold and show their decoration.
In total, the body has three spines. Two of them are on the square books, which are decorated with openwork leather patches, gilded in the gaps and outlined with a blind tooling on the main piece of leather. The back of the triangular book is more simply decorated, only with blind toling.
This decorative technique is repeated on the covers of square books with even larger and more detailed leather patches.
MY MOTHER – GERGANA DASKALOVA MADE THE IDEA TO COMBINE THE BOOK WITH ARTISTIC weaving POSSIBLE. THE MANUFACTURE OF BOTH BELTS WAS THE FRUIT OF LONG AND CAREFUL EFFORT, AS WELL AS THE DISCOVERY OF A TECHNOLOGY THAT was unknown to her before.
The book has two belts attached to it, woven by hand from mercerized cotton threads. One is mainly functional and serves to fulfill the purpose of the work to be worn as a necklace. It is attached first to two mahogany bases, made and inlaid with silver by my father – Ivo Daskalov. The bases themselves are attached to the leather protrusions from the spines of the two square books. They enter through the round holes in the wooden bases, and then a decorated leather knot is made, which forever stops the separation of the belt from the binding.
The second belt is attached to the top cover of the triangular book and performs a harmonizing decorative function. It is again attached to a mahogany inlaid base, which in turn is mounted by seven silver nails to the cover. At its lower end, we find an all-silver base, on which are attached five hanging amulets, each with an engraved Glagolitic letter. The message they present is the word:
The word sets the main theme of the book and is common in its content.
THE fittings are COMPLETELY MADE BY MY FATHER IVO DASKALOV AND are MAINLY CONCENTRATED ON THE FRONT PART OF THE BOOK. they are SCULPTED FROM OVER 100 GRAMS OF 925 SILVER AND MOUNTED WITH OVER 50 SILVER NAILS. They are decorated with copper elements, openwork ornaments, mother-of-pearl inserts and patina.
The most remarkable elements of the hardware of the Superstitious Chorbaji are its five corners. Two are mounted on the square books and one on top of the triangular book, covering the corner of the cover on all sides. The decoration is multi-layered and the lowest level is a small openwork decoration showing the red leather underneath. On the second level are the welded copper decorative elements and the copper heads of the silver nails. The top and accent are the large mother-of-pearl inserts, firmly mounted in the silver frame at each corner.
Along with the corners, come the scroll cages, located in the middle of the two square books. They are a great pride for my father, due to the fact that not a single solder was used for the construction. All elements are firmly riveted to each other.
At its bottom, each cage has a small lever that releases the top cover, and the hinges at the back allow it to open for the scroll to unfold.
The scrolls are made of handmade paper and are handwritten and painted with pen and ink. They are meant to be read when the book is worn on the neck and contain quickly accessible, short prayers that can be read without having to open the book.
The left scroll has a basic prayer –
HOME: PROTECTED: CHILDREN: GATHERS
It is the more homely and feminine of the two, and within the framework of the main prayer, in order to be read next to it – apocryphal names of the Mother of God are written.
The right scroll has a basic prayer –
HEALTHY: MIND: HEAVY: TREASURE
It is the more material and the masculine of the two, with apocryphal names of the Lord written around the main prayer.
The most hidden fittings are the five buttons on the back cover, which serve as steps for the book when it is removed from the neck and placed on a surface.
They are again made of 925 silver and modestly decorated with patina and the copper heads of their nails. The buttons protect the surface of the skin from the abrasions.
The last important part of the fittings are the two fasteners that keep the whole structure closed. They consist of four bases, two of which are on the cover of the triangular book and two more – one on each cover of the square books.
Closing is done by two latches that pass through the holes in the bases and stop the movement of the covers. They themselves are attached with short chains to the corner of the triangular book.
THE BOOK INSIDE IS A DETAILED GUIDE FOR DIFFERENT TYPES OF MAGICAL AMULETS AND SYMBOLS. IT INCLUDES AMULETS WITH A PROTECTIVE FUNCTION AS AGAINST DISEASE OR BETRAYAL, AND WITH A wishing ROLE AS FOR LUCK, HEALTH AND LOVE.
At the beginning of the book, as well as at its end, there are various decorations. The first to be seen are those located on the inside of the top covers. With the same style is the largest decoration, located on the large back cover. In addition, each book has its own title page, respectively for:
BOOK OF LETTERS
BOOK OF SIGNS
The triangular book has no description, because of the cipher inside, which we will present in a moment.
BOOK OF LETTERS contains 40 alphabetical amulets for various purposes. Each of them has a special arrangement of letters written in Glagolitic in a space of 7×7 fields.
The amulet itself is written on the top page, and on the back is its purpose in Cyrillic.
All three books are made of handmade paper, 50% cotton fiber and 50% raw material from the workshop. Their pages are decorated with hand-printed frames, and the writing is entirely done by hand as well.
BOOK OF SIGNS is located on the right and in principle is a mirror of the left book. All 40 amulets have the same purpose as the alphabet ones, but here, they are presented their graphic form. We used 5 authentic amulets from a Bulgarian amulet manuscript from the 17th century, and the other 35 are our designs based on the original style.
A hand-engraved linoleum stamp was made for each amulet, after which they were printed in red ink on the pages.
The content of the triangular book plays a special role. Each page contains three letters – on each corner of the triangular frame. An interesting feature is that on some pages a dot can be found next to one of the letters. This point is a major part of the cipher that reveals the largest amulet in the Superstitious Chorbaji. The details are left to the reader to discover.
CONCEPT AND INSPIRATION
THE MAIN IDEA OF THE WORK IS TO TRANSFER an ARISTOCRATIC TYPE OF BOOK IN a TIME AND SOCIETY IN WHICH ARISTOCRACY IS not to be found. BULGARIAN BOOKbinding HISTORY IS LIKE A PUZZLE WITH MANY MISSING PARTS THAT are IMPOSSIBLE TO BE DISCOVERED. THIS BOOK IS A SMALL and at the same time, NEW PART TO THE OLD PUZZLE.
The first and main inspiration for this book and more specifically – its content are two Bulgarian manuscripts from the 17th and 18th centuries. The earlier document has no title or author, but contains many apocryphal prayers and a set of magical images for various purposes. Based on their style, we made the stamps in our book.
The second document is “Niketa’s Book”, which is very similar in purpose and content, but has a connection with the personality of its owner. All prayers and symbols inside are addressed to be in favor of the owner – Niketa. Subsequently, however, it was these mentions that were crossed out by the new owner in order to redirect the book’s magical power to himself.
The next significant influence is a collection of exotic examples from Western European book history – namely multicomponent books.
Especially this particular example was used as a basis for the Superstitious Chorbaji, but the construction is complicated by the presence of a third, triangular book in the middle.
This type of bindings are curiosities of history and are mostly special designs for extravagant guarantors. One of the theories about their existence is that they offer a distraction and a bit of fun during the otherwise sometimes boring and prolonged church services. Of course, they can also be a great accent in the library as well. Undoubtedly, at a time when the book is in any case an expensive, hand-printed or handwritten, hand-bound acquisition, these examples remain available mostly to wealthy and influential people.
The period in which the Superstitious Chorbaji is situated, has no Bulgarian aristocracy, and no high state and military positions due to the Ottoman rule. It is a time when the Bulgarian population was disenfranchised and deprived of the opportunity for independent political, economic and cultural expression. In this context, I found an opportunity for only one person to be able to afford such a work – the chorbaji.
First of all, it must be said that the word chorbadjiya itself is Turkish and originally meant a person who served as a soup cook – the main food in the janissary’s ojak. Chorbadji-bashii were the chiefs of the chorbadjii in this ojak.
Therefore, the chorbadji is the one who cooks food, who gives food, and the Turk, who has traveled in the Bulgarian lands, has found it most correct to call with the word chorbadji the one with whom he “condessed” – stayed overnight he served him food, soup, etc. The chorbaji could not help but be rich and wealthy. Later, through an expansive application, the chorbadji was every householder, every landlord, owner of a house and property. The word chorbadjia, therefore, was an honorary title, which, however, the Turks applied exclusively to Christians, in our country only to Bulgarians. The Turk could not be a chorbadji. He is aga, efendi, bey, etc. The Christian could be neither aga nor efendi, but for bey, which would be an equivalent of prince, kniaz. It was out of the question.
The chorbadjii in Elena, as well as the chorbadjii in Tryavna, Gabrovo, Teteven, Etropole, Koprivshtitsa, Tarnovo, Kazanlak and elsewhere were people more or less wealthy or influential. The latter had risen among their countrymen and fellow-citizens, thanks to their minds, their vigilance, their ability to present themselves, to bring, to speak, to persuade, to decide, and to impose themselves with their moral and mental authority. Both Elena, Koprivshtitsa, and other places know about chorbadjii, not boyars, ie not rich, who, however, with their personal qualities have risen and brought great services to the place where they lived.
–Из Еленски сборник, от С. С. Бобчев, 1931 г.
-From Elena Corpus, S. S. Bobchev, 1931
The call against the chorbadji has never subsided in the Bulgarian press since its founding… As early as 1857, the Bulgarian Daily reported shocking information about this type of serfdom, in which the Bulgarian rural population around Elena was placed against several families dressed by Turkish sultans with feudal power. “All of Bulgaria complains about the chorbadjii and tells us that these chorbadjii are worse than the Turks and the Phanariots. We believe that all this is true, because thousands of pieces of evidence stand before our eyes “, wrote the newspaper” Svoboda “in 1872„
Undoubtedly, there were patriotic and virtuous people among the chorbadjii. “As among the old chorbadjii,” Macedonia “wrote, there were worthy and popular people who did honor to the people in general, so among today’s young chorbadjii we know many people, with feelings and enlightenment, to understand and work for the good of the people. That is why we repel the reproach on the chorbadjii in general. ”… There were accusations that the chorbadjii seized church property, appropriated school buildings, abused people’s alms, and in one speech exercised“ a decisive rule and tyranny over the poor people. ”… In the chorbajii, revolutionaries saw a multi-headed monster sitting on the head of the Bulgarian people and stuck their nails in it. To them, the word chorbadji meant purely and simply a spy.
-From “Builders of Contemporary Bulgaria”, Tome I, Simeon Radev
The alphabetic amulets and the cipher amulet from the triangular book are largely inspired by the magic square at the end of Ivan-Alexander’s Four Gospels.
It was very exciting for me to learn that in a liturgical book like the Gospel, and one commissioned by the King himself, had such an element present in such an important place in the book.
Almost all written amulets in the Superstitious Chorbaji are written in Glagolitic. One of the first Bulgarian scripts, along with the Cyrillic alphabet, today it is practically unusable, except in the field of scientific research.
My wish is for it to find a new and fresh place in Bulgarian art. Either purely in a graphic way, so as not to erase the shapes from people’s minds, but also as an enrichment of the meaning of any text. In this line of thought, although the writing itself is characteristic and used with the Old Bulgarian language, we can appropriate it again in modern Bulgarian – not to replace the Cyrillic alphabet, but to add a small part of its cultural heritage to local contemporary works of art.
The decorations on the inside covers and the title pages of the book are entirely inspired by the many examples of illuminations from our old manuscripts.
Like the Glagolitic alphabet, the Byzantine binding is a treasure for the lands not only of Bulgaria, but the whole Balkan Peninsula, and even further beyond. Our manuscript and bookbinding tradition began entirely with the Byzantine way of writing and binding, but unfortunately the tradition was interrupted long ago due to a number of historical circumstances. I believe that it can once again find a place in our daily lives, not to replace the printed book, but to find its place in contemporary book art in this area.
The leather patches of the book can be most adequately compared as the ancestor of today’s fine leather onlays of modern design bindings. They are inspired by the rough leather openwork typical of various shoes, sandals, belts and other leather accessories from the past.
THE BOOK IS CURRENTLY HOUSED IN A PRIVATE COLLECTION