Reformation in Slovenia: More Than Just a Religious Change

In Slovenia, the Reformation was more than just a religious change. It started a revolution in Slovenian culture, leading to the creation of its written language, complete with influential and impactful literature. It even established the nation's fundaments, including its name.

Detail of Slovenian 10 Tolar banknote (1992) showing portrait of Primoz Trubar, author of 1st Slovene language book; 1508-1586.
Detail of the Slovenian 10 Tolar banknote (1992) showing portrait of Primoz Trubar, author of the 1st Slovene language book. Photo: PjrStudio / Alamy / Be&W

In the 16th century, the Slovenian Lands went through a major crisis with the Reformation. The spread of the new creed began weakening the Catholic Church and causing many upheavals, both socially and politically. As Slovenia was then part of the Holy Roman Empire, Martin Luther’s ideas quickly gained momentum, with sympathizers cropping up in Slovenian lands.

The birth of written Slovenian

It all started with Primož Trubar. He was a gifted priest who was able to study thanks to the patronage he received due to his obvious intellect. He came in touch with Protestant ideas and was sympathetic to them. He eventually fully embraced the new faith and started fervently spreading it. But for that, he needed to bring the Bible and Protestant literature closer to the commoners.

Unlike other languages, Slovenian, at the time, was strictly a spoken language, prevalent among the peasant population across certain duchies and counties. In order to convert his people, he started a process of creating a written language for them. After facing many grammatical challenges, in 1550, he published the very first Slovenian language book, “Catechismus,” a collection of Protestant teachings, followed by “Abecedarium,” a booklet for helping people learn the alphabet.

In the former, he was the first to call Slovenians by the name they have today. With his followers, he went on to produce dozens of works, which was unusual for a small, peripheral linguistic community. Slovenians got their first printed book before many much bigger nations.

One of the first vernacular Bible translations

Jurij Dalmatian, who came a generation after Trubar, translated the entire Bible into Slovenian, published in 1584, making Slovenian the 12th language out of the current 3,589 into which it was translated. Other Protestants were also responsible for this cultural revolution, including Adam Bohorič, who wrote the first book on stylistic Slovenian grammar.

Eventually, the Slovenian lands were retaken by Catholicism, and Protestants had to convert back or leave by the 17th century. Trubar eventually died in exile, as did Bohorič. But they forever left a mark. Slovenians, although small in number, from that point on, continued to develop into a modern nation, basing the core of its identity on the language.

Most of the books they wrote were burned during the counter-Reformation, but the Catholic Church conserved Dalmatin’s Bible and permitted its usage. Eventually, the Church played its own role in nation-building, ironically utilizing the works of the Reformers in this pursuit.

They are well remembered today with many monuments, not to mention the fact that Trubar is currently depicted on the euro coin – and before that, on a Slovenian tolar banknote. Protestants represent less than 1% of the Slovene population today, but the Day of the Reformation is celebrated as a national holiday, celebrating the language that gave identity to the nation. No other Catholic nation owes so much to Protestants.

Vid Sosic

a Slovenian master of religious studies and ethics, based in Ljubljana. He writes articles for several Slovenian journals, specifying in topics of geopolitics, culture and religious metters. He also cooperates with the Polish Fundacja Jegiellońska from Subcarpathian voivodship, Poland, where he mainly engages in the project of Trimarium, the goal of which is to spread awareness about the Three Seas Initiative among high school students and young people in general. He visits all 12 countries of the Iniciative, organizing events where he promotes it through educational games.

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