Bulgaria, Bogomils and Italy

Bulgaria-Italy Survey » SOCIETY | Author: Maria Guineva |June 2, 2011, Thursday // 13:57
Bulgaria: Bulgaria, Bogomils and Italy The Bulgarian Bogomils were a powerful religious movement in the Middle Ages. Photo by Standart daily

Article by Maria Guineva for the "International Survey: Bulgaria-Italy" of (Sofia News Agency)


Bogomislims (Bogomilstvo), often called the Bulgarian heresy, is a social and religious teaching, which appeared in Bulgaria during the first half of the 10th century.

Contemporary historians and scientists characterize Bogomilism as a dualistic teaching and an anti-feudal, reformative movement, born in the bosom of the Bulgarian Orthodox Church, quickly spreading across Bulgarian lands during the tumultuous times in the eve of the Byzantine invasion of the country. Its roots can be found in the dualistic gnostic and the mass deportations of Armenians and Syrians from Byzantine.

There are several versions about who the founder of the teaching is - one of them is that he was Boyan Maga, son of King Simeon I. Boyan's older brother Peter took over the throne after Simeon's death while Boyan was sent to Constantinople to study at the Magnaura school where he possibly was initiated in a secret Egypt teaching and the ancient knowledge of cosmogony, religion, philosophy, medicine, and extrasensory. Upon returning to Bulgaria, Boyan Magna founded his own school with the goal to reinstate real Christianity.

According to another version, the founder of the sect was the priest Bogomil, who lived during the reign of King Petar

The term Bogomil means "Dear to God", and ultimately derives from the proto-Slavic *bog ("God") and *mil ("dear"). It is still unknown whether the name was taken from the presumed founder of that movement, the priest Bogomil, or whether he assumed that name after it had been given to the sect itself.

What is most important is the fact Bogomilism had not been transferred from another place to Bulgaria – it was born in the country. Bulgaria is the true cradle of this teaching closely intertwined with Bulgaria history for five centuries, popular among rich and power, common people and people in power, men and women.

Bogomilism is a universal teaching, examining common human issues, summarizing the ancient wisdom and revealing the hidden simplicity of Christianity. The Bogomils declared themselves against the dogma of the Church, the lavish decorations, the hypocrisy, greed and strive for power of the clergy, the merge between the church and the king's power. The Bogomils appealed for bringing back the virtues of real Christianity – kindness, humility, helping others, equal rights and lawfulness, abandon of opulence, admiration for human labor, dignity and high morals.

The Bogomils had many public speakers and education centers. They called each other brothers and sisters and treated each other as such. They eliminated the social and origin differences; celebrated brotherly gatherings, went on trips to the mountains seen as symbolic of the real liberation of the Spirit from the mundane worries and problems. The Bogomils valued highly women and their role in society and considered them equal to men.

Some of the elements of the Bogomil teaching are: unity of everything – visible and invisible; building the human being – spirit, soul, body; the laws of karma and rebirth returning the human to the divine; thinking and meditation of sacred books; brotherly sharing of bread and wine; living in conformity with nature; leading active public life; symbolic, not literal interpreting of the scriptures.

The popularity of the teaching turned into an uprising against the official Church and to a threat to the power of the King, who began a manhunt against the Bogomils – they were burnt as heretics and their literature was eventually destroyed.

The leaders of the movement left Bulgaria and found shelter in several European countries. From Bulgaria the teaching quickly spread in other countries of the Balkan Peninsula, and from there – across Europe to Italy, France, Germany, Spain, and even as far as Great Britain. During the 11th and the 12th centuries writings about the spread of the Bulgarian heresy throughout Europe become more and more frequent.

Bulgarian-born Bogomils brought a beam of light to Europeans frozen in the darkness of the Middle Age and in their dogmas, fanatics, and cruelty. The Bogomils, known in the West under different names, such as Bougres, Babuni, Patarenes, Albigens, Chatars, created their own schools and became founders of Humanism and Renaissance. Their schools taught Bulgarian cosmogony, Christianity and ancient wisdom. These schools were built on the principle of three concentric circles – the consecrated (called the Perfect) in the most inner one, the believers in the middle and the listeners in the outer one. The Perfects were consecrated after many tests. Because their life was very strict and simple, there number was very limited, and they were revered by the much larger circle of believers. The latter could marry, own property, go to war, and eat all types of food.

Despite the many names at the time the Bogomils called themselves simply "good people" or "good Christians," because they wore modest attire and possessed missionary ardor, which was in stark contrast with the pompousness and pretense of the Pope's circles and the Catholics.

The Perfects traveled from place to place to lead the brotherhood, to preach and teach, to encourage the believers. They fasted for long periods of time, lived in communities and had not property – if they did, they donated it to the brotherhood, along with all gifts they received from the believers or people they healed.

The Bogomilism spread early on to Dalmatia and Bosnia. In Dalmatia, the center of the movement was the town of Trogir, (Trogkir, Trau) which had booming trade and relations with Italy. Trogir was precisely the place from where the dissemination of the teaching to Italy began.

The dispersal of the movement was done by merchants, craftsmen, travelers and pilgrims, whose ideological connection with the troubadours and the minnesingers, gave them a wide publicity and access to the management of the free Italian cities.

In Italy, Bogomilism arrived for the first time at the end of the 10th century with its first very strong manifestation noted around 1030-1065. The castle of Monteforte in northern Italy became its main center, thus a subject to attack, after which those caught were taken to Milano and burned on the pyre. Despite the opposition and all obstacles, Bogomilism spread throughout Lombardy and in the 12th century was very strong there. In 1200, Pope Innocent III ordered the city of Viterbo to undertake all necessary measures to counter the Bogomils. Nevertheless they were elected in the city council in 1205. There are accounts that in 1205 there were 50 Perfects in Toscana.

In 1220, Pope Honorius III ordered all Italian cities to chase Bogomils away, but because Bogomils had followers and supporters among the wealthy and those in power, they were often taken back and their properties were returned. In some cities, such as Rivolla, citizens rose to free the jailed Bogomils. Despite the manhunt, many nobles of Milan were Bogomils, giving shelter to the Perfects, helping them open schools and find venues to spread the teaching. The Bogomils were also very prominent in Florence – in 2012, they had a flourishing school there and a leader, who was directing and redirecting Bogomil communities to other locations in the area.

Around this time, Bogomilism also reached Naples. It was transferred there in 1224 from people coming from Lombardy. There were plenty of Bogomils in Rome as well, noted around 1231, both among the clergy and the laymen, men and women, many of whom were burned on the pyre.

In 1231, Pope Gregory IX (Gregorius) launched in Florence the Inquisition against Bogomils. The inquisition was introduced in Lombardy in 1233. In 1254, Pope Innocent IV, declared a crusade against all Bogomils in Italy.

At the end of the 13th century, the Bogomilism reached as far as Sicily.

From Italy, Bogomilism spread to France with its first traces dating to the end of the 10th century.

According to different accounts around 1250, there were about 4 000 Perfects – men and women across Europe with 2 000 of them in Lombardy around 1241 and about 150 in Verona.

The connection between the Bulgarian Bogomils and different movements in Italy can be further established by the spread of Bulgarian names in northern Italy. In 1047, there is a mention of a site named Bulgaro in the vicinity of Turin. In 1116, there was noble man in Turin – Bulgarello; in 1149, in the vicinity of Vercelli, there is a castle with the name Bulgaro; in 1231, there is a mention of another Italian noble – De Bulgaro.

It is believed that many Italians – Lombardy natives and residents of Milano have Bulgarian blood in their veins since the movement flourished the most in Northern Italy. Its center was the city of Milano, while the followers of the movement were called Patarenes. The derivation of the name is unclear though some sources claim patarini (also patarines or patarenes, from singular patarino), was a word chosen by their opponents, which means "ragpickers", from Milanese patee, the equivalent of the Italian stracci, "rags." Later the term "Patarene" came to mean a rebel against ecclesiastical authority or a heretic.

Milan's Patarenes became organized in 1057, when Deacon Arialdo da Varese began preaching against clerical concubinage and simony. At the time, Milan was controlled by the powerful archbishop Guido da Velate, who was known for his strong ties with high-ranking clergy, the nobles and the rich. Preaching against the clergy meant opposition of the hated da Velate rule, and very soon the deacon gathered a number of supporters and followers, some quite prominent such as brothers Landolfo and Erlembald Cotta, respectively a notary of Milan's cathedral and a knight. Patarenes bound themselves by an oath and boycotted the sermons of the official clergy, rejected their rituals, and drove the congregation from their services.

Amidst mutual accusations of heresy, in 1059, Pope Nicholas II finally approved the Patarenes' opposition of unfit clergy. Later that same year, Guido and his circle were forced to renounce simony and incontinence before papal legates, but soon took up again their old practices and the hunt of the Pataria. The next pope, Alexander II, supported the Pataria openly. In 1066 he excommunicated Guido, generating a wave of violence among his followers during which Arialdo was killed. In 1070 Guido was finally forced to resign, but 5 years later Arialdo's successor Erlembald also died during riots. His demise marked the end of Patarenes' political power in Milan.

However, the Patarene movement had already spread to other cities in northern Italy, including Florence, Piacenza, Lodi, Cremona, and Brescia. In 1068, Florence even sent clergy to assist the fight in Milan.

Pataria strongly declined after the 1090s, when Pope Urban II's led a policy of assuaging bishops of northern Italy, which pushed through many of the reforms the Pataria were striving for. In the 1140s "Pataria" already had a pejorative connotation. The Third Lateran Council in 1179 identified Patarenes as heretics; at about the same time, the name was adopted by Cathars in northern Italy.

The Cathars were a religious group who appeared in Europe in the eleventh century by way of the Balkans and Northern Italy. Records from the Roman Catholic Church mention them under various names and in various places. Roman Catholics still refer to Cathars as heretics while the official Catholic position is that Catharism is not Christian at all.

Cathars, however, called themselves Christians; their neighbors distinguished them as "Good Christians". The Catholic Church called them Albigens, or sometimes Cathars.

The Cathar beliefs almost certainly spread to Western Europe, particularly Languedoc in France, but also to the Netherlands and various places in Germany from Northern Italy. They were carried by travellers, merchants and probably Cathar Perfects. At the time, the Cathar Church was already well established in Northern Italy.

Similarly to Bogomils, Cathars believed in two principles, a good creator god and his evil adversary, maintained a Church hierarchy and practiced a range of ceremonies, but rejected any idea of priesthood or the use of church buildings. They divided into ordinary believers who led ordinary medieval lives and an inner Elect of Perfects. They largely regarded men and women as equals, and had no doctrinal objection to contraception, euthanasia or suicide.

As the Cathar derided the Catholic doctrine calling the Catholic Church "Church of Wolves," the Catholics, on their part, accused Cathars of heresy using remarkable propaganda against them. But since this propaganda was only partly successful, in 1208, Pope, Innocent III, declared a crusade against the people of Languedoc - the Albigensian Crusade. The Crusades ended in 1244, though Cathars were still being burned alive into the fourteenth century.  An Inquisition was founded to extirpate the last vestiges of Cathar belief.

It is further believed the Order of the Rosicrucian, the Order of Knights Templar, and Freemasonry are based on the Bogomil teachings. There is a need of deeper research on the subject, but in any way, Bogomils will remain in history as the people who sparked the Western periods of Reformation and Enlightenment.

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