Before the 9th century, A.D., the Christian churches generated images, to tell the story of Christ, because the majority of the population were unable to read or write. The images were in a sense, hieroglyphs, or as Derrida might say, an expanded form of writing. We often think of images as illustrations of things, or as “things” themselves. But we forget that in times before the written word was so prominent; images were complex symbols, used as a form of transmitting and preserving concepts.
In the early to mid 9th century, 2 monks, Cyril and Methodius (Greek: Κύριλλος και Μεθόδιος, Old Church Slavonic: Кѷриллъ и Меѳодїи), Byzantine Greek brothers born in Thessaloniki, changed history. They developed a written language that they intended to augment if not replace the transmission of Christian concepts through the use of images. It was a transliteration, from one form to another; from the visual to the written text.
Cyril created the Glagolitic alphabet within two years, in the period between 861 and 863. He used theological symbolism and the geometrical logic of the circle, triangle and square – the three basic geometrical figures, and at the same time the three main symbols by which many cultures, religions and teachings in Constantine’s time explained the integrity of the universe and the manifestation of the world. The circle symbolizes the sun, the integrity and perfection of the divinity that gives life. The triangle is the symbol of the large triad that unites heaven and earth with man as the product of their union (the Holy Trinity). The square is the symbol of the Earth, the four seasons, the four elements (water, fire, air and earth).
When the Glagolitic alphabet was created, only the most important prayers and liturgical books, including the Aprakos Evangeliar (an Evangeliar containing only feast-day and Sunday readings), the Psalter, and Acts of the Apostles, were translated.
Eventually, Glagolitsa alphabet was usurped by the Cryillic alphabet, developed by one of Cyril’s students, and named after him.