Most people will be aware that February 14th is St Valentine’s day. But among other saints commemorated on this day are a pair of 9th century brothers with an interesting claim to fame – Saints Cyril and Methodius.
Cyril and Methodius were missionaries to the Slavic peoples. They began translating the Bible into what is now known as Old Church Slavonic, but ran up against the problem of the lack of a suitable alphabet. Undeterred, Cyril invented one – the Glagolitic script. This was developed further by their followers, and ultimately formed the basis for Cyrillic, still widely used today.
The challenges Cyril and Methodius faced were similar to those of many researchers working today. They had access to a substantial body of important information; they wanted to share this with a wider audience, and to ensure that it was transmitted accurately and preserved for posterity in a way that would be easily comprehensible. When they found that no existing encoding system was adequate for the task, they set about developing a new one.
Fortunately, few of us today will have to go to the lengths of inventing a new alphabet. We have a much wider range of tools available to help with the process of encoding, communicating, and preserving complex information: things like the Text Encoding Initiative, metadata standards, and text and data repositories, to name but a few.
But though the process may look different now, in many ways the core aims remain the same. Methodius (who was born Michael) even chose to adopt a name that comes from the Greek for ‘pursuit’ or ‘method’, reflecting some key research priorities: persistent pursuit of the truth, conducted in an orderly and methodical way.
So today – amid all the hearts and flowers and love poems – why not also raise a glass to Saints Cyril and Methodius?