Frantsysk Skaryna and 500 years of Belarusian printing : the September 2017 Slavonic item(s) of the month

Earlier this month, the National Library of Belarus (NLB) held a conference to celebrate the history of Belarusian printing, marking the 500th anniversary of Frantsysk Skaryna’s publication of the Psalter – one of many Belarusian initiatives to celebrate Skaryna’s legacy.  Both the UL and Trinity College have contributed to another of NLB’s projects, to draw together as comprehensive as possible a database of scanned copies of all original Skaryna material.  Cambridge has provided digital copies of:

  • a fragment of Skaryna’s 1518 First Book of Kings (1 Samuel); exactly the same fragment is held by both Trinity and the UL (the latter at F151.c.7.10)
  • Skaryna’s 1522 Malaia podorozhnaia knizhitsa (Small travel book) Psalter (UL: F152.e.14.1)

The NLB have also nearly completed a physical facsimile reprint of all the books of the Bible which Skaryna produced.  16 of the projected 21 volumes were presented to the UL and Trinity by the Director of the NLB earlier this year, with the remaining volumes due to be sent to us once the publication is complete.  The facsimile is a very welcome addition to our collections, providing our readers at last with easy access to Skaryna’s work.  The set is held at F201.b.14.2(1-15,17) and can be requested in the Rare Books Reading Room.

The first day of the conference ended with the opening of the NLB’s ‘Francysk Skaryna and his Epoch’ exhibition – their English-language news story about this event can be read here.  I was lucky enough to be given access to the exhibition a couple of days before, by Dr Susha, the NLB’s Skaryna specialist, while the final touches were being applied.  It was a great privilege to be given a private tour of this remarkable exhibition, and I am extremely grateful to Dr Susha and his colleague Dr Prokulevich for making this possible.

My trip to Belarus also took in Skaryna’s birthplace, Polatsk, where I visited the absolutely superb Museum of Belarusian Book-Printing, which shares its quarters with a similarly impressive facility dedicated to the town’s other famous son, the writer Simeon Polotskii.  The whole visit was an exercise in bibliographic delight.  Every room was really quite breath-taking, literally so, as we moved from early printing to modern times.  Since I couldn’t possible include here all the scores of pictures I took, here are two photos of photos – some lovely images (reproduced in the museum as large back-lit slides) of Soviet-era Belarusian book-making.

Much more can be read about Skaryna’s work and legacy in this excellent blog post written by Ihar Ivanou for the British Library’s European studies blog.

Mel Bach

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