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St. Petersburg hosted a roundtable discussion on "Peter the Great's Travels: Cultural and Religious Dimensions"

On September 9 in the Russian National Library (RNL) in St. Petersburg there was a roundtable discussion on "Peter the Great's Travels: Cultural and Religious Dimensions." The event was part of the project "Cycle of regional events in the cultural and educational route "Holy Places of Undivided Christianity", implemented with the help of a grant provided by the NGO "Russian Cultural Foundation" as part of the federal project "Creative People" of the national project "Culture".

This scientific and educational meeting was attended by Miguel Palacio, head of the Association "Holy Places of Undivided Christianity", Deputy Director General of the Library for Foreign Literature for Interregional and International Cooperation, Doctor of Theology (ThD); Vladimir Gronsky, Director General of RNB; Alexey Alexeev, head of the Manuscripts Department of RNB, Doctor of History; Inna Sviderskaya, Director of Peter the Great Institute, Deputy Director of St. Petersburg Institute of Cultural Programs; Olga Dovgar, head of the Mayakovsky Department; Ivan Polyakov, researcher in the Manuscripts Department of RNB; Alexei Alexey Alexeev, Head of the Russian Fonds Section of the Manuscripts Department of RNB. Inga Dovgar, head of the Mayakovsky Department; Ivan Polyakov, Ph.D. in History, researcher in the Manuscripts Department, Russian National Library; Elena Mikhailova, head of the Russian Funds of the 18th-21st Centuries Section, Department of Manuscripts, Russian National Library.


In his welcoming remarks, Vladimir Gronsky said that the round table was devoted to the development of the cultural routes "Holy Places of Undivided Christianity" and "The Way of Peter the Great" (coordinated by the Russian National Library) through the study of their intersection points and mutual enrichment. "Today we will talk about how our routes can achieve synergy to achieve common goals and registration at the Council of Europe," said the head of the largest Russian library.

He also recalled that the Russian National Library is a member of the Holy Places of Undivided Christianity Association and invited the Library for Foreign Literature to join the Peter the Great Way Association.


Miguel Palacio thanked the Russian National Library for organizing the event and recalled that the first meeting on the joint promotion of the cultural routes "Holy Places of Undivided Christianity" and "The Way of Peter the Great" was held in March 2021 also at the Russian National Library. At the same time Miguel Palacio noted that the close relationship between Inostranka and the Public Library has been formed over many years, and the joint work on the preparation of cultural routes will only strengthen the existing ties.

After introductory remarks, the participants of the round table presented their reports.


Head of the Manuscripts Department of the Russian National Library, Doctor of Historical Sciences Alexey Alexeev told about the travel journals of the Peter the Great era, which are in the library's collections. "Daily narratives" were called handwritten books, where records of the activities of various dignitaries were recorded daily. Peter demanded to keep "daily narratives" to control the work of diplomats, heads of institutions, and military personnel.


Inna Sviderskaya, director of the Peter the Great Institute and deputy director of the St. Petersburg Institute for Cultural Programs, devoted her presentation to memorial sites associated with Peter the Great and his associates. She told that one of the priorities of the Peter the Great Institute is to create a Peter the Great monuments inventory in Russia and Europe. The project has already described more than 700 sites in 50 regions of Russia.


In "Peter the Great and His Model of Inter-Christian Interaction," Miguel Palacio discussed the activities of the first Russian emperor in a religious context. He stressed that Peter the Great had played a symbolic role in bringing Western Christian denominations to legal status in Russia by recognizing the right of Protestants and Catholics to freely practice their faith. "It is very symbolic that it is in St. Petersburg, on Nevsky Prospect, that you can see churches of most Christian confessions in close proximity. No other city in Russia has this," Miguel Palacio remarked.

Peter the Great was inspired by Lutheranism, which was reflected in the reform of the system of administration of the Russian Orthodox Church, which, in particular, consisted in abolishing Patriarchate and creating a collegiate higher administrative body, the Holy Synod.

Miguel Palacio shared that in the context of relations between Russia and the Western Christian world he is particularly interested in the history of interaction and the presence of the Sovereign Order of Malta in Russia. This interaction began in the time of Peter the Great, when in 1698 Count Boris Petrovich Sheremetev visited Malta, and the Grand Master placed the insignia of the Order of Malta on the Count. Exactly 100 years later, a descendant of Peter the Great – Emperor Paul I de facto headed the Order of Malta. Despite the fact that the Grand Master of the Order could only become a devotee of Catholicism and a monk, the gratitude of the Knights for saving him from persecution by Napoleon was so great that Paul I was awarded this highest title.

Miguel Palacio also drew attention to Peter the Great's contribution to expanding inter-Christian cooperation: he received a request from the Roman Catholic Church for assistance in reuniting the Western and Eastern Churches, and the emperor discussed the issue in correspondence, but no decision was made to reunite.

Summarizing the above-mentioned, Miguel Palacio emphasized that St. Petersburg, as the city of Peter the Great, can be called a place of encounter and dialogue between different Christian confessions.


In her report the head of the department of literature on art and music "Nevsky ART" Central State Pedagogical Library named after V. V. Mayakovskiy. Olga Dovgar, Head of the Department of Art Literature and Music at the Nevsky ART Department of the Central State Pedagogical Library, spoke about the history and activities of the Dutch Reformed Church in St. Petersburg, which is now the building of the library she represents, as a musical, art history and religious heritage of Peter the Great's era.


Ivan Polyakov, researcher at the manuscripts department of the Russian National Library, PhD in history, presented a joint report with Alexander Lavrov, professor at the University of Paris IV Sorbonne, on written sources on sending people to study abroad during the Peter the Great era. The report was prepared on the basis of the surviving letters of the clerk Mikhail Illarionov and "navigator" Savva Lutokhin.


In her presentation, Elena Mikhailova, Head of the Sector of Russian Funds of the 18th-21st Centuries of the Manuscripts Department of the Russian National Library, PhD in Art History, turned to a genre that borders between art and mythology – "conversations in the kingdom of the dead". Elena Mikhaylova conducted a thorough analysis of the history of the genre's origins and revealed the image of Peter the Great's travels within it.


Summarizing the round table, Miguel Palacio noted that all of the papers contributed to uncovering different aspects of Peter the Great's travels, and suggested that research into this important component of the founder of St. Petersburg be continued in a cultural and religious paradigm.


October 11, 2021


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