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routes Moscow, Russia

To the sources of christianity: saints of the undivided church on the pages of manuscripts

• russia   • moscow   • conception   • christianity   • St. Cyril and Methodius   • russian state library   • leninka   • books
The richest manuscript collection of the Russian State Library (RSL, or Leninka) has original materials associated with many Saints and holy places of the undivided Christian Church. Ancient Gospels, lives of Saints, as well as documents on the history of the Holy Land, Constantinople, Athon... The famous Leninka’s guided tour department, in conjunction with the RSL experts, have developed three cultural tourism offers within the framework of the project «Holy Places of Undivided Christianity»:


Legacy of St. Cyril and Methodius

1. "About Writing”, the XVII century manuscript. "The Tale of the Writing of Monk Khrabr”" is one of the literary monuments of the ancient Slavic writing, a story of the origin of the Slavic script and the first Slavic alphabet. Its text was widely circulated and highly appreciated for the abundance of precise information. Khrabr emphasized the advantages of the Slavic alphabet, which, in his opinion, was a more apropriate alphabet for Slavs: the Slavic alphabet seemed to „fit the Slavic speech” and to be „more saint” than the Greek alphabet as it was created by the „saint man” rather than pagans.

2. Roman Catholic Breviary. The Book of Worship containing the order of service of liturgical hours according to the rite of the Roman Church. The distinctive feature of this manuscript is the text written in the Croatian Glagolitic script.

3. Life of Saint Cyril (the XV century manuscript). Forty-eight complete manuscripts of St. Cyril’s life have survived to this day. The manuscript of St. Cyril’s life from the Moscow Theological Academy’s collection dates back to the last quarter of the XV century and is considered one of the oldest and the most intact. It is generally believed that the author of the life of Saint, co-equal with the Apostles, Cyril was St. Clement of Ochrid, who not only carried on the translation work initiated by Saints Cyril and Methodius, but also left us his writing - the first examples of the Slavic spiritual literature.

4. "Commemoration of Saint Methodius Moravian(the XV century manuscript). The Life of Saint, co-equal with the Apostles, Methodius has reached the present day in sixteen manuscripts, the oldest of which is part of the famous Uspensky Collection (the XII–XIII centuries). The RSL Manuscript Department has preserved a XV century manuscript of the abridged life of Saint, co-equal with the Apostles, Methodius Moravian entitled „Commemoration of Saint Methodius Moravian”. It gives a more detailed account of the Moravian period of the Saint’s life and activities, and it is rather brief about his Byzantine period. This manuscript was probably acquired by V.I. Grigorovich in one of the South Slavic countries. It is not just the distinctive features of the letter that indicate this (the South Russian semi-uncial), but also the mere fact of being kept in the collection of this renowned manuscript collector.

5. The Lives of Saints Cyril and Methodius (the XIX century manuscript made for the Bollandists). Very rare and interesting is the unique XIX-century manuscript of the lives of Saints Cyril and Methodius made for the Bollandists by archeologist Ivan Mikhailovich Martynov, a Russian member of Order of the Jesuites. Martynov graduated with honours from Saint Petersburg University and went abroad where he converted to Catholicism and continued his education. He stayed in France and founded the Cyril-Methodius Society. In the 1860s, he published the «Cyril-Methodius Anthology». In 1870, he participated as an expert theologian in the First Vatican Council.


Saint Nicholas of Myra 

1. Life of Saint Nicholas the Wonderworker (the XVI century manuscript with pictures)


The description of Saint Nicholas’ life of and miracles is one of the most popular literary works of Ancient Rus. There’s a great number of manuscripts of Saint Nicholas’ life, but the manuscript from the merchant T.F. Bolshakov’s collection is truly precious. It was created in the Kremlin book-making workshop of Tsar Ivan the Terrible in the 1570s, preserved in the Time of Troubles (1598—1613), survived the plundering of the Kremlin chambers and then disappeared. In the XVIII century, it was acquired by Daniil Ivanovich Stroganov, a merchant and collector of rarities. In the first half of the XIX century, it belonged to the well-known collector and antiquarian Tikhon Fedorovich Bolshakov. In 1863, together with Bolshakov’s collection of manuscripts, the life of Saint Nicholas made its way to the Rumyantsev Museum (presently, Russian State LIbrary ), which had just moved from Petersburg to Moscow.


The book contains more than 430 miniatures detailing the life of Saint Nicholas, his deeds and miracles. Several excellent artists worked on this big miniature cycle. All these miniatures are done in a sketchy way with subsequent coloring and gilding the halos of the Saints, the domes and crosses of the temples, the details of clothes and weapons.

3. “Tale of Saint Hierarch Nikolai", a collection of remarks and insightful observations of the XVII century written in the cursive writing of uncial. A piece of paper was inserted into the book. It tells us the name of the scribe and at the same time speaks of the uniqueness of the document: “Sermons written by Saint Dimitry himself in Ukraine in the Ukrainian language. None of them has been printed. Amfilochius, Bishop of Uglich. 22 March 1890.”

At first, the cursive writing of uncial kept some of the features of the semi-uncial since it appeared as a direct heir to the semi-uncial at the end of the XIV century. However, under the influence of scribes, the cursive writing of uncial gained an increasingly distinctive character and became a typical script in the XVII-century documents. It’s rather difficult to read the cursive writing of uncial. It is not uncommon for a word to be correctly understood only in the context of the nearby words, which make it possible to guess the meaning by analyzing all possible variants. The manuscript aptly demonstrates this.

3. “About the Apparition of Saint Nicholas the Wonderworker in Kazan’”. The scribe of Kazan’. Another prime example of the XVII-century cursive writing of uncial.


4. The book of liturgical hours. (France, appr. 1500. The miniature of Saint Nicholas of Myra)


The book of hours in Latin decorated with the miniatures illustrating the Old Testament and New Testament scenes, as well as the initials and ornamental border patterns, painted and gilded, represents the French school of book miniatures. Typical of this kind of medieval manuscript book is the decoration of the calendar with images of zodiac signs and pictures portraying a certain time of year and respective agricultural works. For example, trimming grape vines corresponds to January, reaper with the sickle – to July, sower in the field – to October, etc. The calendar miniatures represent the entire field cycle up to harvesting and processing — from sowing to grinding and baking bread, as well as winemaking and livestock breeding.

5. The unique archival materials on the construction of the Russian Orthodox temple in honour of St. Nicholas in Myra Lycian and the erection of the Russian Orthodox church of Saint Nicholas in the town of Bari.


Journeys to Christian Holy Places

1. The Old Believer collection including Arseny Sukhanov’s Proskynetarion (XVIII century). Arseny (his lay name was Anton Putilovich Sukhanov, appr. 1600 – 14.08.1668) was a Church figure, cellarer of the Trinity-Sergius Monastery, writer, diplomat, head of the Moscow Printing Court. In 1649, the starets (elderly monk) was sent to Jerusalem to describe the state of the Orthodox faith in the Holy Land. His observations and comments were presented in the work «Proskynetarion». This text drew attention of researchers from the XIX century, but the research mostly highlighted the text’s role in the schism of the Russian Church. In fact, Arseny’s literary work recorded in detail all deviations from the canons in the behavior of the Eastern clergy. Such observations were actively used by Old Believers to prove the anti-Orthodox essence of Nikon’s reforms. At the same time, the Russian envoy’s report included a wide range of valuable historical information on the situation in the countries of the East and certain unusual events in the everyday life of the places he visited. The genre itself largely follows the tradition of the Greek guide book of proskynetarion.

2. The Byzantine Proskynetarion (in the Greek language). Descriptions and guidebooks of the Holy Land were translated from Greek into Russian. In Russian translation, the word «proskynetarion» (Προσκυνητάριον) means «worship». That’s what they called books about the city of Jerusalem and the Holy Land. They were a sort of travel guides for visitors. One of such books in Greek will be demonstrated during the excursion.

3. “Book Journey to Jerusalem and Mount Athon in 1858-1859”. 

The book was written and illustrated by Hieromonk Hieronim (Sukhanov). Eighteen months of his pilgrimages in the Holy Land and Athon were depicted in the drawings and described in the texts of this 462-page handwritten book. Father Hieronim did not show his book to anyone until his death. On one of its first pages he wrote the following words:”I leave my piece of art in care of treasury, and if you don’t like it, burn it.” After Hieronim's death, the book was kept in the vestry of the Nikolo-Peshnoshsky Monastery. In the XX century, the manuscript "Book of Travels" was transferred to the RLS Manuscript Department. Thanks to Father Hieronim’s drawings, today we know how Jerusalem, its surroundings, Palestine and Mount Athon appeared to Russian pilgrims a century and a half ago.

4. “The description of a traveler to the Holy City of Jerusalem and Mount Athon from the Smolensk Governorate, worshiper Yakov Rakhmanov, together with his companions in 1820 and 1821”.

The Manuscript Department has an extensive collection of memoirs of pilgrims who travelled to the Holy Land in the XIX century. Yakov Rakhmanov’s diary is one of them.

5. Archival materials on the status of the holy places in Jerusalem and foreign countries’ land ownerships in the Holy Land.

Unique documents on the territorial claims of different countries in the Holy Land and on the status of the holy places: “A draft article of historical overview of the French claims in Palestine”; “Decree by Patriarch of Jerusalem on the status of the holy places”;“On the status of the holy places in Jerusalem”;“About the fire and reconstruction of the Jerusalem temple”; about the relationships with Muslims, etc.

The interaction between the Russian Spiritual Mission and the Jerusalem Patriarchate is reflected in the following documents: Letters from Hierophaeus, Archbishop of Tabor, Patriarch of Antioch, to A.N. Muraviev, 1850-1862, in Greek; Letter from Metropolitan Filaret of Moscow to Athanasius, Patriarch of Jerusalem, 1834; «Messages of the Jerusalem Patriarchs to Moscow»; Letters of Dositheus, Patriarch of Jerusalem, XVIII century; Letters to St. Filaret of Moscow from the Patriarchs of Jerusalem: Afanasiy, Cyril, 1850, in Greek.


1860: Piotr Ivanovich Sevastianov. The Church of the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem.

1906: Photographs of the unidentified persons, pilgrims to the Holy Land.



See also

Moscow and Moscow region

The Third Rome of St. Nicholas

11 shrines • 5 days
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