Ostromir Gospel

South Slavonic Manuscript Gospels from the 11th - 16th Centuries

Only a little portion of manuscript heritage of the South Slavs has come down to us today. The history of the Balkans was distinguished by the tension of political, religious and ethnic conflicts at all times. During the time of its existence, South Slavonic literature was repeatedly subjected to the deliberate destruction. It is difficult to imagine how many Serbian and Bulgarian manuscripts were lost in the Middle Ages and later time. At that, Bulgarian literature suffered the most severe losses.

Monasteries, located on the Balkans (Bulgarian Rila Monastery, Serbian Dečani Monastery) and on Mount Athos (Bulgarian Zograph and Serbian Hilandar Monasteries) played a key role in preserving Slavonic literary memorials for centuries. In Morden Times collectors and researchers of manuscript books has continued this work. Items on display include manuscripts from the notable collections accumulated by Alexander Hilferding (no. 22, 23, 27, 28), Bishop Porfiry Uspensky (no. 20, 21, 24, 26), Archimandrite Antonyn Kapustin (no. 25).

The National Library of Russia's holdings contain almost 400 Serbian, about 100 Bulgarian, several tens of Moldavian and Wallachian, as well as more than 150 Croatian (mainly, Glagolic) manuscript books and fragments. The exhibition draws on the Manuscripts Department's holdings of mediaeval South Slavonic manuscripts which were brought together with later materials on the history of Bulgaria and countries of the former Yugoslavia in the single collection. This valuable, unrivalled in size and scope collection contains original sources for the history of peoples of South Slavonic countries, their handwritten heritage, literatures, languages, and cultures. Manuscript Gospels occupy a fitting place among them.

16 manuscript codeces and fagments are showcased at the same time. These unique handwritten South Slavonic Gospels from the 11th-16th centuries include Bulgarian (no. 14-17), Moldavian (no. 18-19), Serbian (no. 20-26), Bosnian (no. 27-28) literary memorials. The earliest codex is the famous Zograph Gospel (no. 13) outstanding among the works written in Glagolic (mainly, Old Slavonic version). On display are Gospels of several kinds: Tetraevangelions, complete or short Aprakoses, explanatory ones). Exhibited manuscrips produced in diverse centres for book arts, gives an idea of a wide variety of styles of artistic design of mediaeval Slavonic books.

J. Levshina