The Codex Sinaiticus and the Manuscripts of Mt Sinai in the Collections of the National Library of Russia


A.V. Zakharova

Certifying the Donation of the Sinai Bible

In February 1868 Constantine Tischendorf came to St Petersburg again and on 29 February / 12 March submitted an application to Imperial Court Minister, Count A.V. Adlerberg 2nd, asking to take measures towards definitive acquisition of the Sinai Bible by Russia49. Count Adlerberg asked Baron M.A. Korff to inquire Tischendorf about the matter which was then reported to the Emperor who wished to entrust it to N.P. Ignatyev50. Tischendorf's offer of mediation was turned down.

General Ignatyev first applied to the priest of Russian Mission in Jerusalem, Archimandrite Antonin (Kapustin)51, his old friend and confidant. His letter from Bujukdere of 8 May /Old style/ 1868 runs as follows:

<> Before leaving, would you mind handling another little affair requesting the diplomatic skills and knowledge You demonstrated before? In other words, would You please help me put an end to the story of the Sinai Bible stolen by us? I have instructed Kumani (being too busy with numerous visitors to write myself today) to give You the details and current status. It is desirable to have Mt Sinai Monastery sign an act to the effect that they have passed the precious manuscript to His Majesty the Emperor (into His Majesty's ownership), and we in turn would grant them three or four orders of any class they could wish, and probably 10 or 12 thousand rubles into the bargain. Of course, the less the better, and our gratitude to You will be the greater. Prepare the ground in Jerusalem, without unnecessary publicity, in particular, without stimulating monastic cupidity, and, above all, tell me Your opinion quite frankly. Perhaps by promising to acknowledge the new Archbishop of Sinai (not the one You and the Patriarch unlawfully ordained on 30 August) and adjusting relations between Jerusalem and our Holy Synod, we could get off lightly, i. e. with only the orders to be awarded to: previous Archbishop, his new successor, librarian and the most influential (strongest) brother in the community. Will that do? 52

At the same time, Ignatyev instructed his secretary, A. Kumani, to discuss the subject with the previous Archbishop Cyril residing in Constantinople53. Here is an extract from Kumani's account:

<> Evidence on the Sinai Bible case provided by Professor Tischendorf, <> is not fully consistent with explanations offered by Cyril Archbishop of Sinai and Archimandrite German, secretary of Mt Sinai Monastery at the time of the discovery and transfer of the above manuscript. Rather amazingly, both divines maintain that Mt Sinai community never wished, nor even intended to present the Bible to His Majesty the Emperor. <> Right Rev. Cyril admits this desire on his own part, while insisting that he could not fulfill it just because the brethren still show no inclination whatever to pass the Bible to Russia (See the memorandum)

On the other hand, information that Count Ignatyev obtained from Archimandrite Antonin, indicated a most favorable attitude of the community. In his reply to Father Antonin of 18/30 June 186854 Ignatyev says:

[fol. 21] <> Your explanations on the Sinai Bible case, and Your negotiations of the subject with Callistratus and the Patriarch are most appreciated both by myself, Father Archimandrite, and by the whole of Russian scholarly community taking great interest in the outcome of such misunderstandings caused by some German wishing to take another voyage to Mt Sinai and Mt Athos at public expense and flying the Russian flag. No doubt, the sooner the Bible is passed into the Sovereign ownership, and the less it costs the Government, the sooner is every obstacle to the solution of all Mt Sinai problems removed.
To tell frankly (and in absolute confidence), I have only one doubt today. I have informed You of our willingness to contribute a certain sum, and in Your negotiations You kept within identified limits. Meanwhile Lex55, leaving with his father tells both here and in Petersburg, that Mt Sinai brethren (according to Cairo House) are prepared to donate the Bible, particularly as they already regard it as Russian (Alexander's) property, as long as Callistratus is acknowledged and the monies we sequestrated in Egypt (Bessarabian rent, subscriptions, etc.) are paid out. The transaction (i.e. having the Bible in return to us consenting to Cyril's deposition and payment of the monies that are not ours) was much appreciated in Petersburg, by the Chancellor in particular. Now he grudges our money since the Bible can be had for nothing, and blames us for vain extravagance. How do You think? Until now I have replied that contributing some of our money, however little, seems more appropriate, at least in order to be able to say that the Bible was bought and not filched. Anyway, since the idea of getting the Bible for nothing and contributing mere decorations has already sunk home in Petersb[urg], I believe that we should promise less money than I proposed before; however, to keep within the limits You proposed (between 5 and 8 tho. rub.), we could offer six thousand rubles which makes five thousand and about 4 hundred rubles in hard money. Will that do? I propose to add 2 thousand for Mt Tabor Monastery though I am not sure whether they will accept it. I shall make a try. For the rest I will follow your instructions (letter of 25 May). Expecting your definite (positive rather than mocking) decisions for immediate reporting on the decorations, etc

On 29 July /Old style/ 1868 N.P. Ignatyev received letter of 5 July /Old style/ 1868 from Archbishop Callistratus in Jerusalem56. The latter confirmed that the community regards the Bible as presented to the Emperor from the day when Tischendorf took it to Petersburg, promising to forward the official act of donation as soon as possible.

<> I hasten to assure Your Excellency that the book in question has been considered by all Mt Sinai brethren, since the date of surrendering it to His Majesty the Emperor, as definitely donated to the Emperor <> I also promise that, immediately on returning for most desired penitence and taking my place, with the help of God and lofty support of the Emperor, I wish, by way of formal act signed by myself and Mt Sinai elders, and with Mt Sinai seal affixed, to donate the said manuscript to His Majesty Emperor of All Russia Alexander II (See the letter)

Ignatyev reported the letter to W.I. Westmann, Assistant Foreign Minister; meeting Archimandrite Antonin's indications, he requests assignment of 9000 rubles for Mt Sinai community and Russian awards for Archbishop Callistratus and some of the brethren57.

On the other hand, Mt Sinai Council informed Russian Vice-Consul in Egypt, A.N. Nikolaev in a letter of 28 June /Old style/ 186858 of the following:

<> our former Archbishop Cyril, horrible wrecker of our holy and glorious community, maintains that Mt Sinai brethren unanimously rose to exile him for donating the ancient Gospel manuscript to the Great Sovereign of All Russia and Defender of the Orthodox Church, and allegedly wished to vindicate the said manuscript under the letter of guarantee from Imperial Mission in Constantinople then led by Prince Lobanov. We therefore deem it our duty to explain to Your Highness, and through Your Highness to the Imperial Mission and all authorities, that the rumors are nothing but invention of a slanderer seeking, by distorting the truth, to wreck our unfortunate community so long victimized by him, and explain the matter.
Constantine Tischendorf came on Mt Sinai some years ago with a letter of introduction from the then envoy Prince Lobanov asking to lend the said ancient New Testament manuscript for copying and warranting subsequent recovery. On discussing the letter, we lent the manuscript for copying. Then, considering that the manuscript would be the most precious gift that Mt Sinai could offer to the Great Sovereign and Defender of the Orthodox Church <>, we decreed, by formal act registered in Community's Sacred Book [of Acts] the exact copy of which we enclose here together with Prince Lobanov's letter, to donate [the manuscript] to His Majesty protected by God. And that was accomplished. We therefore are the donators and not the former Archbishop Cyril who is not entitled to give away even the smallest of Community possessions. <> We are certain that the intrigues will be foiled and that His Excellency General Ignatyev will be finally convinced in the righteousness of our Community and direct, as the glorious representative of the Holy Russia, to repay the monies seized by the former Archbishop of Mt Sinai, and assist to a speedier ordination of Archbishop elect Callistratus, our lawful and true pastor, as the great benefactor of our community (See the letter)

Enclosed were Prince Lobanov-Rostovsky's original letter of 10 September /Old style/ 185959, and certified copy of Community Council's official act of 16 September /Old style/ 1859, registering the community's decision to donate the manuscript to Alexander II. (See the copy of the act)

The Act is partly reproduced in Cyril's memo published by I. Ševčenko60. However, instead of donation, the final phrase implies only loan of the manuscript. Regretfully, we have no evidence of the original Act surviving to date or any means to reconstruct the original content. There are two likely conjectures for the time being. Either Archbishop Callistratus and Council members provided the Russian Consulate with a duplicate inconsistent with the original Act, revising the formulation to their own advantage; or Archbishop Cyril misrepresented the Act for his own benefit in his memorandum. As seen from above documents, the latter in his dealings with Russian Mission, and Tischendorf, actually implied that his disagreement with the brethren resulted, in particular, from surrendering the Bible to Russia61. Interestingly, the Bible is never mentioned in the pamphlet published by Archbishop Cyril in the summer 1867 to refute the incriminations advanced by the brethren62. This means that the idea of using the Codex Sinaiticus crossed his mind later, when negotiations on formal donation of the manuscript were renewed. It is doubtful whether the loan or donation of the manuscript to the Russian Government were approved by the whole community. Written evidence from the brethren is yet unavailable. In addition to Archbishop Cyril's letters, speculations rely on rumors distributed by visitors63.

The new information and documents supplied by Nikolaev were again forwarded to W.I. Westmann by N.P. Ignatyev64.

Already in September Archbishop Callistratus sent Ignatyev the donation act for the Bible 65. (See the 1868 donation act)

The donation act of 11 and 17 September /Old style/ 1868 was signed by Archbishop Callistratus and the Council of Sinai House in Cairo. Yet signatures of St Catherine's brethren were lacking. On 25 August /Old style/ 1868, in consideration of most obedient report of Imperial Court Minister, Count Adlerberg 2nd, His Majesty the Emperor assented to grant Mt Sinai Archbishop and brethren 9000 rubles and decorations66. The money and decorations were forwarded to Count Ignatyev in Constantinople in the autumn 1868.67 The latter, however, preferred to wait until the donation act was properly formalized and Callistratus formally acknowledged by the Egyptian Government as Archbishop of Sinai, according to his letter to Archimandrite Antonin of 14 March 1869:

<> For the sake of Your Worship I have been fighting for Callistratus throughout the winter and our efforts have been crowned with success now. Callistratus wishes to do good by dwelling in the monastery. For your sake also I made Cyril my enemy abusing the Embassy for refusing to lend him support. I have obtained (between ourselves) the decorations, etc. for Mt Sinai Community but I will never let hold of things without a final document on hand. I prefer "driving them into a corner" or else you will not wring anything from the stubborn ones Should not Your Worship praise my zeal in appeasing Mt Sinai and pleasing Your Worship?68

Finally, on his trip to Egypt in November 1869, Count Ignatyev visited Cairo House and met Archbishop Callistratus there. On 13 November /Old style/ a new donation act was made and signed by all members of the Holy Council of Djuvania. The donation act was then couriered to Mt Sinai to be signed by St Catherine's Holy Council, which was accomplished on 18 November /Old style/ when Count Ignatyev had already left Egypt69. Below is the extract of the document:

<> Thus, now again by our official act, we, Callistratus Archbishop of Sinai and the holy congregation of local fathers present here and the Sinaite hermits, declare, confirm and certify anew the already made donation of the Old and New Testament manuscript of Mt Sinai to His Majesty the Emperor, to be consequently transferred to the absolute possession and considered as indisputable and unquestionable property of His Majesty the Emperor (See the 1869 donation act)

The donation act properly signed and sealed was eventually received by Ignatyev on 14 December /Old style/. He wrote about it to W.I. Westmann in Petersburg in his message of 16/28 December 1869:

<> I took advantage of my recent trip to Egypt and now must enclose here the original text and translation of duly signed collective statement sent to me by Archbishop Callistratus. The document finalizes decade-long negotiations and thus provides the solution hopefully welcomed by the Imperial Government. Both the Archbishop and brethren of Mt Sinai repeatedly thanked me for completing the case bringing them nine thousand rubles (See the letter)

On 5 January /Old style/ 1870 Russian Consul General in Egypt, I.M. Lex, had Archbishop Callistratus and representatives of Mt Sinai Community sign for the decorations and money70. (See the receipt for money)

Thus the purchase of the Sinai Bible for the Russian Government culminated in success71. However, that was not the end of the confrontation between former Archbishop of Sinai Cyril and the community.

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49 RGIA, fond 472 (Kantseljariya ministerstva Imperatorskogo dvora), opis' 15 (239/1255), 1868, delo 26. Delo o priobretenii otkrytoj na Sinae leipzigskim professorom Tischendorfom rukopisi grečeskoj Biblii, otnosimoj k IV veku (hereinafter: RGIA, f. 472, op. 15 (239/1255), d. 26), fol. 1r.(back to the text)

50 See: Ibid., fols. 4r-12v (memo by Baron M.A. Korf on Codex Sinaiticus, referred to in Count Adlerberg's report to the Emperor); fol. 14r-v (report of Count Adlerberg to Prince Gorchakov of 26 March /Old style/ 1868); AVPRI, f. 180, op. 517/2, d. 3379, fols. 21r-22v (report of Count Adlerberg to Prince Gorchakov of 12 April /Old style/ 1868).(back to the text)

51 Letters cited here survive in typescript (RGIA, f. 1561, op. 1, d. 16). Almost all of the excerpts were published (.. Dmitrievskij, Graf Ignatyev kak tserkovno-politiceskij dejatel' na Pravoslavnom Vostoke, S.-Petersburg, 1909, pp. 20-29). The extracts published by Dmitrievsky, however, are not placed in strict chronology, alternating with author's comments, not always correct because of the lack of reliable information from alternative sources. Count Ignatyev's statements therefore often acquire different meanings. To remove the misinterpretations, it is necessary to recur to the original source, with possibly complete quotations in the original context.(back to the text)

52 See RGIA, f. 1561, op. 1, d. 16, fol. 18r.(back to the text)

53 Count Ignatiev informs thereof Chancellor A.M. Gorchakov in his confidential letter from Bujuk-dere, 14/26 May 1868, no. 135 (AVPRI, f. 161 II-11, op. 50, d. 5, fols. 82r-84r).(back to the text)

54 Letter by N.P. Ignatyev to Archimandrite Antonin (Kapustin), dated 18/30 June 1868. RGIA, f. 1561, op. 1, d. 16, fols. 21r-v). (back to the text)

55 I.M. Lex - Russian Consul General in Egypt; replaced by Vice-Consul A.N. Nikolaev during his absence in the summer 1868. (back to the text)

56 AVPRI, f. 180, op. 517/2, d. 3379, fol. 33r. (back to the text)

57 Report to W.I. Westmann no. 244 of 30 July / 11 August 1868 (AVPRI, f. 161 II-11, op. 50, d. 5, fols. 90r-93r); Ibid., fol. 94r-v - list of divines to be awarded with Russian orders: Callistratus Archbishop of Sinai - St Anne 1st class; Joasaph Archbishop of Philadelphia - same 2nd class with crown; Coadjutor Cornelius of Mt Sinai, and Sexton Gregory - same order of same class (without crown); hieromonk Porphyrius - pectoral cross.(back to the text)

58 AVPRI, f. 180, op. 517/2, d. 3379, fol. 47r-48r. Nikolaev forwarded the letter and enclosures to N.P. Ignatyev with covering letter no. 127 of 1 / 13 August 1868 (Ibid., fols. 13r-16r).(back to the text)

59 AVPRI, f. 180, op. 517/2, d. 3379, fol. 19r-v.(back to the text)

60 Ševčenko, "New Documents", p. 69. Cf. n. 9.(back to the text)

61 See Archbishop Cyril's memo (Ševčenko, "New Documents", p. 69-70), and his letter to Tischedorf of 12/24 January 1868 (Ibid., pp. 73-74, n. 53).(back to the text)

62 See Ύπόμνημα (One copy of the pamphlet is available in RGIA, f. 797, op. 37, II otd., d. 160, fols. 63r-97r).(back to the text)

63 See n. 7. (back to the text)

64 Report of 13 August /Old style/ 1868, no. 255, AVPRI, f. 161 II-11, op. 50, d. 5, fols. 108r-109v. Ignatyev also informs C. Tischendorf of the favorable development, the latter responding 9 September 1868 from Leipzig (Gosudarstvenny Arkhiv Rossijskoj Federatsii (the State Archive of the Russian Federation), fond 730 (N.P. Ignatyev), opis' 1, 3987. Pis'mo K. Tischendorfa k N.P. Ignatyevu ot 9 Sentyabrya 1868, fols. 1r-2r). (back to the text)

65 AVPRI, f. 180, op. 517/2, d. 3379, fol. 36r (covering letter of 20 September /Old style/ 1868); fols. 39r-v, 43r (donation act of 11 and 17 September /Old style/ 1868). (back to the text)

66 RGIA, f. 472, op. 15 (239/1255), d. 26, fols. 24r-27r.(back to the text)

67 See W.I. Westmann's reports to N.P. Ignatyev no. 3135 of 26 September /Old style/ and no. 3508 of 31 October /Old style/ 1868 of sending the money and decorations (AVPRI, f. 180, op. 517/2, d. 3379, fols. 4r-5r, 11r-v).(back to the text)

68 See RGIA, f. 1561, op. 1, d. 16, fol. 22v). (back to the text)

69 Ignatyev left the money and decorations with Russian Consul in Alexandria I.M. Lex, ordering to pass them on receiving the final document. See draft order of N.P. Ignatyev to I.M. Lex of 16 November /Old style/ 1869 (AVPRI, f. 180, op. 517/2, d. 3379, fols. 1r-2v), and his letter to Tischendorf of 5/17 December (Peradze, "Dokumenty", pp. 149-150). (back to the text)

70 Receipt for money received: RGIA, f. 472, op. 15 (239/1255), d. 26, fol. 49r. Receipt for decorations received: AVPRI, fond 180 (Posol'stvo v Konstantinopole), opis' 517/2, 1870, delo 1083 (Alexandria) (hereinafter: AVPRI, f. 180, op. 517/2, d. 1083), fol. 9r. (back to the text)

71 N.P. Ignatyev wrote to Tischendorf about finalizing the case of the Sinai Bible on 5/17 December 1869 (Peradze, "Dokumenty", pp. 149-150), to Archimandrite Antonin on 7 January 1870 (RGIA, f. 1561, op. 1, d. 16, fol. 27r), and, on having the receipts, to W.I. Westmann in a report of 27 January / 8 February 1870 (AVPRI, f. 161 II-11, op. 50, d. 5, fol. 95r-v). (back to the text)

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