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Various Authors & Editors

Early Printed Cyrillic Books
Library of Moscow State University, Belorussian and Ukrainian Publications

National and cultural identity
This collection bears witness to the complex, yet fascinating process of book printing in Belorussia and Ukraine when these countries were still under Polish-Lithuanian rule. Deprived of political rights and freedom of worship, the Orthodox Byelorussians and Ukrainians struggled to preserve their national and cultural identity by printing religious, liturgical, and historical books in the Cyrillic script. Often, these publications had a polemical intent – attacking the Catholics, the Uniates, and the Protestants alike – or propagated an openly nationalist agenda. One of the most popular works included in this collection is the Sinopsis – the first printed book on the history of the Eastern Slavs that promoted the idea of uniting all Slavic peoples. Equally interesting in this respect is the politically charged Trebnik, which was published in 1646 at the instigation of Piotr Mogila, the Metropolitan of Kiev.

The Brotherhoods
The role of the Brotherhoods ( bratstva) was crucial to this process of national emancipation. The Brotherhoods were political organizations that sought to stimulate Belorussian and Ukrainian culture by, for example, establishing schools and printing houses. Alarmed by these initiatives and anxious to curb the activities of the Brotherhoods, the government of the Polish-Lithuanian Union, in tandem with the Catholic and the Uniate Church, banned all politically sensitive publications. However, this did not prevent educated and influential Belorussians and Ukrainians from taking part in printing Cyrillic books. Printing houses specializing in Belorussian or Ukrainian publications existed at some point in time in Kiev, L’vov, Chernigov, Vilnius, Mogilev, and many other places.

Kiev-Perch Laura
The largest and most productive printing house in Ukraine belonged to the famous Monastery of the Caves, in Kiev ( Kieov-pecherskaia lavra). It functioned from 1616 until the end of the 18th century, and is represented in the present collection by 47 titles. These include a 1619 edition of the Anfologion (translated by Iov Boretskii), Pamva Berynda’s Leksikon slavianorusskii (the first Slavic “encyclopedia”), and a number of Besedy (“Conversations” on religious topics) that are especially noteworthy for the exceptionally high quality of the typography. The second largest segment of the collection comprises 20 books printed by the Uspenskii Brotherhood of Lvov, which was one of the most important cultural centers in Ukraine during the 17th and 18th centuries. In Belorussia, the Brotherhoods of Vilna and Eve, as well as smaller printing houses in Mogilev and Kutein, specialized in the printing of Cyrillic books. Among the most valuable of the 23 Belorussian books included in this collection are Kirill Trankvillion Stavrovetskii’s Perlo mnogotsennoe (1699), Akafisty vsesedmichnye (1698) – which was printed by the Brotherhood of Mogilev – and a number of sumptuously illustrated liturgical works and prayerbooks.

Unique collection
The present collection consists of 109 rare or otherwise valuable Belorussian and Ukrainian books printed in the 17th century. As well as having an historical value, the combination of luxurious design and sophisticated typography makes these works stand out as true landmarks of early book printing. The books were often embellished by professional artists, who added illustrations and designed the title pages. Ukrainian and Belorussian books differed from those printed in Moscow in both style and content. Whereas the latter were funded by the government and meticulously censored by the Metropolitan and the Tsar, the printing in the Ukraine and Belorussia was supported primarily by private donations. Their repertoire was also much more diversified. The books’ more colorful design, their covers, dedications, coats of arms, and spectacular illustrations contribute to the uniqueness of this material.

Moscow State University Library
Moscow State University Library (founded 1756) is one of the biggest libraries in Russia. Today, it stores more than 8 million volumes and owns many rare books and manuscripts. The most valuable part of its holdings is in the Rare Books and Manuscripts section, which accommodates over 200,000 items, including unique Western, Oriental, and Slavonic manuscripts, archives, incunabula, prints, and other early works. The unique collection of early printed Slavonic books was obtained largely through donations, purchases, transfers from other libraries, and the work of the Archeographical Expedition (which spent over 30 years working among Russian Old Believers in different parts of the former Soviet Union). Nowadays, the Slavonic collection comprises 2,170 items dating from the 1400s to the 1900s.