11 books by Skorina

Recently discovered publications by the Belarusian first printer made Germany talk about Belarus
At the end of October Minsk welcomed Norbert Randou, consultant of the language center at German Ministry of Foreign Affairs. His mission was unusual — he came to present Skorina’s Bible, discovered at the town of Gцrlitz, on the border of Germany and Poland.

However, Mr. Randou brought only copies of several pages of the first Belarusian book. The original is still in Gцrlitz, in the library of the Upper Lusatian scientific society.

“In November 2003 Gцrlitz hosted a theological conference, where several scriptures from this library were presented” tells Mr. Randou. “Among them was a book with a title in a Slavic language. Nobody would pay attention to this since many people speak a Slavic language here in Gцrlitz (this is the land of Lusatian Serbs). But besides that, the book was written in a Cyrillic alphabet. Pastor Peter Liobers got very interested in this phenomenon and tried to read the title. When I learned about the discovery, I was astonished.

So far, the world only knew 258 copies of Skorina’s publications, and Germany had none.

Norbert Randou spent two years studying the Belarusian Bible. And he managed to follow it almost to the day it was printed. The Bible with 1316 pages (658 sheets) was published in Prague in 1517–1519. Gцrlitz has had the book since 1527.

Skorina, scientists reckon, was born to an Orthodox family in Polotsk. At the end of the 15th century monks belonging to the Order of Friars Minor appeared in the city, and the family adopted new religion — that’s how Skorina got his “Western” name.

Norbert Randou spent two years studying the Belarusian Bible. And he managed to follow it almost to the day it was printed. The Bible with 1316 pages (658 sheets) was published in Prague in 1517–1519. Gцrlitz has had the book since 1527
When he printed his first copies of Bible, he had to think about selling them. For this reason he traveled to many Polish and German cities and looked for partners. He unexpectedly found “colleagues” among protestants. We do not know whether Skorina adopted Lutheranism after meeting Luther. When he visited Breslau (now Wroclaw) in 1520, he met pastor Johannes Gess, Luther’s supporter, and gave him his Bible as a gift. This is highly possible. Although Gess could get hold of the book from another source — Breslau nobles named Bank. Skorina apparently ”did business” with them. The book first dwelt at Gцrlitz grammar school, and was later moved to the library.
Did Germans read it? Most likely, they did. What could interest them in the Belarusian version of the Scriptures? Skorina was no coward. He presented the Book of Books in a very easy language, dared to print his name and portrait in it. This could impress any educated European.

However, Skorina’s personality still remained mysterious, unknown to the majority of Germans. Three hundred years ago, when the book was last (?) used, it was regarded as “Moscow Bible”, and Belarusian Polotsk was confused with Polish Plozk, which is not far from Warsaw.
The 20th century brought funny cases as well.

“When I was a student I was sure that Franz Skorin was German!” says Johannes Schlootz, co-chairman of the “Belarusian-German meetings” society, who came to Minsk alongside with Mr. Randou.

By the way, National Library of Belarus has only 11 publications and fragments by Skorina. Skorina’s Bible found in Gцrlitz contains the same number of books. The number itself is a sensation, because for quite a time we have been thinking of it as only one book. Johannes Schlootz promised to do his utmost to provide Minsk with an electronic copy of the Gцrlitz publication.

In the meantime, Skorina’s native town Polotsk does not have a single book of the enlightener, says Belarusian studies expert Adam Maldis. We are waiting for new findings. And there definitely are things to wait for.

by Viktar Korbut


Tilman Schmit-Neuerburg, first secretary of the German Embassy in Belarus:

“We would like Germans to know about Belarus. Discovery of the Bible was a good occasion to call attention to your country. In the near future we will try to organize an exhibition and bring the Gцrlitz Bible to Belarus. I have been asked about transferring publications of the Belarusian enlightener to Belarus. I can only say that Skoryna’s Bible is not property of the German Embassy in Belarus. It is property of the town of Gцrlitz”

Gцrlitz, city in Saxony, Germany. Gцrlitz will be claiming the title of the cultural capital of Europe in 2010. Geographically, it is a lot like Estonian Narva: it is located on the river Neisse, which separates it from Polish Zgorzelec just as the river Narova separates Narva from Russian Ivangorod. Not long ago a bridge connected Gцrlitz and Zgorzelec that had been separated after 1945.
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