City at its Best

An unknown picture of Polotsk in 1563 has been discovered
…The town as Skaryna himself saw it. A unique panorama of the native town of the great bookmaker on a fresco that dates back to the 16th century was revealed in Vilnius, in St. Francisco and Bernard Cathedral, close to St. Ann Church.

Polotsk is depicted on the fresco for a very good reason. Monks from the capital city of Lithuania founded the first school for bourgeois children there, and Skaryna was one of the first students of that school. However, not everyone seemed to like the enlightenment efforts of Catholic monks.

Moscow was certain Catholics were trying to lure Orthodox Christians into Catholicism, and Moscow Prince Ivan III personally urged the Lithuanian “counterpart” Alexander to stop using force. The conflict resulted in a full-scale war. In 1563 Ivan the Terrible seized Polotsk, and the Bernardine school was burned. The monks were killed, declared martyrs and then painted on the walls of the cathedral.

— People were unaware of this fact for a very long time, says Vadim Glinnik, the scientific director of the historic center of Polotsk. — Only in the 1990s they started restoring the interior of the Cathedral, and the ancient fresco emerged from under a thick layer of paint. My colleague Pyatras Kanyavichus told me about the finding.

They used to paint the towns connected with the Biblical history on the walls inside cathedrals, so the appearance of Polotsk in the house of God was not
unusual.

— On the fresco we see the town as seen from the Dvina, continues Vadim Glinnik. — Any traveler coming from the capital city of the Grand Duchy of Lithuania saw Polotsk from the same perspective.

The old fresco has been opened, but scientists will have to reveal its secrets, which might take a lot of time. They will have to understand why Sofia Cathedral looks so much like St. Basil the Blessed in Moscow, with its five domes, so uncharacteristic of that time and place.

While scientists are doing their best to unveil the secrets of the past, tourists are booking tickets to Vilnius to see the fresco and other places related to prominent Belarusians such as Yanka Kupala, Kastus Kalinowski and Adam Mic­kiewicz. The fresco is very easy to find: you step inside, take a left turn and look up…

Viktar Solovyev
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