Document and symbol of cultural importance

Historical rarity of Statute of Grand Duchy of Lithuania on show at exhibition in Minsk
By Natalia Zlotnik

The Great Statute of the Grand Duchy exhibition, dedicated to the 425th anniversary of the establishment of the Statute of the Grand Duchy of Lithuania (adopted in 1588), has opened at the National Library of Belarus, in Minsk. According to the Director of the National Library, Roman Motulsky, who took part in the opening ceremony, the exhibition is vital to the cultural life of Belarus. “In every epoch, we view events subjectively. By collating historical documents, we can make a more objective assessment,” he asserts.

The exhibition showcases various editions of the Statute of the Grand Duchy of Lithuania: from the collections of the National Library and the Mogilev History Museum; and reprinted editions of the Statute and other legislative collections from the 16th-19th century. The main exhibit is the Statute of 1588 in Old Belarusian, which was printed in Vilno, in 1594-1595. It is the only original copy in Belarus, on loan from the Mogilev History Museum, having been bought in June 2012, from a private collector in Moscow, for $45,000. The Museum of Mogilev launched a fund raising campaign to purchase the book relic, which was being auctioned online by a Moscow antique shop. Generous donations led to the edition being bought on June 7th last year and it then moved to Mogilev for permanent residence. There are only about 30 copies of the edition worldwide — kept in Russia, Poland, Lithuania, Ukraine and the UK.

The Statute of 1588 was compiled by such prominent statesmen as Chancellor Astafy Volovich and Court Chancellor Lev Sapega, and was published by Piotr Mstislavets, at a Vilno publishing house, funded by the Mogilev Mamonichi merchant family. The original Statute represents the highest achievement of ancient Belarusian legal thought, having influenced the cultural, historical and legal traditions of European states. The Statute is not just a document; it is a monument of utmost cultural importance.

The Great Statute of the Grand Duchy exhibition is part of the 9th international bibliological readings festival: The Statute of the Grand Duchy of Lithuania in the History of Belarusian Culture. Attending a recent conference were scientists from Belarus, Russia, Lithuania, Latvia, Ukraine and Poland, sharing their expertise on the history and culture of the Grand Duchy of Lithuania and their knowledge of books and collections, and discussing how best to preserve and promote book heritage.
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