Banners once belonging to guilds of musicians and weavers from the first half of the 19th century are among the unique exhibits on show for the first time, having required extensive and costly restoration.
In line with the Magdeburg Right, professional crafts and trade associations — known as guilds — were established in cities, granted an independent governing system. They existed until the mid-19th century, becoming guild councils after the division of the Rzecz Pospolita and inclusion of Belarusian lands into the Russian Empire. Guild craftsmen were professionals who took an active role in public life, while also bearing compulsory military service and other duties.
Each guild had its own symbolic seals and banners, which usually depicted the images of saints and protectors, alongside an emblem given by the Grand Duchy of Lithuania Statute, or one which reflected the guild’s professional activity. Banners on show at the National History Museum are two-sided. One side of a musicians’ guild banner has the image of Tsar David with a lyra in his hand and a two-headed eagle on the reverse, while martyred St. Onufry is depicted on a weavers’ banner, in addition to the ‘Sign of Weavers’ Council’ inscription. The exhibits will soon become part of the Minsk 1812 exhibition. In total, the National History Museum is restoring seven banners from various guilds.
The rare Brilevsky Treasure collection is also on show. This largely comprises coins and other artefacts from Viking times found on Brilevsky Field near Borisov — famous as a crossing place of Napoleon’s retreating troops across the Berezina River during the Patriotic War of 1812. The treasure comprises 290 Arab dirhams and fragments, ten small weights for weighing silver, a fragment of a silver neck grivna (a torque necklace) and a Frankish sword.
The restoration of banners and the Brilevsky Treasure collection are part of a joint project by the National History Museum of Belarus and Japan Tobacco International, which provides financial assistance to the museum. By 2013, this foreign company will have injected up to $200,000 into the museum’s cultural projects.