Graffiti from the past

Nine century old inscriptions preserved on church walls of Convent of the Saviour and St. Yevfrosiniya in Polotsk

Polotsk is a unique city, as proven by its 12th-17th century graffiti. Researchers knew about the inscriptions on the walls of the Saviour Transfiguration Church back in the 19th century. However, these were covered by paintings. It was only on clearing them that the graffiti reappeared. Restorer Vladimir Rakitsky began revealing the ancient frescoes and graffiti in the 1990s and, since 2006, a team of artists and restorers have been involved, headed by Vladimir Sarabiyanov.

The triangular altar and cell of St. Yevfrosiniya have been completely cleared, with around a hundred graffiti inscriptions disclosed; they are now being analysed and a book on them is to be released this autumn. Alongside the usual forms of graffiti, there are some scrawlings of a household nature, while others chronicle events. The author of at least three inscriptions is thought to be a nun by the name of Silyavina, a widow from the famous boyar Silyav family. In medieval times, widows from noble families would often retire to a convent upon the death of the head of their family, after their children had fully grown.

Two chronicle inscriptions, founded on the altar, tell us that the church kept records from year to year. The first inscription notes the death of the Polish King and Grand Duke of Lithuania, Casimir, in 1492; it goes on to tell of the accession to the throne of his son, Alexander, and his visit to Polotsk in 1497. The second inscription, recently uncovered, describes the death of three members of the Vasilievich boyar family in 1492 — one of the oldest branches of Polotsk’s ancient Korsak family.

Polotsk’s graffiti is a true revelation for historians, allowing them to make up for the lack of written sources on the history of Belarus.

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