Rarities in gallery
404 pages of the folio are written in old Slavonic, while its pages are decorated with bright illustrations and miniatures depicting the evangelists — in Gothic and Byzantine style. The luxurious book was kept in Zhirovichi until the mid-19th century, at its famous monastery. Now, it is held by the Wroblewski Library, at the Lithuanian Academy of Sciences, and is being publically showcased for the first time: at Vilnius Picture Gallery, located in the former Chodkeviciai Palace.
The exhibition includes items relating to the Sapegi family. Lev Sapega was the chancellor who signed the Statute of the Grand Duchy of Lithuania — released in old Belarusian in 1588. This rare book is also on display but the Gospel remains the main draw for visitors. “It’s also connected with the Sapegi family,” asserts Marijus Uzorka, a co-ordinator of the exhibition. “Not all Sapegi family members were Catholics, as some were Orthodox believers.” In fact, Lev Sapega wrote in old Belarusian on pages 376 and 377, detailing the donation of several land lots to Zhirovichi Monastery.
It hardly seems possible that the rare book might return to the monastery but it hasn’t been ‘lost’ to us forever, as it has been recorded in electronic form by the National Library, alongside other editions from the Sapagi collection (aided by experts from Lithuania, Poland and Russia). With assistance from UNESCO, a CD has also been released. “We’re liaising closely with the Library at the Academy of Sciences of Lithuania and are expanding our electronic collection,” notes Lyudmila Kiryukhina, Editor-in-Chief of the National Library’s Department for Periodic Editions. “With the Belarusian Orthodox Church, we’ve initiated a project to digitise and re-publish the Slutsk Gospel and a similar project may be implemented for the Zhirovichi Gospel.”