Scripta Manent

To see the treasures kept here one had to have a reference from a scientific institute with a special stamp. Keepers of these parchment folios used to advise even revered professors to read modern publications of ancient chronicles and manuscripts. Today even schoolchildren have access to these treasures. They only have to visit the Book Museum at Belarus’ National Library
The museum hosts Arabic, West-European and Old Belarusian handwritten and printed books starting 15th century. These books were quite expensive and rare even at that time. The exhibits were collected in two stages: first, after the war some books were donated to the museum and then, between 1998 and 2001, books were bought. The purchases were financed by the president’s culture and art fund.

The library used the presidential fund to buy the Gospel by Petr Mstislavets dated back to 1575. This book had been a kind of a sample for all printers for many centuries. Besides, it was a great honor and privilege to possess this book. Nevertheless, it is not the most precious item in the library. But you know, it is difficult to tell from the first sight, which one is the most valuable. This library is an embarrassment of riches.

A Persian manuscript decorated with gold that dates back to 1486 looks like a writing that is freshly brought from the past by the time machine. Nearby you can see the Ramayana, an ancient Sanskrit epic written on palm-leaves. compared with other exhibits it is less impressive. This ancient Indian epic is a writing dating back to the century before last. Let us move on further. In a large showwindow is the Torah, or the Law of Moses. The Torah is a many meter long scroll dating back to 18th century. Nevertheless, the scroll is just as fresh as it used to be two thousand years ago. Its only decoration is the text itself. The white background makes black twisty Hebrew writing look elegant. Mezuzahs, that resemble the Torah, are even more fascinating.

— Mezuzah literally means a doorpost in Hebrew and refers to one of the 613 commandments in Judaism, which requires that a small parchment inscribed with two sections from the Torah be affixed to each doorpost and gate in a Jewish home, synagogue, and office, the chief librarian, Tatyana Zakharova, explains. She shows me another showwindow with the Kitab Book printed in 1813 that was found in the town of Smilovichy. The book is decorated with beautiful Arabic ligature. Moslems and Jews have been living in peace in Belarus. Besides, many Tatarian books were written in the Belarusian language.

— Apart from Jews and Tatars, the Belarusian territory was home to Old Believers. During the times of the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth, when Old Believers were persecuted in Moscow, they used to publish their books in the city of Grodno despite the fact that it was a Catholic city then.
At the same time foreign countries were eager to publish works by Belarusian authors. For instance, the book by Mikolaj Crysztof Radzivill Sirotka “A Journey to the Holy Land“ was published in Antwerpen in 1614.

The book is also an exhibit of the Book Museum. It is one of many books by Belarusians that were written in Eastern Europe but became bestsellers in the West.

The National Library possesses old geographic books as well. They may be of great interest to some modern experts. The book “Geography” by Bertius published in Leon in 1616 has a map, on which the towns Mosty, Klozhko, Kopyl, Lokhoshak, Borisovo and even Kobrin and Krewo are marked as the Polish territory. More bizarre is that such large cities as Minsk, Brest and Grodno are not mentioned on the map at all.

As for hobbies, they were very similar in East-European countries and in the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth. Today one of the most popular topic for discussion between men is automobiles. People in 17th used to discuss their equivalent — horses. At that time there were special books about horses that were called “Gippika”, the same in all countries

There are only three Skaryna books in the museum. The original manuscripts are exhibited for the first time. Visitors are not allowed to touch these books, of course. The same is true for the Chagall, Picasso or Dali signatures or “Vyanok” (“Wreath”), the collection of poems by Maxim Bogdanovich. One more classic presented here was very modest. For a fan he signed one of his books with the following words “from Ivan Bunin”.

A book is a friend, a temptation, a diversion and a distraction. In former times people used to keep the most intimate things in books, like fotos of their beloved, postcards from friends and secret notes. In the Russian book “About Navigation“ dated 1748 Belarusian librarians found a letter written in soot. It was written by a woman and adressed to her children.

“Author creates a book, society cares about its destiny”, Victor Hugo once said. Nevertheless, any society exists owing to books and their influence. Books make people wise and clever, polish nation and mold personalities. Civilized is only that nation that respects books.

The decision about opening the Book Museum has been up in the air the whole summer. The museum is there at last. Perfect timing — the 1st of September is called the Knowledge Day. our society has thus made one more step towards the enlightenment certificate.

Alena Nekrashevich
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