Posted: 31.05.2023 11:41:00

Belarusian enlighteners

Day of Slavic Writing and Culture was celebrated on May 24th. The glory and honour not only of our nation, but of the entire Slavic people are represented by the names of the Belarusian enlighteners — personalities, thanks to whom the printed word, culture and enlightenment spread throughout the Belarusian land.

Francysk Skaryna

One of the most famous monuments
to the pioneer printer Francysk Skaryna
is located in front of the National
Library of Belarus
 Philosopher, educator, humanist, doctor and, of course, the pioneer printer! This ‘son of the glorious city of Polotsk’ studied at Krakow, Padua and Bologna universities. There were legends about him all over Europe, and kings and nobles were glad to see him as their guest. Francysk Skaryna dared to publish a book in one of the Prague printing houses back in 1517, on the first page of which there was a Biblia Ruska [Russian Bible] inscription. This was the beginning of East Slavic printing.
Today, the legacy of Francysk Skaryna includes 520 books, which are located in more than fifty countries of the world. In Belarus, state awards were established in honour of the pioneer printer — the Order and Medal of Francysk Skaryna, which are awarded for contribution to the development and enhancement of the spiritual and intellectual potential, the cultural heritage of the people.

Kirill of Turov 

‘Chrysostom, more than all those who shone in Rus’’ — this is how his contemporaries called him. It was for that: Kirill Turovsky is one of the most famous and prolific writers of his time. In the 12th century, when he lived, almost all literature in Rus’ was translated from the Greek language. He also wrote a huge number of prayers, liturgical texts, sermons and epistles, parables and poems.
Monk Kirill of Turov is canonised as a saint

Despite the fact that St. Kirill was born and lived all his life in Turov, he was known from Novgorod to Kiev, from Polotsk to Moscow. And the literary significance of his texts was so high that they were published even in the USSR during the period of hard atheism. One of the most famous is The Blind Man and the Lame parable. He wrote it when the Vladimir-Suzdal diocese was occupied by the ‘false bishop Theodorets’, who wanted a church schism. Kirill of Turov denounced the heresy and helped preserve the unity of Orthodoxy in Rus’. 

Spiridon Sobol

It is known that Spiridon Sobol
used Ivan Fyodorov’s printed
boards in his work

17th century. The population of the territories that are part of the Polish–Lithuanian Commonwealth is forcibly Polonised. The Belarusian language is being squeezed out of written use... In these difficult times, the Bukvar [alphabet book] of the Slovenian language by Spiridon Sobol was published in the Kuteinsky Monastery near Orsha. It immediately became a bestseller in the territory of modern Belarus, Russia and Ukraine. The circulation of the book for ‘teaching children who begin to read from the beginning’ amounted to 35,000 copies. It was an incredible breakthrough for an era of illiteracy.
One of the few surviving bukvars by Sobol is today kept in the Historical Museum in Moscow. Judging by the handwritten notes in the margins of the folio, this book travelled extensively in Europe and was in the hands of the British and Germans.

Vasily Tyapinski

The life’s work of the translator Vasily Tyapinski was to spread the word
to the masses

In the 1570s, a serviceman of a horse company from Orsha organised a printing house at his own expense in the Tyapino estate near Polotsk. He has a noble goal — to publish books in their native language, as opposed to Polish, which was planted by the authorities. He changed his armour to a printing press without unnecessary regrets.
Interestingly, Vasily Tyapinski relied on the Old Slavonic translations of the Bible of Cyril and Methodius. He also advocated the opening of schools where education would be in Russian ‘for the sake of sloppy reasoning’, so that ‘kids somehow prepared their meanings, made jokes’. The result of his efforts today can be seen in the Russian National Library in St. Petersburg and in the Arkhangelsk Museum of Local Lore.

Pyotr Mstislavets

The editions of Pyotr Mstislavets were
designed using special fonts, which
became widespread in the church press

Exactly 460 years ago, in the spring of 1563, Ivan Fyodorov’s printing house started operating in Moscow. It was there that the first printed book in the Tsardom of Russia was published — the famous Apostle. Few people know that Ivan Fyodorov worked not alone, but with a partner — a native of the Belarusian lands Pyotr Mstislavets.
Over the publication they tried for almost a year — they cast letters, created engravings, wrote a preface. However, it was not possible to wait for enthusiasm from the masses: people accustomed to handwritten books condemned the mechanical reproduction of sacred texts using a printing press. Fyodorov and Mstislavets were accused of magic.
Despite the support of the sovereign himself, the printers had to leave Moscow. But even in foreign lands, they did not give up their business — together they continued to publish books in Church Slavonic in Zabludovo and Ostrog, and then separately in Lvov and Vilna. The cost of that very first Apostle today reaches a million dollars at auctions.

By Sofia Arsenyeva