Very rare manuscripts from Mt. Athos presented at exhibition in St. Petersburg

St. Petersburg, October 12, 2016


An exhibition of very rare tenth-eighteenth century notated manuscripts from Holy Mount Athos opened on October 11 at the National Library of Russia in St. Petersburg, reports the website.

The exhibition is called “The Monuments of Vocal Music on Mt. Athos and Services to Athonite Saints in Handwritten Collections of the National Library of Russia.” It is being held as part of the “Brazhnikov Readings 2016” international research and creative works symposium which this year is dedicated to the 1000th anniversary of the Russian monastic presence on Mount Athos.

Ancient manuscripts which were brought from Athonite monasteries by Russian Byzantine scholars and given to the Imperial Public Library by Athonite monks are presented at the exhibition.


Among other things, visitors will be able to see ancient Byzantine manuscripts from the collection of Bishop Porphyrius (Uspensky, 1804-1885) who made expeditions to Mt. Athos and the Middle East in search of ancient manuscripts. Among them are full codices as well as separate leaves that the bishop found in the libraries of Simonopetra, Vatopedi, Koutloumousiou and other monasteries of Mt. Athos.


Several more notated Byzantine manuscripts were received in 1860 by the Imperial Public Library from Prince Mikhail Dmitrievich Volkonsky who was interested in old traditions of Church singing. According to the exhibition’s organizers, “these manuscripts were obviously chosen with the help of Monk Azariah from the Russian St. Panteleimon’s Monastery on Mt. Athos, a fine expert on manuscripts of vocal music, copies of which he made at the request of scholars at monastery libraries of Mt. Athos.” In two manuscripts there are surviving records indicating that they were presented by monks of Zografou Monastery, namely Archimandrite Anthimus, the abbot, together with the brethren.


According to the organizers, these codices are unique sources for research of Byzantine notation which give us an idea of how the work of compiling and regulating books of Church singing was carried out. Among those who did this work was the famous musician and theorist Ioannis Kukuzelis.

Among the exhibits there are also fifteenth-eighteenth century Russian manuscripts which include Lives and services to saints of Mt. Athos who were venerated in Russia: Sts. Peter and Athanasius of Mt. Athos, Sava of Serbia, and Gregory Palamas, along with the Russian wonderworkers who lived at monasteries of Holy Mount Athos—Anthony of the Kiev Caves, Savva of Vishera, and Sergius of Nurom.

One of the exhibition’s sections is dedicated to rare manuscripts with samples of the Ethiopian system of notation.

The exhibition’s organizers have noted that all its exhibits are unique sources for research into Byzantine notation and the heritage of Mt. Athos.

Old Russian and Byzantine chants were performed by the “Znamenye” (“Sign”) St. Petersburg Conservatory ensemble and the “Klyuch Razumeniya” (“Key to Understanding”) ensemble at the opening of the exhibition.

On the same day at the conference hall of the main building of the National Library of Russia two sessions of the “Brazhnikov Readings 2016” annual international research and creative works symposium were held: “Sanctity Glorified: Hymnography of Saints in Old Russian Manuscripts of Vocal Music” and “Handwritten Monuments: Finds and Discoveries.”

The subjects of the reports are connected with the veneration of saints and shrines of Mt. Athos in Russia along with the art of Church singing.

Translated by Dmitry Lapa

14 октября 2016 г.

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