Part I

Novgorod the Great: a name steeped in antiquity, and evocative of the remotest past. In the course of its eleven - centuries - long history, Novgorod shared in every major cultural event in the life of the Russian people, and mementos of bygone years are plentiful both in and around it.

Here is the Peryn Grove, where we see the remains of an ancient sanctuary dedicated to the pagan god Perun. There is the Church of St. Blaise (his name is Vlasiy in Russian), erected on the site where rites in honour of another pagan god, Volos, were once celebrated. There is the village of Volotovo, connected by name and origin with the cult of Volos. There is the Rurik Fortress where, according to a legend we read about in the chronicle, Prince Rurik - one of the three Varangian brothers called in to govern the land of Rus - first settled in the ninth century, and where, since the twelfth century, all Novgorodian princes resided. There is Yaroslav's Court, traditionally identified not only with the personality of Yaroslav the Wise (978 - 1054 yy.) who lived and kept his court there, but also with the privileges which he is believed to have granted to the Novgorodian city - state. It was here, in Yaroslav's Court, that popular assemblies - the Veche - which used to control the destiny of Novgorod, were also held. And there, in the city's centre, is the Cathedral of St. Sophia, the Holy Wisdom of God - Novgorod's palladion, of which it was said in olden times, "Where St. Sophia's is, there is Novgorod."

Hardly a church can be found in Novgorod that has not its legend, or does not, at least, figure in some tale of old or in some work of hagiography. As in Kiev, past events and occurrences of the day were recorded in Novgorod since the eleventh century, by generations of chroniclers who left us highly detailed and voluminous annals. Novgorod was a centre of high literary culture; and manuscripts transcribed there form the greater part of the remaining heritage of old Russian manuscript books.

The earliest known specimen of Russian manuscript literature, the world - famous Ostromir Lectionary of 1054 y., was commissioned by a posadnic (governor) of Novgorod named Ostromir.

The magnificent Mstislav Lectionary of 1115 y. was copied, decorated, and bound in its precious cover in Novgorod. It was made for Prince Mstislav, a son of the marriage of Grand Prince Vladimir Monomachos of Kiev and Gyda (Gyta, daughter of Harold of England, the last of the Saxon kings, killed in 1066 y. in the battle of Hastings). The third priceless specimen of early Novgorodian manuscripts is the Yuriev Lectionary of 1119 y.

These three codices show the high standards achieved by Novgorodian book production at an early time.

A feature peculiar to Novgorod's cultural life was widespread literacy among all classes of society. This is clear from mass findings of birch - bark letters and documents written by Novgorodians of every social standing. The earliest of birch - bark texts date from the eleventh century.

Novgorod's principal centre of book production was the scriptorium of its Lord Bishop's Court. There were also a number of scriptoria attached to monasteries; and even at parish churches, manuscripts were copied. One of the most ancient was the scriptorium of St. Lazarus Convent in the Nerev End (district); we find it mentioned in the town chronicle more than once. Not a few codices of great antiquity and value were produced there, among them the euchologies of 1095 and 1096 yy., intended for use in church service, and a series of twelfth century manuscript books, including the Miliata Lectionary of 1188 y. (now at the Saltykov - Shchedrin Public Library, St. Pitersburg). In the thirteenth century, the St. Lazarus scriptorium was as active as before in the copying and decoration of manuscripts, and some of the learned scribes who worked there are known by name: Matvei, Lavrenty, Domka, and Goroden. We have evidence of manuscripts being preserved at St. Lazarus Convent for a very long time. Nine manuscript books from its scriptorium, dating from the eleventh to the thirteenth centuries, have come down to us. They were all bound by monastery craftsmen somewhere in the thirteenth and fourteenth centuries, and remained at their place of origin until the late seventeenth century. It was only in 1679 y. that these codices were transferred to the Moscow Printing House for purposes of reference in correcting the books printed there. Each was marked, "property of St. Lazarus Convent". Theirs is an exceptional case, for most ancient Russian manuscripts either perished, or got lost, or exchanged hands in the troubled ages of feudal internecine wars, nomad invasions, and Mongol - Tatar conquest. Novgorod, with its military strength and favourable geographical position, usually succeeded in defending itself, thereby making possible the preservations of books for nearly five centuries.