Guide to the Library

How the library was established

Opening of the library
Opening of the library

4On May 15th 1971 the Francis Skaryna Belarusian Library and Museum was opened by Professor Robert Auty, Professor of Comparative Slavonic Philology in the University of Oxford, and blessed by Archbishop Domenico Enrici, Apostolic Delegate to Great Britain. This was the crowning moment of nearly a quarter of a century of efforts of a group of Belarusian Greek Catholic priests, the chief of them being Bishop Ceslaus Sipovich (1914-81), Apostolic Visitor of Belarusians. A keen bibliophile, he began collecting books while student in Rome since 1938 and continued in 1947 when, as a young priest, he was appointed Rector of the Belarusian Catholic Mission in England. By 1960, when he was consecrated Bishop, there was already a sizeable library at the Mission centre in Marian House in North London. Bishop Sipovich was succeeded in the post of Rector by another book lover, Fr Leo Haroshka (1911-77) who brought with him from Paris his valuable private collection of books. The third person involved from the beginning with the library has been the present writer.

In the ten years that followed, the library began to expand rapidly. Initially it contained books relating to Belarus and works of a religious character, but with the increase in the number of the former it became necessary to divide the two sections and to establish a separate library dealing exclusively with Belarusian material. On 30 October 1969 the first official meeting of the library committee, consisting of the above-named three persons, was held. It was decided to purchase the house at 37 Holden Road (across the street from Marian House) and to name the Library after the first Belarusian printer and translator of the Bible, Francis Skaryna (c.1485-1540). The house was acquired in February 1970, and thus the new Library came into being.

On 23 July 1979 the Library was registered as a Charitable Trust, governed by a Board of Trustees. The Board consists of persons, appointed from among representatives of the Belarusian community in Great Britain, and British scholars with a special interest in Belarusian studies. Bishop Sipovich served as Chairman until his death in 1981.

Library Collections

Library Collections

The chief aim of the Library is to collect all material, both in printed and manuscript forms, relating to Belarus, and to make it accessible to all those interested in any aspect of Belarusian studies. Today the Library receives practically all Belarusian publications, as well as those relating to Belarus, which appear in the Republic of Belarus, Poland and in the West. Its holdings have been further enriched by systematic search for old and out-of-print publications, and by numerous gifts and bequests.

The Library possesses all standard reference works, including all encyclopedias published in Belarus. There is also a full set of bibliographical aids, among them V. Lastouski’s pioneering study Historyia bielaruskai (kryuskai) knihi (Kaunas 1926), P. Grimsted’s Archives and Manuscript Repositories in the USSR. Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania and Belarus (Princeton 1981) and the gap-toothed Kniha Bielarusi, 1517-1917. Zvodny kataloh (Minsk 1986).

The Library’s largest collection is in the field of Belarusian literature with holdings of over 5,000 titles. There are several rare first editions, including Zhaleika (St Petersburg 1908), the first book of verse by Belarus’s greatest poet Janka Kupala (1882-1942), as well as his Adviechnaia piesnia (St Petersburg 1910), Son na kurhanie (St Petersburg 1913), Shlakham zhytstsia (St Petersburg 1913), Raskidanaie hniazdo (Vilna 1919), Spadchyna (Minsk 1922) and Bieznazounaie (Minsk 1924). Other first editions include Batrak (St Petersburg 1913), Rodnyia z’iavy (Vilna 1914), Vodhulle (Minsk 1922), U Paleskai hlushy (Vilna 1923) and Symon-muzyka (fist ed. Minsk 1918; 3rd and final ed. Minsk 1925), by another great Belarusian writer Jakub Kolas (1882-1956); Vianok (Vilna 1913), the only book of poems by Maksim Bahdanovich (1891-1917) published during his lifetime; Abrazki (Vilna 1913) and Pad rodnym niebam (Minsk 1922) by Zmitrok Biadulia; Run’ (Vilna 1913) and Dzvie dushy (Vilna 1919) by Maksim Harecki (1893-1939); Kurhannaia kvietka (Vilna 1914) by Kanstantsyia Buila. There are also first editions of works by Iadvihin Sh., Albert Paulovich, Uladzimier Dubouka, Ales Dudar, Mikhaila Hramyka, Uladzimier Khadyka to mention only a few. Among works published in 1920-39 in Western Belarus under Polish rule there are Maia lira (Vilna 1924) and the posthumous Dzieia maiei mysli, sertsa i voli (Vilna 1932) by Kazimier Svaiak (Fr Kastus Stepovich, 1890-1926); Bielaruskiia tsymbaly (Vilna 1933) by Vincuk Advazhny (Fr Iazep Hermanovich, 1890-1978); Pad sinim niebam by Natalla Arsiennieva (Vilna 1927); all four books of poetry by Maksim Tank, Na etapach(Vilna 1936), Zhuravinavy tsviet (1937), Narach (1937) and Pad machtai(1938); plays by Frantsishak Alakhnovich and his Bielaruski teatr (Vilna 1924); books of verse by Leapold Radzievich, Uladzimer Zhylka, Mikhas Mashara, Mikhas Vasilok, Anatol Ivers and others.

The greater part of some 600 works on Belarusian literary history and criticism consists of post-1945 publications. All the standard histories of Belarusian literature are present, including the two-volume sets Historyia bielaruskai savietskai litaratury (Minsk 1965-66) and Historyia bielaruskai dakastrychnickai litaratury (Minsk 1968-69), as well as the important research work of scholars such as H. Kisialou, A. Maldzis, V. Kavalenka, A. Loika, and the first history of Belarusian literature in English, A History of Belarusian literatureby A.B. McMillin (Giessen 1977) and his Belarusian Literature in the 1950s and 1960s (Cologne 1999). Among early works of literary history and criticism a mention should be made of the almanachs Koladnaia pisanka (Vilna 1913) and Vialikodnaia pisanka (Vilna 1914) with critical articles by M. Bahdanovich, L. Hmyrak and M. Haretski; and the books Nashy piesniary (Vilna 1918) and Adbitaie zhytstsio (Vilna 1929) by Anton Navina (A. Lutskievich); M. Haretski’s Historyia bielaruskai litaratury (Vilna, 1st ed. 1920; 2nd ed. 1924); Ocherki belorusskoi literatury by N. Ianchuk (Moscow 1920); Narysy pa bielaruskai litaratury by M. Piotukhovich (Minsk 1928); L. Kleinbort, Molodaia Belorussiia(Minsk 1928); Paetyka M. Bahdanovicha by A. Uzniasienski (Kaunas 1926); and E. Karskii’s Geschichte der weissrussischen Volksdichtung und Literatur (Berlin-Leipzig 1926). Anthologies of Belarusian literature include V. Lastouski’s Vypisy z bielaruskai literatury (pt 1, Vilna 1918); Dyiamanty bielaruskaha pismienstvaby L. Leush (Kiev 1919); Ul. Dziarzhynski, Vypisy z bielaruskai litaratury XIX i XX st. (Minsk 1926); M. Haretski, Khrystamatyia bielaruskai litaratury (Vilna 1923); Khrestamatyia novai bielaruskai litaratury by I. Dvarchanin (Vilna 1927) etc.

The Library has a fine collection of dictionaries, many of them of considerable rarity, such as the first dictionary of the Belarusian language, I. Nasovich’s Slovar’ belorusskogo narechiia (StP. 1870); M. Harecki, Nievialichki bielaruska-maskouski slounik (Vilna, 1st ed. 1919; 2nd ed. 1921); M. & H. Harecki, Maskouska-bielaruski slounik (Vilna, 2nd ed. 1920); V. Lastouski, Rasiiska-kryuski (bielaruski) slounik (Kaunas 1924); Bielaruska-rasiiski slounikby M. Baikou and S. Niekrashevich (Minsk 1925); B. Drutski-Padbiareski, Padruchny bielaruska-polski slounik (Vilna 1929) and a number of issues of the series Bielaruskaia navukovaia terminalohiia published by the Institute of Belarusian Culture (later Acasdemy of Sciences) in the 1920s and early 30s. An interesting little-known work is Sieben-Sprachen Worterbuch (Leipzig 1918), a German-Polish-Russian-Belarusian-Lithuanian-Latvian-Yiddish dictionary. The Library possesses copies of all dictionaries published after 1945, including the Tlumachalny slounik bielaruskai movy (5 vols in 6 bks, Minsk 1977-84); Ja. Stankievich’s Bielaruska-rasiiski slounik (New York 1990). Of special value for the historical study of Belarusian are: Etymalahichny slounik bielaruskai movy(Minsk, 1978- ) and Histarychny slounik bielaruskai movy (Minsk 1982- ). Historians may find particularily useful Slovar’ drevnego aktovogo iazyka Severo-zapadnogo kraia i Tsarstva Pol’skogo by N. Gorbachevskii (Vilna 1878).

The collection of works on the Belarusian language includes the monumental Belorusy (1903-22) by the ‘Father of Belarusian philology’ E. Karskii, as well as his Obzor zvukov i form belorusskoi rechi (Moscow 1885). There are four editions of B. Tarashkievich’s Bielaruskaja hramatyka (Vilna 1918, 1921, 1929; Minsk 1943; reprints: Minsk 1990, New York 1992), two editions of R. Astrouski’s Bielaruski pravapis (Vilna 1925, 1930). The linguistic developments in the 1920s and 1930s can be seen in Ia. Losik, Pachatkovaia hramatyka(Minsk 1926), Bielaruski pravapis (7th ed., Minsk 1928), Bielaruski pravapis (praiekt) (Minsk, 1930); T. Lamtsiou, Bielaruskaia hramatyka (Minsk 1935) and I. Stankievich, Zmiena hramatyki bielaruskaha iazyka u BSSR (Vilna 1936). Post-1945 grammars include the two two-volume studies produced by the Belarusian Academy of Sciences, Hramatyka bielaruskai movy (Minsk 1962-66) and Bielaruskaia hramatyka (Minsk 1985-86). The Library possesses all the grammars for foreign learners of the language that have been produced in recent years: A. Krivitskii et al., Belorusskii iazyk dlia govoriashchikh po-russki(Minsk 1990); V. Pashkievich, Fundamental Belarusian, 2 vols (Toronto 1974-78); P. Mayo, A Grammar of Belarusian (Sheffield 1976); and V. Symaniec and A. Goujon, Parlons bielorussien (Paris-Montreal 1997).

Among the works on the history of the Belarusian language there are Historyia bielaruskai litaraturnai movy by A. Zhurauski, I. Kramko et al. (2 vols, Minsk 1967-68); A. Zhurauski, ed., Mova bielaruskai pismiennastsi XIV-XVIII stst.(Minsk 1988); F. Iankouski, Histarychnaia hramatyka bielaruskai movy (Minsk, 1st ed. in two vols, 1974-77; 2nd ed. in one vol., 1983; 3rd ed., 1989); A. Bulyka’s pioneering work, Razvitstsio arfahrafchnai sistemy starabielaruskai movy (Minsk 1970). Bulyka is also one of the authors of Histarychnaia marfalohiia bielaruskai movy (Minsk 1979). A. McMillin’s The Vocabulary of the Belarusian Literary Language in the Nineteenth Century (London 1973) and P. Wexler’s Purism and language: a Study in Modern Ukrainian and Belarusian Nationalism (1840-1967) (Bloomington 1974) deal with the question of the rebirth of the Belarusian language in the nineteenth century. There are also several important works dealing with various particular aspects of modern Belarusian, and the relationship beteween Belarusian and the languages that surround it.

Of the rich collection of Belarusian dialect dictionaries a special mention should be made of V. Dobrovol’skii’s Smolenskii oblastnoi slovar’ (Smolensk 1914); Vitsiebski kraiovy slounik (Vitsiebsk 1927) by M. Kaspiarovich; Kraiovy slounik Chervienshchyny (Minsk 1929) by. M. Shaternik. Major modern multi-volume dictionaries include Slounik bielaruskich havorak paunochna-zachodniai Bielarusi i iaie pahranichcha (5 vols, Minsk 1979-86), Turauski slounik (5 vols, Minsk 1982-87) and Slounik havorak tsentralnych raionau Bielarusi (Minsk 1990- ).

There are many rare and valuable works on Belarusian ethnography and folklore in the Library, among them Piosnki wiesniacze z nad Niemna i Dzwinyby J. Czeczot (Vilna 1846); P. Giltebrandt’s Sbornik pamiatnikov narodnogo tvorchestva v Severo-Zapadnom krae (Vilna 1867); M. Dmitriev’s Sobranie pesen, skazok i obychaev krest’ian Severo-Zapadnogo kraia (Vilna 1869); Belorusskie pesni by P. Bezsonov (Moscow 1871); Sbornik belorusskikh poslovits(StP. 1874) by I. Nosovich; P. Shein, Belorusskie narodnye pesni (StP. 1874) and Materialy dlia izucheniia byta i iazyka russkogo naseleniia Severo-Zapadnogo kraia (3 vols in 4 books, StP. 1887-1902); Smolenskii etnograficheskii sbornik by V. Dobrovol’skii (4 vols, StP. 1891-Moscow 1903); Ocherki prostonarodnago zhit’ia-byt’ia v Vitebskoi Belorussii (Viciebsk 1895), Prostonarodnye primety i pover’ia…v Vitebskoi gubernii (Vitsiebsk 1897) and Nechistiki (Vilna 1907) by K. Nikiforovskii; Skazki i razskazy belorusov-poleshukov (StP. 1911) and Kazki i apaviadanni bielarusau (Minsk 1926) by A. Sierzhputouski; issues 1-3, 8,9 of E. Romanov’s Belorusskii sbornik (Kiev 1886- Vilna 1912); Lud bialoruski by M. Federowski (Cracow 1897-Warsaw 1981).

More recent general work on Belarusian ethnography and material culture includes Bielaruskaje narodnaje adzennie by M. Ramaniuk (Minsk 1981); Dekaratyuna-prykladnoie mastatstva Bielarusi XII-XVII stahoddziau, comp. N. Vysotskaia (Minsk 1984); Etnahrafiia bielarusau by V. Bandarchyk et al. (Minsk 1985) and Etnahrafiia Bielarusi. Encyklapedyia, chief ed. I. Shamiakin (Minsk 1989). Among new anthologies of folklore the Library has received Bielaruski falklor. Chrestamatyia, 3rd red ed. by K. Kabashnikau et al (Minsk 1985), Vianok bielaruskich narodnych piesien (Minsk 1988) and Bielaruski falklor u suchasnykh zapisach. Tradytsyinyia zhanry. Homielskaia voblasts comp. V. Zakharava et al. (Minsk 1989). 42 volumes of the series Bielaruskaia Narodnaia Tvorchasts have now been published.

The Library’s history holdings contain all major works on the history of Belarus which appeared in the 20th century, starting with V. Lastouski’s Karotkaia Historyia Bielarusi (Vilna 1910); U. Ihnatouski’s Karotki narys historyi Bielarusi (Vilna 1921) and Historyia Bielarusi XIX i pachatku XX staletstsia(Minsk 1926); Uschodniaia Bielarus by A.I. (Minsk 1918); Belorusskii vopros by E. Kancher (Petrograd 1919); Les Bases de l’Etat de la Ruthenie Blanche by M. Dounar-Zapolski (Hrodna 1919); Kurs belorussovedeniia, ed.F. Turuk (Moscow 1918-20); Bielarus (Berlin 1919), Adradzhennie Bielarusi i Polshcha (Berlin 1921) and “Zapadno-russizm”. Narysy z historyi hramadzkai mysli na Bielarusi u XIX i pachatku XX v. (Minsk 1929) by A. Tsvikievich; Weissruthenien, ed. W. Jaeger (Berlin 1919) and Weissruthenien. Volk und Land by E. von Engelhardt (Berlin 1943); A. Stankievich’sDa historyi bielaruskaha palitychnaha adradzhnnia (Vilna 1934); Ja. Naidziuk’s Bielarus uchora i siahonnia (Vilna 1940) and Bielarus uchora i siannia (Minsk 1944); Historyia Bielarusi u kartachby N. L-A. (Berlin 1942); Karotki ahlad historyi Bielarusi by P. Rahach (with map supplement, Cleveland 1968); Historyia Bielaruskai SSR (Minsk 1972-75). The most recent publications include M. Iermalovich’s Starazhytnaia Bielarus. Polatski i Navaharadski peryiady (Minsk 1990); J. Zaprudnik, Belarus at the Crossroads of History (Boulder-Oxford,1930); Narysy pa historyi Bielarusi, 2 vols., ed. M. Kastsiuk (Minsk 1994); and Dziesiats viakou bielaruskai historyi by U. Arlou and H. Sahanovich (Vilna 1999).

Other valuable 19th and early 20th-century publications that deserve to be singled out for special mention are: Chteniia po istorii Zapadnoi Rossii by M. Koialovich (StP. 1884); Belorussiia i Litva, ed. P. Batiushkov (StP. 1890); Ocherki istorii Polotskoi zemli by V. Danilevich (Kiev 1899); Seimy Litovsko-Russkogo gosudarstva by N. Maksimeiko (Khar’kov 1902); Rada Velikogo Kniazhestva Litovskogo by I. Malinovskii (Tomsk 1903); Ocherk istorii Litovsko-Russkogo gosudarstva by M. Liubavskii (Moscow 1910) and Dzieje Unii Jagiellonskiej by O. Halecki (Cracow 1919).

The Library’s collection of published historical documents includes Belorusskii arkhiv drevnikh gramot (Moscow 1824); Akty Zapadnoi Rossii (StP. 1846-51); relevant volumes of Akty Iugo-Zapadnoi Rossii (StP. 1846-51); vols 20, 27, 30 and 33 of the Russkaia istoricheskaia biblioteka [ie those vols with selections from the Litovskaia metrika] (StP. 1885-1915); individual volumes of Arkheograficheskii sbornik (Vilna 1867-) and Akty, izdavaemye Vilenskoiu Arkheograficheskoiu Kommissieiu (Vilna 1865-) [there is a complete set on microfiche]; Sobranie gosudarstvennykh i chastnykh aktov, kasaiushchikhsia istorii Litvy i soedinennykh s nei vladenii (ot 1387 do 1710 goda), ed. M. Krupovich (Vilna 1858); Ordinatsiia korolevskikh pushch v lesnichestvakh byvshago Velikago Kniazhestva Litovskago (Vilna 1871); Opisanie rukopisnago otdeleniia Vilenskoi Publichnoi Biblioteki (5 vols, Vilna 1895-1906); Akta unji Polski z Litwą 1385-1791, ed. S. Kutrzeba and W. Semkowicz (Craców 1932); Zakonodatel’nye akty Velikogo Kniazhestva Litovskogo (Leningrad 1937); Historyia Bielarusi u dakumentakh i materyialakh (Minsk 1936) and Dakumenty i materyialy pa historyi Bielarusi (Minsk 1940); Belorussiia v epokhu feodalizma(4 vols, Minsk 1961-79); Polotskie gramoty, ed. A. Khoroshkevich (4 vols, Moscow 1977-82). Those published outside Belarus include Za dziarzhaunuiu nezalezhnasts Belarusi (London 1960); Byelorussian Statehood, ed. V. and Z. Kipel (New York 1988); and monumental Arkhivy Belaruskai Narodnai Respubliki, 2 vols, ed. S. Shupa (New York-Vilna, 1998).

The most venerable Belarusian historical and legal document is Statut Vialikaha Kniastva Litouskaha, the code of civil and criminal law of the Grand Duchy of Lithuania. The text of the first version of 1529 is given in the original Belarusian and in modern Russian in Statut Velikogo Kniazhestva Litovskogo 1529 goda(Minsk 1961). However, the third version, promulgated in 1588, is the most important. Between that year and 1594 it went through three printed editions. The Library owns a somewhat defective copy of the 1594 edition; it also has a copy of the Vilna 1619 Polish translation, bound with the Polish version of Trybunal (Vilna 1616), and the last official edition with parallel texts in Polish and Russian (StP. 1811). The latest edition, with extensive notes and commentary, appeared in Minsk in 1989. The most comprehensive study to date of the Statute is by I. Lappo, Litovskii Statut 1588 goda (3 vols, Kaunas 1934-38).

Other collections of laws include Volumina legum. Przedruk zbioru praw staraniem XX. Pijarow w Warszawie od roku 1732 do roku 1782 wydanego (8 vols, StP. 1859-60); Ustawy i rozporzadzenia z lat 1918-1934 (7 vols + supplement, Warsaw 1936-38); and Svod zakonov Belorusskoi SSR (Minsk 1984-1990).

The section on the history of the Church in Belarus is very comprehensive and contains all major works on the subject, including Rodnaia mova u sviatyniakh (Vilna 1929). Belaruski khrystsiianski rukh (Vilna 1938) and Khrystsiianstva i bielaruski narod (Vilna 1940) by A. Stankievich; Karotki narys historyi Pravaslaunaie Tsarkvy u Vialikim Kniastvie Litouskim by A. Karol (New Brunswick 1956); Belarus’ v istoricheskoi gosudarstvennoi i tserkovnoi zhizni by Archbishop Afanasii Martos (Buenos Aires 1966, reprinted by the Belarusian Exarchate of the Russian Orthodox Church, Minsk 1990); Pravaslaunaia Tsarkva u Vialikim Kniastvie Litouskim za chasou Uladyslava Iahaily by M. Lapitski (South River 1978). Valuable early works include: Istoricheskoe izvestie o voznikshei v Pol’she Unii by N. Bantysh-Kamenskii (Moscow 1808); Litovskaia tserkovnaia Uniia by M. Koialovich (2 vols, StP. 1859-61); Zapiski Iosifa Mitropolita Litovskogo (3 vols, StP. 1883); Zhizn’ Iosifa Semashki, Mitropolita Litovskago i Vilenskago by G. Kiprianovich (Vilna 1897); Poslednee vossoedinenie s Pravoslavnoi tserkov’iu uniatov Belorusskoi Eparkhii by G. Shavel’skii (StP. 1910) and many others. With the growth of national self-awareness in the early twentieth century there arose a need for religious texts in Belarusian. Examples are the Catholic Karotki katechizm (Vilna 1907); Slova ab pakucie (Vilna 1913); Kantychka (Vilna 1914); prayer books Boh z nami(Vilna 1915) and Holas dushy by Fr K. Stepovich (Vilna 1926); Niadzieliashniia evanhielii i navuki by Fr I. Bobich (3 vols, Vilna 1922); and the Orthodox Piershyia malitvy (Vilna 1918).

A Library shows a particular interest in printed works of Francis Skaryna, as well as all works about him. Until recently of the original Skaryna editions the Library had only a small fragment (ff. 19-22) of the First Book of Kings, printed in Prague in 1518. In 1997, thanks to the help of Mr S. Shupa, the Library made a sensational acquisition of five books of Skaryna’s Biblia ruska, bound in one volume, namely Book of Job (Prague 1517), Ecclesiastes (1518) Wisdom (1518), Ecclesiasticus (1517) and Proverbs (1517). A year later, also thanks to Mr Shupa, a purchase was made of Bibli Czeska (Venice 1506) which served Skaryna as one of his sources in his translating work. The Library has also the three volumes of the reprint of the Biblia (Minsk 1990-91). It possesses a copy of Introductio in Chaldaicam linguam, Syriacam atque Armenicam et decem alias linguas by Theseus Ambrosius Albonesi (Pavia 1539), containing the text of one page, transliterated into Latin characters, from Skaryna’s Second Book of Kings (1518). E. Henderson in his Biblical Researches and Travels in Russia (London 1826) was the first to attempt a linguistic analysis of Skaryna’s texts. Major studies of the life and work of Skaryna are: Doktor Frantsisk Skorina. Ego perevody, pechatnyia izdaniia i iazyk by P. Vladimirov (StP. 1888); Chatyrokhsotletstsie bielaruskaha druku, chief ed. U. Picheta (Minsk 1926); 450 hod bielaruskaha knihadrukavannia (Minsk 1968); Scoriniana 1517-1967, ed. S. Stankievich (“Zapisy”, Kn.5, Munich 1970); Frantsisk Skorina. Zhizn’ i deiatel’nost’ belorusskogo prosvetitelia by E. Nemirovskii (Minsk 1990); and Frantsysk Skaryna – bielaruski i uskhodnieslavianski piershadrukar by H. Halenchanka (Minsk 1993). Hraviury Frantsyska Skaryny by L. Barazna (Minsk, 1st ed. 1972; 2nd ed. 1990) and Iskusstvo knigi Frantsiska Skoriny by V. Shmatov (Moscow 1990) deal with Skaryna’s engravings and book art. The most recent reference tools on Skaryna are Piats stahodzdziau Skaryniiany by V. Tumash (New York 1989) and Frantsysk Skaryna. Entsyklapiedychny daviednik(Minsk 1988).

There are over twenty books printed before 1800. In addition to those already mentioned the collection includes Novyi Zavet i psalmy (Vilna 1623); Novyi Zavet i psalmy (Kutsieina 1652); the first Uniate Leitourgikon (Suprasl 1695); Sobranie pripadkov (Suprasl 1722); Sarmatiae Europeae descriptio by A. Guagnini (Speier 1581); A. Koialowicz’s Historiae Lituanae (Danzig 1650, Antwerp 1661); Inwentarz konstytucyy Koronnych i W.X. Litewskiego (Leipzig 1733).

The Library’s music section contains important printed and ms. material. For historical reasons this is principally vocal. Early church music is represented by a valuable collection of ms. extracts from the Suprasl (1598) and Zhyrovitsy Irmalohia, two Bahahlasniki (Vilna 1912 in photocopy; Warsaw 1935), and collections of printed and ms. liturgical pieces by composers of the early national school, M. Antsau, A. Turankou, M. Ravienski and M. Kulikovich-Shchahlou.

Polyphonic settings of folksongs, romances and lieder are included in A. Hrynievich’s Bielaruskija piesni z notami (Vilna 1910), Ul. Terauski’s Bielaruski lirnik (Berlin 1922), M. Ravienski’s Zbornik piesien z notami (Minsk 1922 in photocopy), H. Shyrma’s Zbornik narodnych piesniau (Vilna 1929 in photocopy), songs printed in Riga in 1942 by K. Jezavitau, M. Kulikovich-Shchahlou’s Iunatski spieunik (Minsk 1943), the Belarusian Scouting Association’s Spieunik(Watenstedt 1948), collections of songs, mainly by Kulikovich, published in Cleveland by K. Kisly and Ul. Duniec in the 1950s. Soviet collections of choral music include H. Shyrma’s classic 3-vol. Bielaruskiia narodnyia piesni (Minsk 1959-61), vol. 3 of N. Aladau’s Khrestomatiia po belorusskoi muzykal’noi literature (Minsk 1961), the anthologies by V. Rouda of Belarusian choral and operatic works (Minsk 1971-81), as well as smaller collections of songs by leading Belarusian composers.

The manuscript collection consists largely of the material bequeathed by Nadzieia Hradé, widow of the composer M. Kulikovich-Shchahlou. This includes the scores of his operas Katsiaryna (1939), Liasnoie voziera (1942) and Usiaslau Charadziei Kniaz Polatski (1944). There are also mss. by the composers Karpovich, M. Ravienski and Niadzviedzki (P. Zvonny) writing in emigration.

The Library receives over 40 current serials, including newspapers from Belarus and abroad. Altogether there are over 200 serial titles, many of them pre-1939. The Library’s holdings include complete sets of Kalossie (Vilna 1935-39); Volny stsiah (Minsk 1920-22), Bielaruski stsiah (Kaunas 1922), Kryvich (Kaunas 1923-26); the clandestine Sialanskaja dola (1921-22), Bielaruski partyzan (1922), as well as several other titles which ceased publication after one or two issues, eg. Varta (1918), Kryvichanin (1918), Na chuzhynie (1920), Adradzhennie (1922), Zamiezhnaia Bielarus (1926), Roskvit (1927-28) and others. Many earlier periodical publications are represented by incomplete runs of one or more years, eg. newspapers Bielarus (1914), Homan (1916-18), Bielarus’ (1919-20), Bielaruski zvon (1921-22), Krynitsa (later Bielaruskaia Krynitsa,1921-40), Khrystsianskaia Dumka (1931-39), Sialanskaia niva (1926); journals Maladniak(1927-32), Uzvushsha (1927-31), Arshanski maladniak (1925-28), Maladniak Kalininshchyny (1925-26); Shliakh moladzi (1932-39), Da zluchennia (1932-36), Bielaruski letapis (1937-38), Bielaruskaia shkola u Latvii (1928-33).

There are a few incomplete sets of war-time publications both from German-occupied Belarus, eg. Bielaruskaia hazeta (1942-43), Bielaruskaia shkola(1942), Novy shliakh (1943-44); and from Germany, eg. Ranitsa (1941-45), Bielaruski rabotnik (1944). The complete set of the official Amtsblatt des Generalkommissars für Weissruthenien (1941-44, parallel texts in German and Belarusian) is a useful collection of material for the study of the German occupation of Belarus.

The Library possesses a fairly comprehensive collection of Belarusian émigré publications produced after 1945. There are complete sets of the newspapers Bielaruskiia naviny (1945-47), Batskaushchyna (1947-66), Bielaruskaie slova(1948-58), Bielaruski emihrant (1948-54), Bielaruskaia trybuna (1950-53); and journals Pahonia (1945-46), Shlakham zhytstsia (1946-48), Shypshyna (1946-50), Zviniats zvany Sviatoi Safii (1946-47), Adradzhennie (1947-48), Bozhym shliakham (1947-80), Znich (1948-72), Napierad (1948-53), Moladz (1948-54), Vieda (1951-54), Konadni (1954-63) and others.

The cartographical collection of the Library consists of over 100 maps from the sixteenth century onwards.

The date of the earliest manuscript document in Belarusian in the Library 1499. There are many more documents written in Latin and Polish. The unique mid-seventeenth century manuscript of the Uniate Pontifical Liturgy of St John Chrysostom in Church Slavonic (Belarusian recension) and parallel Latin translation was published in facsimile edition in 1978 by Bishop Ceslaus Sipovich. Another interesting manuscript is a Belarusian Tatar Tefsir, or the Koran in Arabic with interlinear translation into Belarusian and Polish (in the Arabic script), copied in 1725 by Bohdan ibn-Shevban Asanovich. The Library possesses a large section of the archives of the Pinsk Vicariate (“Dukhovnoe pravlenie”) of the Minsk Orthodox Diocese from the late eighteenth-middle nineteenth century. These materials, together with other documents from various sources, both Catholic and Orthodox, dating from the late nineteenth century to the present day, contain much useful information for the history of the Church in Belarus. Among documents relating to the political history of Belarus there is the typescript of an unpublished work entitled Halounyia momenty bielaruskaha rukhu, written in 1926 by V. Zakharka, who was then foreign minister of the Belarusian National Republic in exile. Various Belarusian organisations in the West have deposited their archives in the Library. The literary section contains archive materials and autographs of works by Ianka Kupala and Iakub Kolas, most notable of which is the manuscript of Kupala’s famous poem Kurhan (1910). There are also works by V. Advazhny, P. Sych, A. Salaviei and Kh. Iliashevich and others.

The museum collection is particularly rich in examples of folk weaving and embroidery and peasant household implements. The exhibits come from all parts of Belarus, most of them were made before 1939. Other items include two slutskiia paiasy, the splendid eighteenth-century girdles woven with gold and silk thread in the city of Slutsk, and a priest’s chasuble made of these and similar girdles from Hrodna. There is a small collection of sixteenth-seventeenth century coins from the Grand Duchy of Lithuania. Nearer to our times, there is a selection of temporary banknotes issued in 1918 by the local authorities in Slutsk, Mahilou and Homiel in the absence of central government, and a fine collection postage stamp collection containing specimens of stamps used in Belarus in 1918-22, as well as Soviet stamps with Belarusian motives. Special mention should be made of an eighteenth-century wooden crucifix from the Minsk region, a fine example of Belarusian religious folk art. A collection of paintings, housed separately, contains works by the Belarusian artists K. Kastravicki, P. Sierhiievich, V. Zhauniarovich, P. Miranovich, U. Shymaniets, M. Naumovich, M. Sauka-Mikhalski, M. Paulouski, H. Paplauski, B. Zaborau and I. Survilla. A portrait of Bishop Sipovich by D. Chaikouski hangs in the reading room of the Library.

The above description does not pretend to be comprehensive, aiming to give no more than an idea of the character of the Francis Skaryna Belarusian Library and the wealth of its holdings. It is the only institution of its kind outside Belarus, and all its holdings are freely available to all bona fide scholars with an interest in Belarusian studies. To date about 1000 scholars from Great Britain, Germany, Austria, Belgium, Italy, Poland, Russia, Ukraine, USA, Canada, Australia, Israel and, of course, Belarus made use of the Library’s facilities for study and research.

The Library is also a place for meetings, lectures (in particular the courses of lectures organised by the Anglo-Belarusian Society) and conferences. Over the past twenty years the following conferences have been held under the auspices of the Library alone, or jointly with the Association of Belarusians in Great Britain, the Anglo-Belarusian Society or the Belarusian Catholic Mission:

Kupala and Kolas centenary seminar, 9 October 1982.
Vatslau Lastouski: a centenary seminar, 15 October 1983.
Francis Skaryna and the Renaissance in Belarus, 28-29 September 1985.
Zmitrok Biadula & Ales Harun: a centenary seminar, 4 October 1986.
Christianity and the Belarusian People, 1-2 October 1988.
The Uniate Church in Belarus, 5-6 October 1991.
Homage to Maksim Bahdanovich, 13 November 1991.
400 Years of the Brest Union 1596, 16-17 November 1996.
The Role of the Belarusian Diaspora in Preserving and Developing Belarusian Culture, 29-30 September 2001.

Many distinguished visitors gave talks, or read their poetry, during the evenings in their honour. These include literary historian Dr Adam Maldzis (Minsk), translator Ferdinand Neureiter (Salzburg); philologists Prof. Paul Wexler, (Tel Aviv), Prof Elzbieta Smulkowa (the first Polish ambassador to Belarus, now head of Dept of Belarusian Culture at the Bialystok University in Poland), Prof. Uladzimir Anichenka (Homel), Anatol Aksamitau (Minsk); historians Dr Jury Turonak (Warsaw), Prof. Anatol Hrytskievich (Minsk) and Hienadz Sahanovich (Minsk); folklorist Leanila Malash (Minsk); head of the Belarusian Institute of Arts and Sciences Dr Vitaut Kipel and Mrs Zora Kipel (New York); writers Vasil Bykau (Minsk) and Uladzimir Arlou (Minsk); poets Ales Barski (Prof. Aleksander Barszczewski, Warsaw), Jan Czykwin (Bialystok), Ryhor Baradulin (Minsk); Secretary of Belarusian Pen-Club Carlos Sherman (Minsk), to mention only the few. During the summers of 1995-1997 the Library hosted the Minsk theatre company “Dzie-Ia” and enjoyed the fine perfomances of plays by Frantsishak Alakhnovich. Another Belarusian theatre company, “Volnaia stsena”, gave in 1995 a brilliant performance in Belarusian of Shakespeare’s Richard III. In 1998 the young talented musician from Minsk, Katsia Anokhina, gave a concert of tsymbaly (dulcimer) music.

The Francis Skaryna Belarusian Library and Museum is an independent institution and is not in receipt of any grant or subsidy from public funds. Its existence has been made possible thanks to the generosity and understanding of its numerous friends and well-wishers. Let us hope that this generosity and understanding will continue in order to enable the Library to fulfil its role in the new millenium, which is, in the words of the Belarusian writer Sakrat Janovich, to be “the window of Belarusian culture in the West.”

London, 12 January 2000
© Alexander Nadson.