THE FRANCYSK SKARYNA BELARUSIAN LIBRARY AND MUSEUM (LONDON)
Guy De Picarda
A BRIEF HISTORY AND DESCRIPTION OF THE LIBRARY AND MUSEUM
"And these books are profitable for every man to read, wise and foolish, rich and poor, young and old, but above all for those who would attain a good way of life, and acquire wisdom and leaming."
FRANCYSK SKARYNA, Preface to the Proverbs of Salomon the Wise, King of Israel, Prague 1517.
Although there has been an established Byelorussian colony in the United Kingdom since the end of the 19th century, there was, prior to 1945, no organised social or cultural activity among the settlers. At the end of the Second World War, however, there were some 14,000 Byelorussians living in Britain, the majority of whom originated from Western Belarus, and had come to this country as Ex-servicemen or as Displaced Persons. A number of Orthodox Missions ministered to the spiritual needs of these new immigrants.
On the 9th April 1947, a Belarus Catholic Mission was established in London by a young priest from the Marian convent of Druja, Fr Cheslau Sipovich. On the 8th May 1948, he acquired a spacious house in Holden Avenue, North Finchley, opened a modest chapel, and set about organising it as a religious and cultural centre for his expatriate fellow-countrymen.
With him, from Rome, Fr Sipovich had brought a small but valuable collection of Belarus books, and these he housed in a southward-facing room on the first floor of his mission, immediately above the chapel. This room became the Belarus Library, and for many years it was set aside as a study centre and reading-room for the young students who chose to avail themselves of its facilities. It served as a meeting place for the student associations Zhyccio (fl. 1947-1952) and Ruti (founded 1949), and was used by a number of scholars interested in Belarus history and culture. During the early period of its history, distinguished visitors to the library included the well-known Slavist Professor R. de Bray, the historians Professor Henryk Paszkiewicz and Professor Wladislaw Wielhorski, the Catholic orientalists Dom Bede Winslow (1888-1959) and Donald Attwater, Archbishop George Hakim, the Russian Church composer Professor A. Swan (1892-1970), and a number of Byelorussian writers - Lavon Rydleuski (1903-1953), Mikola Abramchyk (1903-1970), Piotra Sych (1912-1964) and Anton Adamovich.
In the decade following its foundation, the number of books in the library increased rapidly from two or three hundred to approximately 3,000. In 1956 a glass-fronted bookcase was constructed to occupy the entire length of the north wall, and by 1959 all the available wall-space, practically from floor to ceiling, was taken up with bookshelves. The library now included, in addition to a growing number of contemporary works on Belarus litera- ture, a periodicals section which by 1957 embraced all the major publications appearing in Soviet Belarus and in the Belarusian communities overseas. There was also a good collection of old maps, a photographic archive and a number of invaluable manuscripts.
In 1958 the library was formally named Bibliotheca Alboruthena. This event coincided with the arrival in London of Fr Leu Haroshka, who since 1946 bad directed the Belarusian Catholic Mission in Paris. When the rector of the London Mission was elevated to the dignity of Bishop and Apostolic Visitor of Belarusians in 1960, he was succeeded as librarian by Fr Haroshka. The new rector, who was himself a keen bibliophile, had managed to build up an excellent private library, which included a number of rare books printed in Western Belarus before the War. This collection was amalgamated with the London collection to become the largest Belarusian library in Western Europe. Other members of the Belarusian community overseas and visiting Belarus donated further collections and single items, of which one of the most notable was Jan Cachot's Piosnki Wiegnacze z nad Niemna i Dzwiny (Vilna 1846).
The task of cataloguing the contents of the library had been commenced by a pair of Belarusian students, and was continued at intervals until 1970. A new and comprehensive catalogue is in the process of being compiled.
During the latter part of the '60s the problem of space became acute. Every available inch of wall-space was literally crammed with volumes, some of which, particularly in the periodicals section, were extremely heavy. A fireplace and window were blocked in to make additional space, but this was not an acceptable long-term solution, since it was becoming apparent that the stress placed on the fabric of the house, and on the flooring in particular, was excessive. By 1968 there were well over 6,500 books either on the shelves, or deposited in various other rooms about the mission. In these circumstances it was decided to purchase a whole building to house the books and archives of the Belarusian Library as well as the small museum which, since 1967, had occupied premises in the adjacent Belarusian boys' school. The implementation of this decision was hastened in the summer of 1969, when a portion of the ceiling of the chapel immediately under the library collapsed.
By happy chance the house at No. 37 Holden Road, directly next to St. Cyril's House School, became available for purchase, and accordingly an appeal for funds was launched in the Belarusian overseas press. A formal contract of sale was duly signed in November 1969, and on the 12th February 1970, the Trustees of the library entered into possession.
At a meeting of the first Trustees of the Library, previously held in the old reading room on the 30th October 1969, a body of nine rules was adopted to serve as a basis for the Organisation of the new institution. In particular it was resolved that: "1. The Belarusian Library and Museum shall have as its object to serve the widest circle of individuals and scholars interested
in the study of Belarus, and above all its culture, religion and history... LX. From the date of entry into possession of the premises at 37 Holden Road, Finchley N.12, the Byelorussian Library and Museum shall take the name of Doctor Francysk Skaryna." A Board of three Governors was set up under the chairmanship of Bishop iceslaus Sipovich.
On the 15th February 1970, in the present reading-room, the librarian, Archimandrite Leu Haroshka, addressed a small meeting of members of the Belarusian community in London. The subject of his lecture was "The fate of Belarus libraries."
During the course of the year 1970, extensive repairs and alterations were carried out on the fabric of the new premises. Library furniture was purchased, and bookcases were installed to accommodate upward of 10,000 books. In August the whole of the Belarus collection was transferred from the old library to the new. One of the first distinguished visitors to the newly finished library was the venerable Ukrainian Cardinal Archbishop Joseph Slipy. Finally, on the 15th May 1971, the Francis Skaryna Library and Museum was formally opened by Professor Robert Auty, Professor of Comparative Slavonic Philology in the University of Oxford, in the presence of the Deputy Mayor of Barnet, a distinguished gathering of friends, and represen- tatives of the Byelorussian communities in Great Britain and overseas. His Grace Archbishop Dominic Enrici, Apostolic Delegate to Great Britain, also read a prayer of blessing.
At present the library and museum is directed by a Board of Governors in accordance with the terms of the original statute. When the librarian, Archimandrite Le6 Horogko, was appointed Director of the Belarusian broadcasting service of the Vatican Radio in January 1971, his place was taken by Fr Alexander Nadson.
The library and museum together occupy eight rooms out of a total of twelve in the present building. There is ample storage space in the cellar. The ground floor comprises an entrance hall, a reading room, a stock room and a periodicals room. In the entrance hall there is a permanent exhibition of woodcuts from the Bible of Francysk Skaryna whose portrait, painted by P. Miranovich and presented to the library by F. Bartul, Esq., hangs on the wall facing the main door. To the right of the entrance is a marble plaque commemorating the solenin opening of the library.
A spacious room on the ground floor, with a wide bow-window looking out on to the gardens, is set aside for use as a reading room. It is an agreeable and peaceful place for study. The walls are lined with glass-fronted bookcases, containing the library's rarer accessions, and the room is furnished with a heavy oak table, chairs and a card-catalogue cabinet. Here are housed a finely-bound collection of Skaryna's translations from the Bible (Prague 1517-1519, Vilna 1525) in photographic reproduction, together with similar reproductions of the Laiirygava Gospels (14th century) and the Mamoni6 edition of the Litoiuski Statut (Vilna 1588). A special section comprises works on the great Byelorussian humanist of the Renaissance, Francis Skaryna. Other works having an antiquarian interest include Guagnini's Sarmatiae Europeae Desctiptio (Spire 1581), Statut Wielkiego Xifstwa Litewskiego (Vilna 1619), Koialowicz's Histotiae Lithuanae (Gdansk 1650, Antwerp 1668), and Inwentarz Konstytucyy Koronnych W.X. Litewskiego (Leipzig 1733).
Among the early works of the Byelorussian national revival period to be found in the library's collection are Romanov's Belorusskii Sbortdk (Viciebsk 1887), Shein's Materialy (St-Pbg 1890, 1894), Seinentovskij's Pwniatnaja knizhka Vitebskai Gubernii (Viciebsk 1878), Batiugkov's Belorussiia i Litva (St-Pbg 1890), Hurynowicz's Zbior rzeczy Bialoruskich (Krak6w 1893), Danilevi6's 06erk Istorii Polockoi zemli (Kiev 1896), Polocko-Vitebskaja Starina (Viciebsk 1911, 1916), and Sacharou's Narodnaja tvorchasc Lathalskich i IlukStenskich bielarusau (Riga 1940).
Accessions include a comprehensive selection of contemporary works on the history of the Belarusian people in the years immediately following the first World War, including Belorussy i Polaki by K. Jezovitov (Kovna 1919), Les Bases de r,6tat de la Ruthinie Blanche by Professor N. Dovnar Zapolski (Hrodna 1919), A. Cvikievich's Bielarus (Berlin 1919) and Adradzhennie Bielarusi i Polshcha (Berlin 1921), and Walther Jiiger's Weiss- ruthenien (Berlin 1919). There is an excellent collection of books published in Vilna and Western Belarus between the years 1904 and 1939, including rare editions of Mickiewicz's Pan Tadeush (1908), translated into Belarusian by V. Dunin-Marcinkievich (1809-1884), V. Lastouski's Rodnyie Zierniaty (1916), B. Taragkievich's Bielaruskaia Hramatyka (1921, 1929), K. Svajak's Maja Lira (1924), M. Harecki's Historyia Bielaruskai Litaratury (1924), A. Ziazula's Z rodnaha Zahonu (1931), V. Advazny's Bielaruskiia Cymbaly (1933), and two works by Maxim Tank, subsequently confiscated by the Polish administration, Na etapach (1936) and Pad Machtai (1938). The music section comprises a collection of Kantychka (Vilna 1914), and a first edition of Ul. Terariski's Bielaruski Lirnik (Berlin 1922).
Elsewhere one finds a set of over twenty-five Belarusian dialectical and other dictionaries, the new Belarusian Soviet Encyklapedyja (Minsk 1969), and several complete editions of the works of the leading classical poets, Janka Kupala (1882-1942) and Jakub Kolas (1882-1956).
In addition to a complete catalogue of its own collection, the library has a fairly comprehensive catalogue, initiated by L. Rydleuski, of Bielarussica in the British Museum, the Institut des Etudes Slaves and the Ecole des Langues Orientales in Paris, the Pontifical Oriental Institute in Rome, the University of Leyden and other European libraries.
The walls of the reading room are decorated with portraits in black crayon of three Belarusian poets - F. Bahushevich, Janka Kupala and Jakub Kolas.
From the reading room there is direct access to the stock room, the walls of which are entirely lined with open library shelves. There are also two island bookcases occupying the centre of the room. In this place are housed exceptionally comprehensive collections of works on Byelorussian political and ecclesiastical history, literature and philology. There are also good sections on geology, natural history, geography, economics, archaeology, art, music and law.
The periodicals room contains more than 220 sets of Belarusian newspapers, periodicals and journals, both printed and mimeographed. There are also numerous periodicals of earlier date, some of which appeared in Vilna and Western Belarus before the Second World War, in particular Sialanskaia Dola (1921-1922), Kryvi6 (1923), Bielaruskaia Krynica (1931-1939), Krynica (1939-1940), Kalossie (1935-1939), Shlach Moladzi (1932-1935), Chrysciianskaia Dumka (1936-1939), Da Zluchennia (1932-1935) and Bielaruskaia Shkola u Latvii (1928-1933). A certain number of issues of Ranica (1941-1945) and Bielaruskaia Hazeta (1942-1943), which were published during the German occupation of Belarus, have been preserved, and are to be found in this section. The Belarusian press overseas, both past and present, is well represented, Amerikanskij Belorus (Chicago 1930) and Recha (Paris 1938-1940), and covering Backaushchyna (Munich 1947-1966), Bielaruskiia Naviny (Paris 1946), Bielarus (New York 1950 -4), Bozhym Shliackam (Paris .London 1947 ), Moladz (Paris, 1948).
There is in addition a fair collection of some one hundred maps of Byelorussia, dating from the 16th century to the present day, and these have been classified and catalogued by the Byelorussian cartographer and printer, V. Astrouski.
On the first floor of the library, a large study-room contains an extensive collection of Bibles and biblical studies in many languages. The Belarusian section comprises, in addition to Skaryna's translations from the Old and New Testaments, a number of Gospels and Testaments dating from the present century, such as Fr 1. Bobich's Niadzielasidja Evanhelii i Nawuki (Vilna 1922), Pastor Dziakuc-Malej's Evanhelii (Lodz 1927-1928), Anton Luckievich's version of the Novy Zapaviet (Helsinki 1931), Fr V. Hadletiski,'s Evanelii i Apostolskiia Dziei (Vilna 1939), Fr P. Tatarynovich's Sviataja Evanelija i Apostalskiia Dziei (Rome 1954) and Jan Stankievich's Novy Zakon (1970). There are also several Belarusian Catholic, Orthodox and Protestant prayer books, service-books, and hymnals.
The small microfilm room is equipped with a Kodak Microfilm reader. The collection of microfilms is designed to complement the library's collection of printed books, and i-nake accessible to the general reader a number of very rare Byelorussian publications and manuscripts, including several from the 16th and 17th centuries, which are at present scattered in libraries all over Western Europe. Together with the collection of photographic reproductions kept in the library, the microfilm section to some extent bridges the more noticeable gaps in the coverage of Belarusian history and culture. So it is that journals such as Maladaia Bielarus (St-Pbg 1912-1913), Homan (Vilna 1916) and Iskry Skaryny (Prague 1931-1934), have now been made available to students in photographic form.
The library also houses a collection of manuscripts, typescripts and archive material. One of the most interesting items is a Byelorussian Tartar version of the Tefsir, or Koran, with interlinear translations into Byelorussian and Polish, copied by one Bohdan ibn-Shevban Asanovich in 1725. There is an extensive collection of manuscript archives of the Pinsk Vicariate of the Orthodox diocese of Mensk, comprising twenty-one bundles and a total of approximately one thousand documents. These cover a period extending from 1793 to 1877. A corpus of historical archives dating from the period of the Belarusian National Republic (1918-1921) is also deposited in the library. The collection comprises a number of letters, documents and autographs written by the great Belarusian poet Jakub Kolas, the Skarynian scholar P. Vladiinirov, the literary critic Anton Luckievich (1883-1940), Metropolitan Andrej Sheptyckyj (1865-1944), Princess Mahdalena Radzivil (1861-1945), V. Zacharka (1877-1943), Archimandrite Fabian Abrantovich (1884-1940), Archimandrite Andrej Cikota (1891-1952), Fr Adam Stankievich (1891-1955), Mikola Abram6yk, Archbishop Vasil Tamag6yk (1900-1970), Piotra Sy6, Vincuk Advazhny, Professor Zamocin, Kastancija Skirmunt, the poet Maxim Tank, and a veteran contributor to Bielarus (1913), Daminik Anishka. Among the musical manuscripts are autographed works by the Byelorussian composers Mikola Ravienski (1886-1952), Mikola Kulikovi6-Shchalou (1897-1969), and Ales Karpovich. Here also are deposited the archives and records of various Belarusian organisations in Great Britain and the Western world.
In a large, well-lit room above the main library, is housed the Byelorussian Museum. This institution opened in 1967 with an exhibition to mark the 450th anniversary of the printing of Skaryna's Bible in Prague, and 'for three years it occupied a small room at St. Cyril's House School. The collection of exhibits is, as yet, of modest proportions, though it includes a number of items of no small interest and value. The section devoted to textiles and emoroidery comprises several 18th century paiasy or brocade girdles (from Sluck), and a particularly handsome Latin chasuble made up of paiasy from Sluck and Hrodna. There are representative displays of dziaruzhki and bedspreads from Vilna, Viciebsk and Palessie, and a number of ru6niki or omamental towels, embroidered in the folk tradition; glassware from Mensk, and ceramic-ware from Bielastok and Padlassie; a number of painted Easter eggs and decorative boxes; ecclesiastical ornaments, mitres and vestments, as well as a fine 18th century wooden crucifix from the Mensk region; a collection of 16th century coins of the Grand Duchy of Lithuania; and a number of original paintings and copies of engravings by Byelorussian artists such as Francis Skaryna, the atelier of the Vilna Confraternity of the Holy Ghost, Barys Malkin, Piotra Miranovich, Viktar Zakhniarovich, and a group of professional and amateur painters living abroad.
On the second floor of the library there is an office and workshop, and the basement has been adapted for use as storage-space.
Although it may be many years before the Francis Skaryna Library acquires a truly comprehensive collection of Byelorussian works and periodicals from the Inbietkult (1922-1931) and pre-Revolutionary periods, it is already one of the most important single collections in Western Europe, and complements in a remarkable way the Belarusian sections of the libraries of the British Museum and the Institut des Etudes Slaves.
More than likely, the source of this text came from the booklet:
The Francis Skaryna Byelorussian Library and Museum (London, 1971). Anglo-Byelorussian Historical Papers, no. 1, 11 p., 6 plates. ISBN 10: 0950190403; LCCN: 71878629; Dewey: 026/.9147/65; LC: Z792.F763; Subject: Skaryna, Frantsysk, ca. 1490-ca. 1535.
For those interested in a more recently published guide to the Library, see: Guide to the Library (Беларуская бібліятэка й музэй імя Францішка Скарыны)