Rare Books

The valuable tetra-evangelion of the “ Holy St. Sava” Church in Iași

MNIR
C 293
Medieval Period
1636 (printing), 1642 (binding)
silver gilt binding, gold leaf, wood, fabric, cardboard, leather, black and colored inks
printing, bookbinding, forging, etching, stamping, polishing
L = 40 cm; W = 26 cm
MNIR
 
 
 
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    Texts: Dr. Ginel Lazăr / Photo: George Nica

    Inv. no.: C293. Holder: the “Holy St. Sava” parish in Iasi. Material: silver gilt binding, gold leaf, wood, fabric, cardboard, leather, black and colored inks. Technique: printing, bookbinding, forging, etching, stamping, polishing. Dimensions: L = 40 cm; W = 26 cm. Dating: 1636 (printing), 21 March 1642 (binding). Printing place: the printing press of the Patriarchate of Moscow and All Russia. Spelling: Slavonic of old-Russian redaction. Place of binding: a workshop in Iasi. Beneficiary: the church dedicated to the “St. Princes and Archangels Michael and Gavril” of the Dancu Monastery, in Iasi; subsequent transfer: the church “Holy St. Sava”, in Iasi (1903). Research: Dr. Ginel Lazăr.

    HISTORICAL CONTEXT

    The gospels printed in the 16th-17th centuries contained the traditional order of the New Testament. They reproduced, in printed version, Slavonic manuscripts containing lectures of the Fathers of the Church, the canonical Gospels, the liturgical calendar, thematic forewords of the publishers, etc. This type of religious books was diverse and vast, difficult to read and explain during the divine service. In the second half of the 17th century, priests hardly knew literary Slavonic, and people did not understand it.

    With the help of Petru Movila, the Metropolitan of Kiev, several printing presses which were designed to print religious books in Romanian were installed in Moldavia during the reign of Vasile Lupu. This is how the Romanization of the divine service was initiated, through reading homilies in Romanian from the pew. Gradually, Romanian was introduced in the altar, by reading from the pew the Gospel and the Apostle in Romanian. However, sermons were still officiated in Slavonic, because there were not enough religious books necessary to perform it in Romanian. The phenomenon intensified in the second half of the 18th century because most of the Orthodox clergy did not understand liturgical Slavonic.

    St. Sava Church in Iasi, a remarkable monument

    The Dancu Monastery, dedicated to the “St. Princes and Archangels Michael and Gabriel”, built in 1541 by Boyar Dancu, during the reign of Petru Rares, was subordinated until 1863 to the Xiropotamou Monastery on Mount Athos.  In a continuous state of decay, it was demolished in 1903, and the National Theater in Iasi was built on its place. The assets of the Dancu Monastery were transferred after the demolition to the “Holy St. Sava” church. Among the priceless possession was the Slavonic Tetra-evangelion (The Four Gospels) printed in 1636 in Moscow. The binding was made in 1642 in Iasi, with a suggestive endowment inscription that reads that the Holy Gospel was bound and donated to the church dedicated to the “St. Princes and  Archangels  Michael  and Gabriel” (the Dancu Monastery).

    The “Holy St. Sava” church has a special architecture, which combines, uniquely in Romania, the Byzantine, oriental, gothic, Moldavian and Walachian styles. Nowadays the church can pride itself on a special history, being one of the oldest and monumental religious buildings in Iasi.

    It is attested since 1583, during the reign of Petru Schiopu, the ruler of Moldavia. It was built by Greek monks from the Saint Sava Monastery in Jerusalem. Through an endowment act, the enlightened ruler granted the monks, per their request, privileges, houses and land in Iasi, so they would be able to build a church and live there, by God’s Grace. The monastic complex was subordinated from the start to the “Holy St. Sava” church in Jerusalem, from where it took its name (St. Sava was a Cappadocian saint). Until the secularization, the “Holy St. Sava” church was an administrative center of the Moldavian institution in charge with raising funds for the Holy Sepulcher church in Jerusalem. A few decades later, in 1625, boyar Ianachie (Enache) Caragea built a new, more impressive church, dedicated to The Assumption of Virgin Mary and, which according to a Slavonic inscription situated to the left of the entrance, had been erected for his and his parents’ commemoration services. The new church was consecrated by Metropolitan Atanasie Crimca, a great scholar, founder of the Dragomirna monastery and the last great miniaturist of Moldavia.

    A different family of founders, of Greek descent, named Paladi (Palade), marked the history of this edifice during the next centuries. The boyar family Palade was one of the most distinguished in Iasi. Theodor Pallady, the painter, belonged to the same family.

    The monastery has a strong social, cultural and political tradition. It was visited by orthodox personalities, abbots, Metropolitans, Patriarchs, and was at the same time a renowned philanthropic and academic center that hosted several royal academies, undergraduate colleges and printing schools. Currently, the “Holy St. Sava” church is part of the homonymous parish that serves as a religious, philanthropic and social center for the 600 families in the church’s district.

    THE SLAVONIC TETRAEVANGELION (THE FOUR GOSPELS) OF THE “HOLY ST. SAVA” CHURCH

    Among the most cherished items in the heritage of the Dancu Monastery (which is dedicated to the “St. Princes and Archangels Michael and Gabriel”) and later in that of the “Holy St. Sava” church in Iasi, is the Slavonic Tetraevangelion (The Four Gospels), printed in 1636, in Moscow. After being printed, the book was bound in wood covers covered with red leather. On top of the wood covers was placed a beautiful silver and gold binding, with biblical scenes on both covers. On the margins of the first cover there is an endowment inscription which edges the scene The Harrowing of Hell, while on the second one another inscription explains the canonical scene dedicated to St. Michael the Archangel. The inscription in the bottom mentions the year calculated from the creation of the world „vă leat ot 7150 (1642), luna martie, 21 de zile“ (year 1642, March, 21 days).

    The Tetraevangelion (The Four Gospels) of the “Holy St. Sava” church in Iasi was preserved for more than 40 years in the “Rare books collection” of the National History Museum of Romania. In 2013 it entered a classification procedure in order for it to be returned to the “Holy St. Sava” parish and thus the book was professionally photographed, and was scientifically researched and exhibited. This year, in April, it was the subject of a small exhibition, on Easter, in the Exhibit of the Month Project, and a large audience was able to admire and study it.

    On the first two vellum pages, in the upper side a stamp writes: “The Archdiocese of Iasi. Parish Saint Sava, District Iasi, no.109. Also, inside the book several notes in pencil, made by different priests”, can be observed. Out of them, two from the late 19th  century clarify the origin of the Tetraevangelion (The four Gospels) as belonging to the Dancu Monastery. Therefore the notes and stamps confirm that the manuscript was part of  the inventory of the Dancu Monastery, and the “Holy St. Sava” parish.

    The book starts with a five page introduction about the importance of the diffusion of printings among believers, and a small presentation of the Four Gospels. There follow the Gospel of Mathew with a foreword by Archbishop of Ohrid Theofilact (Bulgaria).  The Gospel is preceded by a depiction of the evangelist as a writer, having above an angel, his symbol. The title page is beautifully decorated with a frontispiece with floral motifs, the title is in red mimicking cinnabar, and the initial is a beautifully engraved Slavonic K.

    Next comes the Gospel of Mark. The foreword to Mark’s Gospel [by Theofilact] is printed in red ink and the initial letter is a decorated Slavonic Z, in black ik. The Gospel of Mark is preceded by a depiction of him as a writer, with an eagle, his symbol, above. The text is displayed on one column with 11 rows, written in semi – uncial font, in black ink, except for the last three rows, which are in red ink. The decoration is composed of a frontispiece with decorative symbolic and floral elements.

    The foreword to the Gospel of Luca [by Theofilact] comes next, and then the Holy Gospel of Luca. The title of the Gospel is printed in red ink, and the first letter is a decorated Slavonic P, in black ink. The Gospel of Luca is preceded by a depiction of the evangelist as a writer with his specific symbol, a calf. The text is displayed on one column with 11 rows, in semi – uncial font, in black ink, except for the last two rows, which are in red ink. The decoration is composed of a frontispiece with decorative symbolic and floral elements.

    The chapters of the Gospel of John represent the next section, preceded by the foreword to the Gospel of John by Theofilact. The title of the gospel is printed in red ink and the initial letter of the Gospel is shaped as a decorated Slavonic V in black color. The gospel of John is preceded by a depiction of the evangelist as a writer with his specific symbol, the lion. The text has one column with 11 rows, written in semi – uncial font, with black ink and red ink for the last two rows. The decoration is composed of a frontispiece with decorative symbolic and floral elements. The last part is composed of a Synaxarium (a religious calendar) in which each day of the year (from September the 1st, the beginning of the religious year, until August the 31st) has assigned to it certain saints. 

    Finally the book ends with an epilogue addressed to all orthodox believers, where the name of the book is mentioned: “Tetraevangelion” (The Four gospels), Mihail I Fiodorovici Romanov (1613-1645) the then tsar of Russia is praised, as well as the Hierarchs of the Church of All Russia. The printing place is Moscow, at the printing press of the Russian Orthodox Patriarchate, in the year from the creation of the world “7144 (1636), in August, 2 (two days)”, during the third year of Kir Ioasaf’s, the patriarch of Moscow and of the whole Russia, term.

    The original covers are bound in wood covers, covered in red leather, on top of which bindings made out of gilded silver foil were applied later; the craftsmanship is of great religious and artistic finesse, and it was done in a workshop in Iasi. The locking mechanism is no longer preserved.

    The first cover has in its center an engraving about the Harrowing of Hell. On the edges, surrounding the engraving, there is a flowered inscription in Romanian, in the Cyrillic script, that reads: “This Holy Gospel was ordered and bound by townswoman Maria Schiaeioae which then entrusted it to the Holy Dancu Monastery, dedicated to “St. Michael and Gabriel”. On the second book is embossed the canonical scene “Saint Michael the Archangel”, and at the top and bottom there is the following inscription: “Michael the Archangel year 7150 (1642), March, 21 days”.