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Museum of Books and Book Printing of Ukraine and its treasures


Among the museums that are situated in the territory of the Pechersk Lavra Monastery in Kyiv, there is one that is devoted to books and book printing.


The Museum of Books and Book Printing feels itself at home there since it was in the Pechersk Lavra Monastery that the first printing press in Kyiv was set up in the early seventeenth century at the time when the Archimandrite of the Monastery was Yelisey Pletenetsky, a person of profound erudition. Yelisey Pletenetsky gathered around himself a group of scholars who promoted education and learning.

The printing press of the Lavra publishers released books of high quality and excellent design which were in demand in the Slavic countries of Eastern Europe. The Museum boasts a wide collection of books printed in various lands and in various times, and among them, no doubt, you can see books printed in the Lavra Monastery.

The Museum was established in 1973  the year proclaimed by the UNESCO to be The International Book Year, and in 1975 it was opened to the public. The Museum collection has been steadily growing since that time, and by now it has, among so many other book treasures and rarities, books printed in Ukraine in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries. Some of these books are in Latin script and others are in Cyrillic.

Among the true gems of the collection are the first Ukrainian printed book Apostol, which was printed by the printer Ivan Fedorov in Lviv in 1574, two copies of the Ostrozka Bibliya produced by the same printer. The Ostrozka Bibliya contained the first full text of the Bible in Old Slavonic published in a Slavic country. The Museum collection also has books written by a number of prominent Ukrainian church and culture figures of the seventeenth century, and published in their lifetime  books by Lazar Baranovych, Yoanikiy Halyatovsky, Pamvo Berynda, Inokentiy Hizel, Petro Mohyla and others.

One of the most precious books in the collection is Pateryk Pechersky which was printed in 1661 in the Lavra Monastery with the blessing of the then Archimandrite of the Monastery Yelisey Pletenetsky. The book is on the list of particularly rare and precious books and the Museum has two copies of it. The remarkable Ukrainian historian and first president of Ukraine Mykhailo Hrushevsky wrote in the early twentieth century that Pateryk was a book that was widely read and copied and when printing of books began in Ukraine, Pateryk continued to be a source of spiritual inspiration, a golden book of literate Ukrainians, a book which provided literary delights and moral education.

The word Pateryk has been borrowed from the Greek language and can be loosely translated as Stories of Church Fathers. Some collections of such stories were translated from Greek to Old Slavonic in Kyivan Rus as early as the tenth and eleventh centuries, and they played a significant role in spreading the ideas and ideals of Christianity.

Pateryk in the collection of the Museum of Books and Book Printing is a collection of pious stories about the establishment and early development of the Pechersk Lavra Monastery. It contains stories about lives of the most distinguished monks. It was written in the twelfth-thirteenth centuries and as such is one of the most prominent works in the early history of Ukrainian book writing.

The book disseminated the ideas of Christian ethics and humility and was meant to be read aloud at home by the laymen. Pateryk existed only in a hand-written form until 1635 when it was published as a print edition in Polish translation by Silvester in Kyiv. It was only in 1661 that the book was released in its original language. The publication was initiated by the Metropolitan Petro Mohyla, a remarkable church, political and cultural figure. The publication was brought to completion by the Archimandrite Inokentiy Hizel. Pateryk Pechersky was printed in the printing shop of the Pechersk Lavra Monastery. The publication of the book was one of the stages in the process, which was begun by Petro Mohyla, of canonization of some of the monks of the Monastery.

The compilers of the book wrote in the preface that Pateryk was being released in the time of trials and tribulations and thus was meant to provide moral support for those whose souls seek peace and true faith. The preface also said that reading of Pateryk would be very useful for sustaining Christian faith, for upholding high moral standards, for guarding against temptations, for promoting piety and Christian love, and for preventing people from sliding into sin or moral degradation.

Pateryk can be subdivided into three parts  the first part contains lives of the monks written by Nestor the Chronicler and stories based on Nestors chronicles; the second part contains works written by the Archimandrite Polikarp, and the third part contains works written by the Bishop Simon. Pateryk also contains the lives of Nestor, Polikarp and Simon, a story of the miracle of 1463, and other materials, including the index of names and a list of corrigenda.

The design of the book, the typeface and illustrations form a harmonious whole. Engravings were done by Illya, a well-known engraver of his time. Previously, Illya had provided illustrations for a number of other books, one of which, a Bible in pictures, contained only illustrations but no text and as such was the first of its kind in Ukraine (it was published in 164549). Illyas 132 engravings illustrated Biblical stories from Genesis and were based on illustrations created by a Dutch engraver, Piscator. Piscators book was published in Amsterdam in the first half of the seventeenth century. Illya also illustrated Trebnyk (Formulary) of 1646, which was compiled by Petro Mohyla. Illya contributed his designs and engraved illustrations to many other books published in Kyiv, Lviv and Moldova. Pateryk proved to be Illyas greatest achievement in book design and book illustrations. According to O. Sidorov, a book art historian, Pateryk Pechersky occupied a special place in the history of book printing in the Slavic lands; its illustrations, full of important details and meanings, invited the readers to look at them very carefully, thus providing a visual support of the meaning carried by the text.

The title page carries an engraved picture with the representations of the Uspensky Cathedral of the Pechersk Lavra Monastery, of the Chudotvorna Ikona Bohorodytsi Pecherskoyi (Miracle-working Icon Mother of God of Pechersk) and of venerable monks of the Pechersk Lavra Monastery. The plate from the engraving was engraved by Illya in 1660. The half title of the book features an allegorical picture with the Virgin Mary in it who covers the Uspensky Cathedral and monks with her omophorion as a protection against the menacing clouds, which symbolize the turbulent times of that period.

The lavishly illustrated book is decorated with engraved headbands, headpieces, tailpieces, ornamental initials; it contains plans of the caves which used to be cells of monks, and from which the Monastery began to develop. Illya the engraver seems to have relied mostly on his artistic intuition and piety rather than on established traditions in representing venerable monks of the Monastery. Researchers and art historians have not yet discovered any iconographic or other sources which Illya could have used in creating his illustrations. In his illustrations we can see people wearing typical Ukrainian clothes of those times, Kyiv cityscapes, the banks of the Dnipro River and Kyiv architectural landmarks.

It is considered to be likely that Illya actually used preparatory drawings which had been done from the real sights in the Monastery, on the banks of the Dnipro River and in other parts of Kyiv. In some of the engravings we can even see anglers on the river banks and other genre motifs. Some illustrations show various events that took place in the monastery  Punishment of Serhiy for Lying and Cupidity; Fighting the Fire in the Monastery; Bakery by Spiridon and Nykodym, Makers of Communion Bread. Such engravings provide visual insights into the life and culture of Ukraine of the mid-seventeenth century.

Some illustrations are imaginary representations of famous monks of the Pechersk Lavra Monastery, among whom we find Nestor the Chronicler, Olimpiy the Icon Painter and Agapit the Physician. Several illustrations relate pictorially the story of the creation of the Uspensky Cathedral of the Monastery, among them: The Virgin Mary Blessing the Masons and Architects and Encouraging Them to Start Building the Cathedral; Arrival of Icon Painters in Kyiv; Choosing the Site for the Uspensky Cathedral, and others. Three engravings represent the authors of Pateryk  Simon, Bishop of Volodymyr and Suzdal; Polikarp, a monk of the Pechersk Lavra Monastery, and Nestor the Chronicler.

The main body of the text is followed by a large engraving, The Crown of the Most Holy Mother of God, in which we can see The Virgin Mary with Child and two Most Venerable Monks, Antoniy and Feodosiy, founders of the Pechersk Lavra Monastery. In the latter picture we can see the stars around the Founders in which the names of all the archimandrites are inserted, starting from the foundation down to the time when Pateryk was published. Among the names we find those of Varlaam, Stephan, Pimen, Agapit, Yelisey Pletenetsky, Zakhariy Kopystensky and Petro Mohyla. The name of Inokentiy Hizel, who was the archimandrite at the time of the books publication and who was instrumental in its release, is also there but it is not inserted in a star because he was alive at the time of the publication.

Pateryk continued to be published in later editions and, all in all, about thirty editions were released during the seventeenth, eighteenth and nineteenth centuries but the general design changed but little and the illustrations were those that appeared in the original edition.

Among the famous readers of Pateryk Pechersky we find Alexander Pushkin, the great nineteenth century Russian poet, and Taras Shevchenko, the pivotal nineteenth-century Ukrainian poet and cultural figure, and other prominent cultural figures. In the twentieth century, it was the historian Mykhailo Hrushevsky who acknowledged its importance as a significant work of medieval Ukrainian literature.

The first edition of Pateryk meant for scholars was published in 1931, and it was printed in the printing shop that used to belong to the Pechersk Lavra Monastery; in 1931 though the printing shop was run by the Academy of Sciences of Ukraine rather than by the Monastery.


Based on an essay by Valentyna Borkovska

Photos by Oleksandr KADNIKOV


Title page of the first edition
of Pateryk Pechersky in Slavonic printed
at the Pechersk Lavra Monastery
in Kyiv in 1661.


Apostol published and printed
by Ivan Fedorov, the first printer
in Ukraine, in Lviv at the Stavropihiyske
Bratstvo. 1574.


Vinets Bohorodytsi, an engraving from
the first edition of Pateryk Pechersky,
with the names of the most venerable
monks of the Pechersk Lavra Monastery
to be seen in the stars around the Virgin.


Plans of the Pechersk Lavra Caves published
in Pateryk Pechersky; engraved by Illya. 1661.


Nestor the Chronicler, believed to be one
of the authors of Pateryk Pechersky.
Engraving by Illya. 1661.


Agapit, the monk-physician
of the Pechersk Lavra monastery
of the 12th nentury. Engraving
in Pateryk Pechersky by Illya. 1661.


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