Since 1928, the Solovetsky Monastery Collection has been kept completely intact in the National Library of Russia (formerly the Imperial Public Library, the State Public Library). The collection (717 fund) consists of 1482 handwritten books from the 14th to 19th centuries, including dozens of unique manuscripts. They belonged to the Founding Fathers, revered elders and heads of the Solovetsky Monastery. Some precious manuscripts were acquired through donations from members of famous princely families (including the ruling dynasties), hierarchs of the Russian Church, people who left a noticeable mark on Russian history. Many books contain the most valuable Old Russian texts, unique historical documents, rare examples of decoration and book miniatures.
After the death of Sabbatius in 1435, Herman moved to the mainland where he met Saint Zosimus, together they returned to the Solovetsky Islands. They settled on a bay shore near a freshwater lake and built a small wooden Transfiguration church. Soon other monks gathered here and established a monastery. Zosimus was elected as the head of the monastery and has left a very noticeable mark on it.
The community of monks on the Solovetsky Islans flourished in the mid 16th century when its head was Philip Kolychev who began to construct buildings in stone.
For several centuries, the famous library of the Solovetsky Monastery played an exceptional role in the development of book writing and humanitarian culture in Russia. Its library was founded by the Hegumen Dositheos (died after 1514), who ordered handwritten books for the monastery library in Novgorod at the late 15th century. The history of the Solovetsky Library can be traced from the documents of the monastery archive. They are inventory reports performed under the change of superiors or book-keepers.
The very first surviving inventory of the monastic property for the year of 15141 specifies 72 books and, in addition, books donated by Dositheos (46 manuscripts, of which 42 are listed with titles), and a few more books in boxes with the property of individual elders. All these books were kept in the monastic treasury along with other property. Thus, at the early 16th century, the monastery possessed about 120 books. No system of their arrangement is apparent.
The next written account for 1549,2 when the monastery was “placed under the authority” of Superior Philip Kolychev, listed already 273 manuscripts. They were kept in a special room, only old worn out books were transferred to the treasury. The list of manuscripts gives information about the system of their placement in the library in accordance with their format, contents and function (usage in a worship service). The data of the following inventories testify to a widening range and significant increase in the number of books in the Solovetsky Library: inventory for 15703 contained 308 books, and the inventory for 1597 embraced 497 books, including 36 printed volumes. The inventory for 1597,4 marking the appointment of Superior Isidorus, is extremely important for the history of the Solovetsky Library, because it contains lists of books, with an indication of their former owners: Philip Kolychev, Hegumen Jacob, Sylvester Blagoveshchensky and many others made book donations.
At the early 17 century, when stone passages between the cathedrals and the refectory was erected in the monastery, a special stone book depository was built in the porch of the Transfiguration Cathedral. This is stated in the Chronicle of the Solovetsky Monastery for 1602.5 By the mid 17th century, book writing reaches its highest peak in the Solovetsky Monastery. The works of the writer Sergius Shelonin and other well-known autors: Hegumen Irinarch, Senior Chorister Gelasius, Joasaph Sorotsky, Ephram Kvashnin, Gurias Putimts, Hegumen Markell, Alexander Bulatnikov are closely connected with this largest book-writing center in pre-Peter the Great' Russia. Books were created not only for the monastery library, but also for sale - first of all, monastic scribes produced the lives of the Solovetsky wonderworkers.
The inventory for 1645,6 (marking the appointment of Hegumen Elias), registered 1015 books in the monastery (988 were housed in the library, including 361 printed. 27 were kept in the sacristy, including 19 printed). The list of books, reflecting their arrangement on shelves, shows the result of almost two centuries' development of the medieval monastic library. The placement was very convenient in monastic everyday life. The whole collection was divided into two parts according to their use: liturgical books and those for reading. In turn, the books of each part were arranged by title, and, then, books with one title were grouped by format. When copying the manuscripts, the information about the books' former owners was carefully rewritten.
The library was the spiritual treasure of the Solovetsky Monastery. The treasury was in charge of an experienced book-keeper. In the mid 17th century, the monks began to maintain records in the transfer of this monastic service from one venerable elder to another. The surviving accounts of the "book-keeping treasury" allows not only to trace the growth of the monastery library, but also to mark an important milestone in the book storage system in the 60s of the 17th century. The treasury inventory for 1666,7 , compiled during the change of the book custodians, lists books in the alphabetical order, by the first letter of the title.
The new alphabetical structure of the library was obviously linked to the circumstances of that time. The ideological struggle that troubled the country in the second half of the 17th century directly affected the Solovetsky monastery. The church reform of 1652 generated activities of the Solovetsky scribes who created theological and polemical works to express and defend their views. The monastery library took over new responsibilities, became a kind of "reference aids". An appropriate placement system was established to quickly find the required book. It is important to emphasize that the treasury inventory for 1666 shows a new alphabetic placement of books in the monastic library for the first time in Russia. The new arrangement was developed and practically implemented by Solovetsky scribes.
Compiled in 1676, after the devastation of the Solovetsky Monastery, the property inventory detects a significant decrease in the library holdings. Thus, in the treasury inventory for 1675,8 1680 books were listed, then, in the monastery inventory for 1676, there are only 1478 of them.
In the 18th – 19th centuries, the Solovetsky Library increased its holdings and continued to keep them in alphabetical order. Thus, the inventory for 1765,9 compiled in connection with the reforms of Catherine II, records 1705 books, including 645 printed ones, in the Solovetsky Monastery and 240 books in the Anzersky hermit community, including 152 printed volumes. Judging by the inventory for 179510, printed books were separated from handwritten ones by that time.
The last reorganization of the Solovetsky Library was carried out in 1826–1836 under the Archimandrite Dositheos Nemchinov who is known for his fundamental work on the history of the Solovetsky Monastery. The monk Cassian put the monastery archives and the library in order, as was directed by the archimandrite. All handwritten books were divided into two sections: books of "spiritual" contents and books of "secular" contents. Inside each of the sections, the books were arranged alphabetically. Each manuscript book received a serial number within its section. This number corresponds to the numerator in the modern shelfmark of the Solovetsky Collection. Such arrangement of books in the Solovetsky Collection remains to this day.
In 1854, during the Crimean War, the library as the greatest value was removed from the Solovetsky Monastery to ensure its safety in view of a possible attack on the monastery of the English fleet. 16 boxes of books were kept for some time in the Antonievo-Siysky Monastery , and were transferred to the Kazan Theological Academy in 1855. The library did not return to the Solovetsky Islands. By the decree of the Synod, it became the property of the Academy. Only 33 handwritten books were returned to the Solovetsky Monastery. Since 1928, when the Solovetsky Collection of the Kazan Theological Academy was received by the State Public Library (now the National Library of Russia), it has been kept in the Manuscripts Department (717 fund).
The history of the study of the Solovetsky Library began even when the books were in the monastery. In 1834, the member of the Archaeographic Expedition Ya. Berednikov reviewed the monastery library and archive. He compiled a report on his work, which attracted the attention of scientists to the unique book collection.
In the second half of the 19th century, the Solovetsky Collection was researched systematicly: publications of the Orthodox Interlocutor, published by the Kazan Theological Academy, familiarized scientists with many Solovetsky manuscripts as well as with the little-known ancient writings, such as the biblical apocryphal legends. Most of the manuscripts were described in the scientific literature. Research of the Solovetsky heritage has been increasingly carried out since the twentieth century, after the collection was transferred into the state depository. Many hagiographic works, polemical writings by Vassian Patrikeyev, Joseph of Volotsk, Maximus the Greek, Prince Andrey Kurbsky were first published due to the manuscripts of the Solovetsky Library. The attention of scientists to the Solovetsky Collection has continued unabated over the past years. This is one of the most demanded collections of the Manuscripts Department of the National Library of Russia.