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Rare Books Department

Collection of Bibles from the Holdings of the National Library of Russia

D. Krukova

Among the books that played a key role in the development of culture, the central place, no doubt, belongs to the Bible - the holy book of the Christians. Within Christianity, biblical texts impacted profoundly all aspects of life: they served as the ideological base, explained structure of the universe, established the rules of everyday life, were the basis of worship. This determined the specific distribution of biblical texts: out of the whole body of the Scriptures, individual books or their fragments necessary for liturgical practice had the greatest demand. However, as long ago as in the early Middle Ages, the books of the Bible began to be produced in a handwritten single volume (codex), the canonical contents of which was fixed in the first centuries of our era. Over time, Bibles were published by printing. Number of publications was so great, that the Bible became the most reproduced book in the world.

It seems that this fact alone explains why so many Bibles are to be found among the holdings of the NLR. It should be noted, however, that the extremely rich collection of Bibles was assembled due to a special attention that was given to acquisition of the Holy Writings from the foundation of the library. Such interest is not at all surprising, since by the early 19th century, publications both of a complete body of biblical books and some of its fragments were a traditional subject of interest of book collectors, and the Imperial Public Library could not ignore European cultural traditions when building its collections.

The collection of printed Bibles grew very rapidly, and in 1856, it was displayed in the 8th Room (now the Department of Rare Books). In the report for 1856, Baron Korff, Chief Director of the Imperial Imperial Public Library in в 1849-61, wrote, 'Kindly assistance of our ambassador in London Count Chreptowicz and the willingness of the English Bible Society, as well as extensive contacts of our library with all bibliographic European centers made it possible to form such a collection that can easily stand comparison with the famous collection of Earls of Sussex that was previously considered to be the first in the world; it already exceeds the latter by the number of languages. The total number of Bibles in the exhibition amounts to <...> 300 items, because many languages are represented <...> by several different editions distinguished by their rarity or remarkable commentary, or, finally, by the typography art.' Subsequently, the collection was increased significantly and now it is one of the largest in the world. It includes copies of the rarest editions that help to trace the history of publishing this book of historical, cultural, and civilizational importance from the ivention of the printing press to the present day in different countries.