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Ostromir Gospel


About the Manuscript

About the Contents

The Ostromir Gospel is a service book that contains the text and instructions for church worship on a given day. It consists of passages from the Four Gospels, read during the Easter season. They are followed by Saturday and Sunday readings for the rest year. In the second part, services were arranged according to the church calendar. Readings "on different occasions" (for example, "on tsar's victory in the battle") are placed at the end of the book.

Many pages of the Ostromir Gospel have ekphonetic symbols added to the texts. These musical signs helped the priest to chant a citation of Biblical texts. Such signs are mandatory in the Greek Gospel Lectionaries of the 8th-14th centuries. In Slavic manuscripts, they are extremely rare: only two such Slavonic lectionary are known: the Ostromir Gospel and the Kupriyanov (Novgorod) Sheets (OR RNB. F.п.I.58).

So, we can say that Russian sacred music originated in the Ostromir Gospel. There is strong connection between the evangelical text and the composition of ancient Russian singing collections.

The church calendar of the Ostromir Gospel is of an enormous cultural and historical importance. It contains not only the feasts of the Eastern church, but also Western saints' days. Such a combination of traditions suggests that the 1057 Ostromir Gospel is perhaps the last surviving liturgical book reflecting the unity of the Christian church.

As we know, the process of split of Christianity can be traced back to the mid-5th century, and ends with the "Great Schism" in 1054. The reason why the Ostromir Gospel so differs from the further Old Russian tradition, should be sought in the original manuscript from which the Ostromir Gospel was copied.

However, we can not ignore the historical realities: the broad dynastic relations between the Russian princely house and reigning families from other parts of the world. There are information on 38 members of the Russian ruling dynasty, who married foreign royal members in the 11th century. 8 intermarriages occurred in Germany, 2 - in France, 5 - in the Scandinavian kingdoms and in England, 7 - in Poland, 6 - in Hungary. 3 marriages were arranged with Polovtsian princesses, one with a Byzantine princess, 2 - with representatives of the Byzantine aristocracy. Thus, 27 marriages bound the Russian dynasty together with the Catholic West and only 3 marriages with Byzantium. Does this not explain the unique combination of different traditions in the decoration of the Ostromir Gospel?