Hegumen Dositheos – Founding Father of the Solovetsky Library

Dositheos, the follower of the Reverend Zosimus, was a head of the Solovetsky Monastery for a short time after the death of the saint. Dositheos gave the most significant impetus to the transformation of the monastery into a spiritual and cultural center. By order of the Archbishop of Novgorod Gennady, Dositheos compiled the first story of the lives of the St. Zosimus and Sabbatius of Solovki based on his own recollections of St. Zosimus and stories of the elder Herman about Sabbatius and St. Zosimus.

The work of Dositheos reached us in the edition of Metropolitan Spyridon-Sabbas who was engaged in literary work in exile in the Ferapontov Monastery. In the afterword called Tale of the Creation of the Hagiography of the Heads of the Solovetsky Monastery, Dositheos told how he created the story of the lives of the saints. This text was subject to minor editorial changes by Spyridon-Sabbas, and therefore makes it possible to judge the writing style of Dositheus. He relays events using the first person, includes autobiographical details, the narrative is simple, without convoluted statements. The author’s version of the Tale is preserved in a book from the library of the Joseph Volokolamsk Monastery (RSL, Volok. Sobr., No. 659). This manuscript includes two more stories, probably, written by Dositheos: St. Zosimus's Miracle with the Monk Deacon and the Prophecy of our Father St. Zosimus.

In the Tale, Dositheos states that he came to the Solovetsky Monastery during the life of St. Zosimus and heard many things directly from him, that he lived with the monastic elder Herman in the same cell and read his memories, but these records are no longer in the monastery. The Tale testifies to Dositheos's trips on monastic affairs to Novgorod where he joined the literary circle established by Archbishop of Novgorod Gennady.1

With Archbishop Gennady's blessing, Dositheos compiled the life story of the founders of Solovetsky Monastery. The author regarded himself as an artless narrator, so he asked Metropolitan Spyridon-Sabbas to edit the text when meeting the disfavoured hierarch in the Ferapontov Monastery on his way to Moscow.

Notwithstanding the scope of his literary skills evident in the surviving works, Dositheos is known primarily not as a writer, but as a book lover and collector. In the Solovetsky Monastery which was very remote from the cultural centers, he assembled a rich library containing most books circulated in Russia at that time, and many of them were for reading. The first inventory of the monastic property for 15142 proves that the necessary church service books in the monastery were also available. But Dositheos's book donations transformed the original monastic collection into a library with a very wide range of not only liturgical books, but also of the literature for reading. In Novgorod, Dositheos purposefully commissioned books for the Solovetsky Monastery. He carefully selected them, showing the breadth of interests and special love for each manuscript. He marked the books made on his order with a special handwritten sign - the ornate inscription within the initial C: Hieromonk Dosopheus'. This sign is considered to be the first bookplate in the Russian book. In addition to the bookplate, some books contains prayers and records about donations to the Solovetsky Monastery, written, apparently, by Dositheos himself. (OR RNB. Sol. 478/497, fol. 246v; Sol. 1049/1158, fol. 90v; Sol. 875/983, fol. 116). If these are Dositheos’s autographs, then, according to the handwriting analysis, he 3 should be recognized as the author of the famous entry called the Recollection of how Novgorod citizens traded, which is included in the Menaion to New Wonderworkers (OR RNB. Sol. 518/537, fol. 200v). Probably, Dositheos himself made a secret note with the encrypted name of the donor (decoding: Dositheos) in the Book of Readings, which does not contain Dositheos's bookplate (OR RNB. Sol. Anz. 62/1428, fol. 332).

For the history of the Solovetsky Library, two records are of particular importance. They contain large lists of books commissioned by Dositheos in Novgorod for the Solovetsky Monastery. The first list of 1493 is read in the Book of the Pilot /rus. Kórmchaia Book) (OR RNB. Sol. 868/968, fol. 609v.) and includes 17 books that Dositheos already sent to the monastery. The second list of 1494 is written in the Typikon /rus. Ustav) (OR RNB. Sol. 1128/1237, fols. 140v-141) and includes the same 17 manuscripts and 7 more books, three of which were also sent to the Solovetsky Monastery, and four were just ordered. The most complete list of Dositheos's manuscripts, including 42 books with their titles, is given in the property inventory for 1514.4 These three sources are important for identifying the books belonging to Dositheus within the Solovetsky Library. In total, there are currently 21 manuscripts with Dositheos's bookplate and 2 more books that do not contain his ex-libris, but are precisely attributed to Dositheos from all evidence. Another manuscript with his bookplate is housed in the Russian State Library (RGB, sobr. Ovchinnikov (f. 209), No. 791). Thus, 24 extant manuscripts, undoubtedly belonged to Dositheos, are known.

The summary table shows the modern shelfmarks of those Dositheos's books that can be identified by title with those mentioned in the lists (the "+" sign indicates the presence of a book in the corresponding list):

Book Title List of 1493: Book of the Pilot (Kórmchaia Book)
Sol. 858/968
List of 1494: Typikon (Ustav)
Sol. 1128/1237
List of 1514. Inventory Manuscript Shelfmark
Book of the Pilot (Kormchej dusham) + + + RNB, Sol. 858/968
Typikon (Ustav Oko tserkovnoe)   + + RNB, Sol. 1128/1237
Quotes by St. John Chrysostom (Margarit) + + + RNB, Sol. 491/510
Cosmas the Priest (Koz'ma Prozviter) + + + RNB, Sol. 856/966
John the Exarch
(Ioann Ekzarh)
+ + + RNB, Sol. 318/338
Dionysius the Areopagite (Dionisij Areopagit) + + + RNB, Sol. 115/115
Prophecies (Prorochestva) + + + RNB, Sol. 694/802
Cyril of Jerusalem (Kirill Ierusalimskij) + + + RNB, Sol. 478/497
Hexameron of St. Basil the Great (Shestodnev Vasilyev) + + + RNB, Sol. 873/983
Lenten Collections of Readings (Torzhestvennik postnyj chetij) + + + RNB, Sol.Anz.62/14285
Apocalypse of John the Apostle (Apokalipsis Ioanna Bogoslova) + + + RNB, Sol. 1049/1158
Life of John Chrysostom (Kniga Zhitie Ioanna Zlatousta)   + + RNB, Sol. 199/199
Athanasius of Jerusalem (Afanasij Ierusalimskij) (of Alexandria –Inventory for 1514.)   + + RGB, sobr. Ovchinnikova (f. 209), No. 791
Andrew the Fool-for-Christ (Andrej Jurodivyj)   + + RNB, Sol. 216/216
Menaion to New Wonderworkers (Mineja novym chudotvorcam) ("ka-nuny da zhitija s'brano")   + + RNB, Sol. 518/5376
Psalter /Psaltyr' v dest'/ («narjadil»)     + RNB, Sol. 754/864
Festive Collections of Readings /Torzhestvennik prazdnichnyj/     + RNB, Sol. Anz.83/1448
Explanatory Psalter /Psaltyr' tolkovaja/     + RNB, Sol. 1044/1153

The table shows that only 18 of the 24 Dositheos's manuscripts mentioned in the documents. Other 6 manuscripts with Dositheos's bookplate doesn't appear in any source written during his lifetime: ORR NLN, Sol. 27/27; Sol. 75/75; Sol. 258/258; Sol. 1024/1133; Sol. 1056/1165; Sol. 802/912. This circumstance can be explained only by the fact that in 1514, when the inventory of the monastic property was compiled, the owner had these books in the personal use in his cell. In the inventory for 1514, Dositheos is identified as a former prior and is listed first among best elders, active participants in taking the inventory. This is the last document containing the news of Dositheos alive.

Our resource presents 23 handwritten books from the Solovetsky Collection of the National Library of Russia, whose belonging to Dositheus is not questioned. It is likely that other Dositheos's books have survived to this day in the Solovetsky Library or in other manuscript collections, including private ones. However, their identification requires a complex of data and cannot rely only on the similar manuscripts titles and the close dates of their creation.

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The Gennady circle is known for compiling the first complete codex of the Bible in Slavic in 1499, the so-caled Gennady Bible.
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Publication: Inventories of the Solovetsky Monastery of the 16th century. Commented publication / Comp.: Z. Dmitrieva, E. Krushelnitskaya, M. Milchik. St. Petersburg, 2003. Pp. 29–38.
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M. Shibaev. Codicological and Paleographic Observations on the Record Recolection of How Novgorod Citizens Traded in the Menaion from the Solovetsky Collection of the NLR// Rossijskij rubl': 700 let istorii / Materials of the International Scientific Conference. Veliky Novgorod, April 25–27, 2016 Veliky Novgorod, 2017. Pp. 44–49.
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Publication: Inventories of the Solovetsky Monastery of the 16th century. Commented publication / Comp.: Z. Dmitrieva, E. Krushelnitskaya, M. Milchik. St. Petersburg, 2003. Pp. 33–34).
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There is no bookplate in this manuscript, but it contained a coded message with the encrypted name of the donor: Dositheos.
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This manuscript contains no Dositheos's bookplate, however, it can be exactly identified with those mentioned in the lists on the basis of the date of creation and coincidence of not only the rather rare title, but also the contents.
Hieromonk Dositheos. Dositheos writes down the stories of the elder Herman. Miniature. Sol. 175/175, fol. 109v. 1623.
Dositheos sails across the sea to Novgorod. Dositheos talks to Archbishop Gennady of Novgorod. Dositheos writes the Life of Solovetsky's Miracle Workers. Miniature. Sol. 175/175, fol. 111v. 1623.