Icons of the Lives of Belarusian Saints and Their Hagiographic Sources (Summary)

Александр Ярошевич (PDF)

Few icons of the lives of Belarusian saints of the 17th and 18th centuries have survived. They depict several saints: St Nicholas, St Paraskeva Pyatnitsa, the prophet Elijah and St Onuphrius. In the 19th century, sources mentioned icons depicting St George the Victorious with scenes from his life. Unfortunately, they have not survived to date. The scarce hagiographic literature is known in Belarusian lands from the 14th century. The lives of St Euphrosyne of Polotsk and St Abraham of Smolensk are described in the Menaion Reader. The local saints are also described: St Euphrosyne of Polotsk, St Martin of Tours and Martyrs of Vilnius.

In the second half of the 17th century, ‘The lives of the saints’ by Piotr Skarga was translated. ‘The lives of the saints’ by St Demetrius of Rostov became popular in the 18th century. In the early 18th century, the Basilian monks of the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth began to create their own patericon. The Russian State Historical Archives in St Petersburg has preserved a manuscript by an unknown author, The Lives of the Holy Basilians, where lives are distributed throughout the year with editorial corrections. In 1771, the two-volume Menologium of the Basilians, or the Lives of the Saints, which includes the holy monks of Eastern and Western Christianity, was published in Vilnius.

The Belarusian icon of St Paraskeva from Bezdezh, painted in 1659, is an excellent example of an image of the life of a saint. The central area of the composition, with the figure of the saint at full height, is surrounded on three sides by seven scenes of her life. Cyrillic inscriptions explain the content of the developed scenes of life; the icon reads like a book, more impressive than the hagiographic prototype. This link between the image and the literary source originates from a long Orthodox tradition. On the contrary, ‘St Paraskeva’, created in 1646 and associated with Kazimierz Leon Sapieha, is an altar painting for veneration, characteristic of New Age European sacral art.

In the 18th century, the Egyptian hermit St Onuphrius from the 4th century was especially venerated in the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth. The Jesuits in Vilnius published his life in Polish in 1686, and in 1696, the Basilians of Supraśl prepared a Belarusian version.

Keywords: the Menaion Reader, Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth, Piotr Skarga, Basilians, altar