Exhibitions > Special Exhibitions > Archive > Take the scripture and turn its leaves


Take the scripture and turn its leaves


Pollack Hall

According to tradition, the Reformed College in Sárospatak was founded in 1531. Education in school was faciliteted by the library beside, which has been expanded by several remarkable works through the centuries. Advised by the Ministry of Religion and Education, a precious portion of the library was transported to Budapest in September 1938. The rarities were first preserved in the National Museum and then placed in two different banks. The Hungarian Commercial Bank of Pest was to store the Lengyel Bible, 2 archival documents and 50 medals. The Union of the First National Savings Bank of Pest was entrusted with the care of 173 volumes. According to Hungarian scholars the books were taken by a special Soviet military corps in February 1945, whilst the Russian party state that the books, which had been seized by German troops, were found in an abandoned railway carriage near Berlin, and were transported to Gorkij situated along the Volga River (today’s Nizhny Novgorod). The management of the Library of Sárospatak made a futile attempt to recover its valuables in the spring and summer of 1945. It was in 1991 that Russian art historians first mentioned the fact that some public collections contain cultural valuables which were got hold of as booty. On 11th November 1992, the delegates of Hungary and the Russian Federation made an agreement on the mutual restitution of goods, and on 21st May 1993, they agreed on setting up a joint Russian-Hungarian working party. The team was entrusted with searching and identifying seized cultural property. The Hungarian party was informed that some volumes originally coming from Sárospatak are to be found in the county library of Nizhny Novgorod. Towards the end of April 1993, Hungarian delegates travelled to Nizhny Novgorod and identified a work by Boetius, titled De consolatione philosophiae libri V. (Five books on the consolation offered by philosophy), which was published in 1473 in Nuremberg. Consequently, on 11th May 1994, at the session of the working party, the members agreed to set up an expert team for the identification of books, which was realised on 11th October 1994, and they managed to complete the identification of volumes within 4 years. Eventually, a list was compiled which –representing the official Hungarian claim- was submitted to the Russian Foreign Ministry by the Hungarian Embassy to Russia on 26th Janury 1999. Meanwhile, the Russian party published a catalogue of the books taken away, based on the documents provided by the library of Sárospatak and the expert team. On 15th April 1998 President Yeltsin signed the federal law on Cultural values removed to the Soviet Union during as a result of World War II and located in the Russian Federation. The amended and amplified version of the law was sanctioned by Vladimir Putin on 21th May 2000. In 2001 Hungary renewed her claim to the book rarities, and on 15th April 2005, the Hungarian Parliament adopted a resolution to return the Russian cultural property that entered Hungary during the Second World War. The bill providing for the restitution of the books originally coming from Sárospatak was passed by the lower house of the Russian Federation on 20th Janury, and by the upper house on 25th Janury 2006, and was signed by Vladimir Putin on 2nd February 2006. At the end of February 2006, the identified volumes, including a codex, 22 incunabula, several book rarities and manuscripts were returned to Hungary after more than 60 years of absence. The earliest piece from among the volumes that were returned to Hungary is Scholastic Theology which was written in 1404 in Vien and was donated to the Grand Library of Sárospatak in 1788. Two two-column, folio texts from a Hebrew codex are to be found in the volume, one on the page coming after the front cover and one on the page before the back cover. The 22 incunabula (works printed before 1500) include several Bibles as well as works by the two most influential preachers of the Middle Ages, Pelbárt Temesvári and Osvát Laskai. Another portion of the incunabula are works by such classical Latin authors as Cato, Pliny, Boetius and Augustinus. The widespread adoption of the doctrines of the Reformation and the rapid spread of book printing facilitated the publishing of several works in printing houses founded on the territoryof the Royal Kingdom and Transylvania. The majority of publications were related to the church: Bible translations, textbooks, songbooks and the printed texts of theological disputes going on between them and the Catholics and printed soon after their taking place. Published in 1590 in Hungarian, the most remarkable work from this period is the Vizsoly Bible. Another unique copy is also worth mentioning: the religious contemplation which was published in Cracow in 1572 and translated by Bálint Balassi under the title Beteg lelkeknek való füves kertecske (Grassy little garden for ailing souls). The printing office in Sárospatak was set up in 1650. It published mainly works that were written by the teachers of the college, including Comenius and János Pósaházi, however, it also printed some works written by the court priest of Zsuzsanna Lórántffy, Pál Medgyesi. A great deal of books written by Hungarian peregrinators were published in German and Dutch university towns, such as Wittenberg, Franecker, Leiden and Utrecht. These towns were frequented by Hungarian Protestant students and many of them completed their studies there. The works published there were mostly theological treatises. Apart from the codex, the most precious items from among the manuscripts are the Csáti and the Pathay graduals, which are hymn-books that contain Protestant religious songs. Such songs are closely related to the church service. They are mostly made up of psalms and hymns, but there are also some Magyarised Gregorian chants adopted from the Catholics. The majority of volumes returned to Hungary contain more than one works, that is, they are composite volumes that comprise several works by several authors. These works might have been published at the same place, or closely related in their subject matter. Curator of the exhibition: Róbert Szvitek, Historical Department More information: (00-36)-1-327-7749 info@hnm.hu

Take the scripture and turn its leaves
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