The Lectionary of Saint Petersburg, also known as Gospel Lectionary of Trebizond, is one of the greatest masterpieces of Byzantine art. This mysterious codex had an incredible history: for a long time it was preserved at Trebizond, at 'crossroads' between two cultures on the shores of the Black Sea, the Byzantine and the Osman, and endured the eventful times of the Crusades and Ottoman conquests. Used in liturgy throughout the centuries, it was very badly preserved until recent times. Many colors and even the gold leaf background had peeled off, thus destroying various illuminations. Fortunately, the codex was recently restored to its original splendor.
The Lectionary of Saint Petersburg, also Known as the Golden Gospels
The ”Golden Gospels”, as it was termed due to its rich use of gold, was crafted during the 2nd half of the 10th century. Though its commissioner remains unknown, the presence of gold in its illustration and precious craftsmanship suggest that it was probably produced for a high ranking person. In 1223, it Andronikos Gidon gave it as a votive gift to the Virgin Mary, in a church named Gold-Headed Virgin. There, it was a substantial part of the Orthodox liturgy up to the mid-15th century. The absolute value of the Lectionary of Saint Petersburg lies above all in the exceptional artistic quality of its illuminations. Scattered throughout the pages of the manuscript, they describe episodes of the Gospels. The text is penned in Greek: though incredibly old, it is grammatically perfect.
A Summary of Byzantine Art and Craftsmanship
The Lectionary of Saint Petersburg contains 16 illuminations in total, which are carried out in tempera on a golden background in order to improve their brightness. This artistic cycle was produced by several painters: they bear both oriental influences and are strongly inspired by classicism. As is common with 10th century book illumination, the decoration includes a portrait of John the Evangelist in the classical style: depicted as a Greek philosopher, he is wearing a toga, and holding a scroll (folio 1r). The text is in pale blue ink in liturgical uncial, a script that can be seen as a type of majuscule which was widespread during the 10th century. Some of the initials are bigger in size and painted gold, cinnabar, blue and green. Later, even neumatic notation was added to the text in bright red ink.
The Lectionary in the Imperial Library
The Lectionary of Saint Petersburg's text and the theme of its illuminations allowed scholars to attribute it to the group of traditional Gospel Lectionaries that included readings from the Gospels for each day of the year, from the Passion and Easter all the way to Pentecost. In 1858, the opulent Gospel Lectionary was given to the Russian Tsar Alexander II as an offering for the building of a church, and thus moved to the Greek manuscripts fond in the imperial library. At the time, the library director proudly asserted that ”the Greek Gospels [takes] the most important place among the recent acquisitions of our library in the year 1858”.
We have 1 facsimile edition of the manuscript "Lectionary of St Petersburg": Das Lektionar von St. Petersburg facsimile edition, published by Akademische Druck- u. Verlagsanstalt (ADEVA), 1994