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Return of Miroslav Gospel page to strengthen Russia-Serbia religious ties, says cabinet

On July 13, Russian President Vladimir Putin signed the law to ratify the agreement with Serbia to exchange Miroslav Gospel page 166 for seven paintings by Nicholas Roerich

BELGRADE, July 14. /TASS/. The return of Miroslav Gospel’s page 166 and restoration of the integrity of this ancient Serbian manuscript will become an event of historic significance for the country and will strengthen religious ties between the Russian and Serbian nations, Director of the Serbian Government’s Office for Kosovo and Metohija and President Aleksandar Vucic’s deputy in the ruling Serbian Progressive Party Marko Juric said in a comment for TASS Tuesday.

"Miroslav Gospel is the most precious monument of the Serbian history and literature. Reinstating its integrity after 150 years will become an event of national importance. Serbia views the return of the missing page of Miroslav Gospel as confirmation of the deep Serbian-Russian religious ties and also as an affirmation of the personal respect for Serbia of [Russian] President Vladimir Putin and his sincere and friendly relations with Serbian President Aleksandar Vucic," Juric said in a statement received in TASS.

"On the other hand, Nicholas Roerich and his artistry are immensely important for the Russian culture. Return of these cultural artifacts back home will be an important event for both our nations and reaffirmation of the cultural and religious proximity. Serbia and Russia will always be on the righteous side of the history, while our religious ties will be the firmest guarantee of our strong and constant international relations," the official added.

Cultural exchange

On July 13, Putin signed the law to ratify the agreement with Serbia to exchange Miroslav Gospel page 166 for seven paintings by Nicholas Roerich.

The agreement to exchange these treasures was reached by Belgrade and Moscow during Russian President Vladimir Putin’s visit to the Serbian capital on January 17. The agreement itself to hand a page of the medieval Cyrillic manuscript back to Belgrade was inked during Russian then Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev’s Belgrade visit in October. The document also states that Serbia will hand over seven early Roerich paintings to Russia.

Before the recent developments, the issue of returning the page from the ancient Cyrillic manuscript to Belgrade had been discussed for decades. As for Roerich’s paintings, they simply vanished between 1941 and March 2017 when a TASS correspondent discovered the masterpieces in Serbia’s National Museum.

Miroslav Gospel

Miroslav Gospel was written in approximately 1180. It is Serbia’s oldest manuscript written in Cyrillic, which is housed at the National Museum of Serbia in Belgrade. In 2005, Miroslav Gospel was added to the UNESCO Memory of the World list. Lately, a new tradition emerged when Serbian presidents swear on the gospel’s copy to take the oath of the office when inaugurated.

Written by deacon Gregory, the manuscript was commissioned by Prince Miroslav Zavidovic, a brother of Stefan Nemanja, the founder of the Nemanjic dynasty. Later, the Gospel was named after Prince Miroslav. In about 1845, Archimandrite Porphyrius (Uspensky) discovered the manuscript at the Hilandar Monastery on Mount Athos. He extracted one page from it and brought it to Russia.

Roerich’s paintings

The fate of the paintings by Nicholas Roerich in question, discovered in the collection of the National Museum of Serbia by TASS, remained unknown since the moment Nazi Germany attacked Yugoslavia in April 1941. The seven paintings on the list are Berendej Village (1921), Holy Guests (1923), Church Bells Tolling (1919), Burgustan on Caucasus, St. Sergius of Radonezh (1922), and two costume sketches for Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov’s opera Snow Maiden (1921). One of the paintings on the list was reportedly Roerich’s gift to the Belgrade Museum. The others had been brought there for a personal exhibition. World War II prevented the exhibits’ return to Russia.