Exploring the ancient graffiti of St. Sophia Cathedral in Kyiv (photo report)

On May 28, 2021, St. Sophia Cathedral hosted the presentation of a multi-volume scholarly publication – Corpus of Graffiti of St. Sophia of Kyiv , the tenth part, and last volume of which was published in 2020. Historians, experts and scholars have found over 7,000 graffiti from the 11th to early 18th centuries in the dark hidden passages of St. Sophia Cathedral.

Sophia

Corpus of Graffiti of St. Sophia of Kyiv – an exhaustive 15-year research project published in 12 volumes. Photo: Serhii Nuzhnenko, Radio Svoboda.org (RFE/RL)

Sophia

Photo: Serhii Nuzhnenko, Radio Svoboda.org (RFE/RL)

During the presentation, visitors were allowed to look through the volumes and view the results of 15 years of research work, and talk directly with the authors and other project members. Historian Vyacheslav Kornienko then conducted a tour of the shrine’s nooks and crannies where he showed his awed guests the secret inscriptions on the walls of the millennial church.

Some of the inscriptions are inscribed in the official written Church Slavonic language of that time. However, it is interesting to note that the inhabitants of Kyivan Rus spoke a colloquial language close to modern Ukrainian and used many common and recognizable words to carve out their graffiti. More details here.

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St. Sophia Cathedral in Kyiv – a masterpiece of Ukrainian art and architecture from the princely era of Kyivan Rus. Photo: Serhii Nuzhnenko, Radio Svoboda.org (RFE/RL)

Editor’s Note

Saint Sophia Cathedral in central Kyiv is a magnificent monument of Ukrainian art and architecture. It was built in the Byzantine style at the height of Kyivan Rus (between 1037 and 1044), and was significantly transformed during the Baroque period. The cathedral was founded by Grand Prince of Kyiv Yaroslav the Wise of Kyiv, often called the “Father of Europe”, whose many sons and daughters wed into the royal houses of Europe.

Key events in Ukrainian religious, political, and cultural life have taken place in and around the cathedral. The first library in Ukraine was founded here by Yaroslav the Wise. The Grand Prince was buried in the cathedral (his sarchopagus remains), as were other grand princes and metropolitans. The cathedral also witnessed coronations, receptions of foreign ambassadors, royal and city council meetings, and the proclamation or signing of of many treaties, agreements and universals.

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