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The first book ever printed in Ukraine was this illustrated Acts of the Apostles and the Epistles

J-P Mauro - published on 05/20/22

The work, preserved for nearly half a millennium, has been digitized by the Bodleian Library and can be viewed online.

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A priceless piece of Ukrainian Christian history, preserved for the better part of 500 years, is one of the latest exhibits to enter the world of digital art. Titled Apostol, or Apostolos, the work contains the texts of the Acts of the Apostles and the Epistles. It was digitized and placed online for the world to view thanks to the Bodleian Library.

The digital copy of the work was published in the Bodleian Digital Library on April 4, 2022. In a video announcement of the new addition, Bodleian’s Head of Book Conservation, Nicole Gilroy, and retired Professor of Slavonic Studies Ralph Cleminson touch on its significance. Viewers are treated to historical context surrounding the book, while getting an up-close look.

For example, Professor Cleminson explained why the book only contains the Acts and Epistles, rather than the entire New Testament:

“In the Eastern tradition, one did not actually get a complete Bible, as a rule. You would have the four Gospels as a book, then you would have the Apostles as a book, and then you would have the Apocalypse as a book. That gives you a complete New Testament. You didn’t normally have the whole New Testament between two covers.”


According to Bodleian, this is the first book that was ever printed in L’viv, Ukraine, between 1564 and 1581. It was one of 10 titles that were printed in that time frame by Ivan Fedorov, who was considered to be one of the fathers of Eastern Slavonic printing. The text is an exact reproduction of an edition of the Acts and Epistles that Fedorov printed in Moscow in the previous decade.

The work features a full page portrait of St. Luke, which is featured in the video, but can be better viewed on slide 36 of Bodleian’s digital record. The image of St. Luke is drawn in the line-art style popular in the medieval era and places St. Luke before a desk where he writes his Gospel. It is reminiscent of many Eastern icons of the saint.

The portrait of St. Luke and the beautiful medieval calligraphy adorning each page are worth a look in their own right, but the book’s cover may be the most valuable artistic aspect. This is the original binding from the 16th century, painstakingly preserved for nearly half a millennium.

Cover art

As with most books of its era, the Apostol is bound between two boards that have been tightly covered with brown tanned goatskin, or possibly hairsheep leather. The cover features two types of precious metal tooling, in both gold and silver. Nicole Gilroy explained how the artistic indentations were applied to the cover:

“It’s decorated with tooling, which is decoration that’s created by applying hot metal tools to the leather,” Gilroy said.

Professor Cleminson went on to note that there are only 119 extant copies of this 16th-century printing, and of those this is one of the best. It is in great condition for its age and it stands as a valuable historical example of early Eastern European book printing. It is unknown how many surviving copies retain their original binding, but it is likely private collectors would not have had access to the same dedicated team of conservators that the Bodleian enjoys.

Visit Bodleian’s Digital Library to view this incredible piece of Ukrainian history today.

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