(August 17, 1998)
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Bill Eichenberger, Dispatch Book Critic
monks at the Hilandar Monastery in Greece hadn’t seen anything like the
father-and-son team of Mateja and Predrag Matejic.
pair traveled to the monastery on Mount Athos in 1971 to photograph a massive
collection of manuscripts for later storage on microfilm.
the monks thought we’d be like everyone else who’d done research at the
monastery,” recalled the son, Predrag. “A monk would ask us which manuscript
we’d like to see, and, 15 minutes later, we’d ask for another.
say, ‘Yes, but what did you do with the first one?’ After a couple days the
monk would say, `How many manuscripts do you think you’ll need for the whole
day?’ And he’d bring us a stack this high.”
demonstrated “this high” with his hand held several feet off the ground.
manic photographing was conducted 12-14 hours a day, six and sometimes seven
days a week, for several weeks.
was no electricity at the monastery, so we could only do daylight shooting,”
he said. “My father would turn the pages, and I would shoot them with a
19, Matejic was an amateur photographer on the adventure of his life.
father, a priest of the Serbian Orthodox Church and an assistant professor in
the Slavic Department at Ohio State University, had been asked by the monastery
to preserve the intellectual content of its manuscripts.
832 of the codices (bound volumes) and several hundred other documents (edicts,
chrysobulls and so on) eventually formed the core collection of the Hilandar
Research Library at OSU.
library holds on microfilm more than 4,000 manuscripts and more than 1 million
pages of text. It boasts manuscripts from 71 collections in 20 countries.
has become, quite simply, one of the most significant research libraries of its
kind in the world.
honor of the monastery’s 800th anniversary and the library’s 20th, the OSU
Main Library is hosting an exhibit of rare texts, photographs and biographical
material through mid-September.
represents the sum total of what an entire major culture considered of value,”
Matejic said of the monastery and of the library. “In the Eastern Orthodox
world, there were no universities such as you found in the West. The monasteries
were the centers of learning.”
Mitrofan, a Hilandar elder, in 1969 recruited the elder Matejic for the
preservation project. In 1970, the professor and OSU photography student Walt
Craig made the university’s first voyage to Mount Athos. Each of the three OSU
trips there was marked by a sense of urgency, said Leon I. Twarog, chairman of
the Slavic Department when the Hilandar Research Library was conceived.
had to act as if you’d never have another chance, because in eastern Europe
that was always a real possibility,” he said. “You didn’t make long-range
plans. You just went and got as much done as possible.”
pressure to record as much as possible, as quickly as possible, was especially
frustrating to his father, Matejic said.
would want to stop and read the texts, but we didn’t have time.”
father-son team shot 3,312 rolls of film (“It’s a number I’ll never
forget,” the son said) and wore out two screws in the camera.
any one page, there might be something that changes our history and brightens
our understanding or saddens us.”
exhibit features several books and dissertations made possible only because
scholars had access to the library holdings.
more than the intellectual content of the manuscripts, I’m interested in the
asides,” Matejic said. “The manuscripts were all handwritten, and the monks
would often put personal notes in the margins about how cold they were, or how
fat their fingers were and how hard it was to write, or how much they hated a
particular superior who they were certain would end up in hell.
you read enough of that, you begin to see them as people not really all that
different from us.”
scholarly preservation has never been more important, said Mary- Allen Johnson,
1988 fire at the library of the National Academy of Sciences in St. Petersburg,
Russia, devoured 400,000 rare books. More recently, fighting in the Balkans has
threatened manuscripts in Kosovo.
become something of a preservation fanatic, and I wonder why everybody else
isn’t,” Johnson said. “The Kosovo Liberation Army took the Dechani
monastery and wouldn’t allow the monks to take any of the religious artifacts
with them. . . .
is indicative of what’s happened through the centuries during time of war.
During World War II, the National Library at Belgrade (Yugoslavia) was bombed.
Once those manuscripts are lost, they are lost forever.”
research library wouldn’t have been possible, Matejic said, without the vision
of Father Mitrofan, his father, professor Twarog or William J. Studer, OSU
director of libraries.
nice to have this exhibit, to give credit to people while they’re still
his part, Matejic fondly remembers an intense few weeks in 1971 when a young man
walked off a boat and into the 10th century.
can still hear the silence in the monastery,” he said. “I maintain that only
poets can describe it. The monks are so used to recruiting young men for the
brotherhood they had a hard time letting me go.”
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