Queen Anna
© liveinternet.ruFrench queen Anna from Kyiv left a manuscript in the 11th century, on which French kings took oath for centuries.

Guides at Kyiv's famed St. Sophia Cathedral like to tell a story about this architectural wonder from the Kyivan Rus period.

Sometime in the 1920s, when tyrant Josef Stalin was demolishing churches throughout the Soviet Union, the government decided to tear down the 11th century cathedral.

The plan was to transform its grounds into a park commemorating a 1917 Crimean Red Army victory.

Along with others who lobbied the dictator to leave the cathedral alone were the French. St. Sophia, they said, also had important cultural meaning for them: Their 11th century queen, Anna, hailed from Kyiv and a book she carried to her new home was the one on which French
kings for generations had taken their oath.

The Soviets relented and St. Sophia was saved.

Now, a millennium after Anna left Kyiv, Ukrainians are able to get a better understanding of what all the fuss was about with the 2010 publication of the Reim's Gospel of Anna Yaroslavivna.

Covered in red velvet and embossed in gold, the book provides high-quality copies of the 32 pages that remain of Anna's manuscript as well as translations of the text into Ukrainian, English and French from Old Slavonic - the written language of the time.

While it is unknown how many pages the original book contained - parts of it were removed centuries ago - historians say it is certain that Anna's book is both Kyiv's oldest-known original manuscript and the oldest liturgical book.

It is quite possible the book was produced specifically for Anna within St. Sophia's walls as she prepared to leave her homeland and marry France's Henry I Capet.

Furthermore, some believe she even swore her royal oath on the text when marrying him on May 19, 1051 in Reims, the traditional site where French kings were crowned.

Despite its importance, the Reims Gospel is still under-researched and "has not found its rightful place among Ukrainian cultural achievement and, in fact, still remains fairly unknown," writes Volodymyr Aleksandrovych, who holds a doctorate in the science of history, in the book's introduction.

An outstanding feature of the Reims Gospel is that is actually two religious books in one.

Little is known about the whereabouts of Anna's manuscript after she arrived in France.

The manuscript disappeared during the Hussite wars in the first half of the 15th century and then reappeared in Reims where it was used as the coronation gospel for French kings.

Reim Gospel
© www.unesco-ci.orgA page from the Reim's Gospel.
Toward the end of the 18th century, it again disappeared from Reims Cathedral where it had been stored.

Contemporary knowledge of the book, however, dates back only to 1717 when it was viewed by Russian Tzar Peter I during his stay in France.

The language in which the book was penned was strange to the French; the Tzar said it came from 'Rus.' It was the Russian writer Alexander Turgenev who finally rediscovered the book in 1835 in the Reims municipal library during a European journey in search of materials for a history of Russia.

By then, its precious binding had been removed.

The newly-published Reims Gospel only focuses on the section in Old Slavonic since it is the part most important to Ukrainians, said Zinovii Matchak, the director of MS publishing house in Lviv.

"People can be thankful that is was preserved," he said. "It should be popularized in Ukraine."

Bringing Anna's manuscript back to life for the modern reader would not have been possible without the help of Father Rafael Turkoniak, who won the 2007 Shevchenko prize for his work on the Ostovska Bible.

As one of the few individuals who can easily translate from Old Slavonic,

Turkoniak worked with digital copies provided by the Reims municipal library.

The text was written most likely on calf leather, he said.

Because producing each sheet was such a laborious process, Turkoniak said those who produced texts in the 11th century often used a type of short-hand instead of writing out an entire word to save space on a page.

"A lot of it is guesswork," he said when translating texts from the Old Slavonic.

The publication of the Reims Gospel is not a commercial project, said Matchak.

Only 1,000 copies of the book have been printed, with the rest being distributed mostly to libraries and academic institutions.

Readers are able to download the book for free on the publisher's website here.

The project to translate and publish Anna's Reims Gospel was initiated by Oleh Ivanusiv, the president of the Encyclopedia of Ukraine Foundation, from Canada.

His family has sponsored several other projects related to Ukraine.