In the present article two eleventh-century phrases inscribed many times on the walls of the St Sophia Cathedral in Novgorod (коуни рони and парехъ мари) are shown to be of Semitic provenance. The authors provide the linguistic arguments which support the claim of a Hebrew source for коуни рони and a Syriac one for парехъ мари. In addition, we offer a reconstruction of the historical pragmatic context in which the phrases can be situated. It is proposed that the коуни рони inscriptions can be connected with the seizure of Novgorod and the plundering of St Sophia by Vseslav of Polotsk in the year 1066. They should be regarded as the oldest tangible proof of contacts with Jews and Hebrew in Rus’. In the case of the парехъ мари inscriptions, the hypothesis is put forward that the author was a certain Efrem, a local citizen, possibly a clergyman, who was a Syrian by descent.