Unique medieval ‘Lipnice Bible’ goes on display at Prague’s National Library

The ‘Lipnice Bible’

A unique medieval manuscript, known as the ‘Lipnice Bible’, has gone on display at the National Library in Prague. The precious Latin codex was loaned by the Museum of the Bible in Washington on the occasion of its 600th anniversary. It will be showcased, alongside other precious biblical manuscripts, in the library’s Mirror Chapel over the next two weeks.

The ‘Lipnice Bible’ is a lavishly illuminated Latin manuscript which was created, at least partly, at the castle of Lipnice nad Sázavou in 1421. Apart from the Biblical text, it contains red annotations in the margins and 90 large initials in a variety of colours, including the capital I at the beginning of the Book of Genesis, with a painting of God holding the world.

The ‘Lipnice Bible’ | Photo: Czech National Library

What makes the Lipnice Bible so unique is one of the so-called colophons, an inscription at the end of the manuscript. It refers to the Hussites who were in rebellion against Catholic authorities in Bohemia at that time. Jan Vojtíšek is the head of the Old Prints and Manuscripts Department at the National Library:

“The Bible is characterised as the Shield of Faith, which is a unique characterisation of a Biblical text used in Bohemia at the beginning of the 15th century.

“Because at the time, at the beginning of the Hussite Revolution, Biblical texts were used for theological discussions between the Catholics and the Utraquists.”

The authorship of the ‘Lipnice Bible’ remains shrouded in mystery. While the inscription at the end mentions the name of Matthias of Roudnice, it is not entirely clear whether he wrote the text himself or simply ordered its creation.

The ‘Lipnice Bible’ | Photo: Czech National Library

What also remains a mystery is the whereabouts of the Bible after the year 1421, when the manuscript was completed. Jan Vojtíšek once again:

“We know that the illuminations were done in three phases, in the 1420s, 1430s and 1450s. The binding is from the 16th century and its style shows that it was made in Southern Germany. We therefore presume that in the 16th century the Bible was no longer in Bohemia.

“It then disappeared and resurfaced again in the 20th century in England. It changed ownership many times and in the end it was bought by a Green family in Oklahoma and finally granted to the newly founded Museum of the Bible in Washington DC.”

Castle of Lipnice nad Sázavou | Photo: Karel Pacovský

Prior to the exhibition in the National Library, the Lipnice Bible was exhibited at its original home, in the Castle of Lipnice nad Sázavou. After the exhibition ends on September 15, the precious manuscript will return back to the Museum of the Bible in Washington.

The exhibition, entitled The Lipnice Bible 1421 – 2021: Shield of Faith in Turbulent Times, will also be accessible for unlimited duration on the National Library’s website. The entire digitized ‘Lipnice Bible’ will soon be available on the website Manuscriptorium.com.