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From 1419 to 1439, religious wars between Catholics and Hussites ravaged the countryside of Bohemia, a region now in the Czech Republic. As so often happens, warfare displaced populations as people sought safety in the midst of chaos. Among those displaced was a master scribe, the Catholic Augustinian monk Matthias of Raudnitz. He had begun copying and illuminating a Bible, probably in Prague, the capital of Bohemia. After the war broke out, Matthias took refuge in the castle of Lipnice nad Sazavou, approximately 65 miles to the southeast. He brought his unfinished manuscript and additional materials along with him and continued to work on the Bible in safety.

The full manuscript contains 90 large initials in shades of blue, pink, and green highlighted with white penwork that extend four to ten lines. Scrolling tendrils extend from the initials into the margins. One such initial can be seen in the capital letter “I” at the beginning of Genesis, which contains a cameo-like painting of God holding the world.

In the spring of 1421, Matthias finished the book of Revelation and added his remarks in burnished gold letters: “(Here) the shield of faith ends, with which the sons of God fight; the eye of the just, the stumbling block of the non-believers. Matthias of Raudnitz.”

As was common practice with medieval Latin Bibles, Matthias appended a list of Hebrew names after Revelation. At the end of the list, he added in red ink, “Finished in Lipnice in the month of May in the year of our Lord 1421.”

Six hundred years later, this important manuscript, now in the collections of Museum of the Bible, has returned home to the castle for a special exhibition, The Story of the Lipnice Bible. Thanks to a generous, anonymous donor, the manuscript is on public display for the first time at the castle in Lipnice nad Sazavou until August 31, and then at the Czech National Library in Prague from September 1–15 before returning to the museum. Besides seeing the original manuscript, guests can turn every page of a high-resolution digital version of the manuscript* made from images provided by Museum of the Bible. The exhibition places this manuscript within the broader context of late medieval Bohemian culture through the use of touchscreen panels, liturgical chants, and explanatory texts.

The exhibition project is organized by the State Institute of Cultural Heritage and is headed by director Naděžda Goryczková, curator Dr. Med. Lucie Doležalová, professor at the Institute for Greek and Latin Studies at the Charles University in Prague, and Marek Hanzlík, director of Castle Lipnice. The manuscript is also the subject of a new book recently published in Czech by Dr. Med. Lucie Doležalová and Karel Pacovský titled, Lipnice Bible: Shield of Faith in the Turbulent Times of the Late Middle Ages.

* The website for the Lipnice exhibition was designed by Martin Roček.

By Brian Hyland, Associate Curator of Manuscripts
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