WASHINGTON — In celebration of its 600th anniversary, the Lipnice Bible will return to its original home in Lipnice, Czech Republic, on loan from Museum of the Bible for the exhibit “The Story of the Lipnice Bible.” The Bible will be on public display for the first time at the castle in Lipnice nad Sazavou from June 26-Aug. 31 and then at the Czech National Library in Prague from Sept. 1-15 before returning to the museum.
“Thanks to a generous donor, we were able to send the Lipnice Bible back to its place of completion for this monumental celebration,” said Jeffrey Kloha, chief curatorial officer at Museum of the Bible. “This manuscript is a significant part of Czech culture and religion, and we’re thrilled to partner with the State Institute of Cultural Heritage and Castle Lipnice for this history-making public viewing.”
The Lipnice Bible is a lavishly illuminated Latin manuscript that was begun in Prague but finished in Lipnice Castle by Mathias Roudnice, a Catholic Augustinian monk, in May 1421. The manuscript contains several unusual historiated initials. At the beginning of Genesis, the initial I contains an image of God the creator in shades of pink. The manuscript also contains two colophons, one in burnished gold, that record the scribe’s name and the date.
The gold colophon says, “(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.” The phrase “non-believers” is an apparent reference to the Hussites who were in rebellion against Catholic authorities in Bohemia at that time.
The Hussite movement arose shortly after its namesake and pre-Reformer, Jan Hus, was burned at the stake as a heretic on July 6, 1415. Hus had called for the church to renounce property and secular power, to defend the gospel as the only authentic scripture and guideline to live by, and to promote reform and freedom of conscience. Hus’ followers, the Hussites — also called Bethlehemites — continued the fight. The Hussite Wars lasted from 1419- 1439, and the Catholic Emperor Sigismund led five crusades against the rebellious reformers. In the end, the radical Hussites were defeated and both religions peacefully coexisted in subsequent centuries. From the Hussites later emerged the so-called Bohemian brethren, who gained widespread importance in Europe.
Thus, the manuscript is a crucial witness to the chaos in Bohemia during the Hussite Wars. It shows how a Bible can become an instrument of contentious interpretation in the hands of political opponents. Both warring parties at the time — the Catholics ands the Reformers— invoked the biblical texts equally in their arguments.
The exhibition, which uses touchscreen panels with electronic facsimiles, liturgical chants and explanatory texts, will present this historical witness in the broader context of late medieval Bohemian culture: What were the biblical manuscripts like? Who created them, who used them and how? What role did the Bible play in the religious conflict? Special attention will be paid to illuminations, the Czech versus Latin Bibles, biblical mnemonic aids, the Bible in liturgy and songs, apocalyptic imagery and the context of everyday life.
In addition to the exhibition, lectures, guided tours, readings and music will be offered at the Lipnice Castle. There will also be a comprehensive publication with contributions of outstanding scientists on manuscript culture in the late Middle Ages, biblical illuminations, medieval piety and more for guests to review.
The manuscript is also the subject of a new book recently published in Czech by Lucie Doležalová and Karel Pacovský titled “Lipnice Bible: Shield of Faith in the Turbulent Times of the Late Middle Ages.”
The exhibition project is organized by the State Institute of Cultural Heritage and is headed by director Nadezda Goryczkova, curator Dr. Med. Lucie Dolezalova, professor at the Institute for Greek and Latin Studies at the Charles University in Prague, and Marek Hanzlik, director of Castle Lipnice.