The Golden Legend Featuring Saint Prokop

This late 15th-century manuscript contains a Czech version of the Legenda aurea (The golden legend) by Jacobus de Voragine (circa 1229–circa 1298), along with an account of Saint Prokop or Procopius (circa 980–1053), the patron saint of Bohemia. The contents of the manuscript are identical to one held in the National Museum in Prague (sign. III. D. 44). In the 19th century this codex was owned by the Slovak Museums Society. The scribe who created the manuscript, Simon de Ducky, recorded his name and the date of its completion, 1495. Legenda aurea is a collection of legendary lives of the saints. De Voragine, a priest who became archbishop of Genoa and who was known for his piety and preaching throughout Lombardy, originally gave the work the title Legenda sanctorum, but it soon came to be known as The Golden Legend by readers who considered it worth its weight in gold. Prokop was a Czech priest and recluse who lived in a cave overlooking the Sázava River. He later became the first abbot of the Sázava Monastery, which was established by the Duke of Bohemia in 1032 and which used the Slavonic liturgy. Prokop was canonized in 1804.

Saint-Antonian Glagolitic Fragment

The Saint-Antonian Glagolitic Fragment is the name of a double-folio parchment, probably of Croatian provenance, i.e., from the territory of the southern Slavs, where the students of Saint Methodius (815‒85) took refuge after the fall of Great Moravia. Produced by an unknown scribe in the 15th century, it contains text written in two columns with black and red ink using square Glagolitic script. It was probably part of a liturgical book, perhaps a Glagolitic breviary. In the 17th century this goat parchment was used as part of a book binding. It was discovered in this form in the mid-20th century by historian of book culture and bibliographer Dr. Vševlad Jozef Gajdoš in the Franciscan monastery in Saint Anton (present day Báč, in southwestern Slovakia). Great Moravia was a Slavic kingdom established in the ninth century in territories comprising the present-day Slovak and Czech republics, part of southern Poland, and the western part of present-day Hungary. Rostislav (also seen as Rastislav), who ruled from 846 to 870, invited the Byzantine missionaries Cyril and Methodius to the kingdom to spread Christianity. The brothers introduced the Slavonic liturgy, based on their own translations from the Greek, and the Glagolitic script for writing Slavic languages. Great Moravia weakened and fell into disunion late in the century, following the death of Rostislav’s successor, his nephew Svatopluk (reigned 870–94), and finally was destroyed by a Magyar attack in around 906.

Latin Legends of Czech Saints: Vitus, Prokop and Wenceslas

Medieval Latin legends about major figures in Czech history form a significant part of the spiritual and cultural heritage of Europe. The cult of Saint Vitus (died 305), the Christian saint and martyr, was spread throughout Central Europe by the Premyslid prince Wenceslaus (907–35), patron saint the Czech lands, supporter of Christianity, and founder of the rotunda at Prague Castle. Wenceslaus was slain by his brother Boleslav I in 935. Soon thereafter, beginning as early as the 10th century, Wenceslaus began to be venerated as a saint. His remains were laid in Saint Vitus Cathedral within Prague Castle, which became the center of the Saint Wenceslas cult. His life and death became the topic of numerous legends, including the first Old Slavic legend from the 10th century; the Latin legend Crescente fide; the so-called Gumpold's legend; and Christian's legend. Presented here is a manuscript dating from the first half of the 15th century containing the legends of three saints, Vitus, Wenceslas, and Prokop. Also known as Procopius, Prokop was the first abbot of the Sázava Monastery (circa 980‒1053). The manuscript, in black and red ink by an unknown scribe, is of Czech provenance.

First Folio of Zainer’s German Bible

Presented here are the decorations for the first folio of the Augsburg edition of the German Bible printed by Günther Zainer (died 1478) in 1477. The illustrations are the work of an unknown illuminator from the workshop of Johann Bämler (1430–circa 1508). They consist of a colored and golden woodcut initial letter B, containing a scene showing a cardinal and church father, probably Saint Jerome (died 419 or 420), discussing a codex that most likely is Jerome’s translation of the Bible into Latin known as the Vulgate. The text is Jerome’s letter to Paulinus, bishop of Nola, Letter 53, written in 394, which begins: “[Our] Brother Ambrose along with your little gifts has delivered to me a most charming letter….” In the letter Saint Jerome extols Ambrose for his devotion to study of the scriptures and fear of God. The scene is constructed as a perspective view into the interior of a room, with the landscape behind the window topped by a blue sky. The frame of the letter B creates a golden area with stars or rosettes. The upper and internal margins are decorated with flowers and vines. Bämler was a scribe, calligrapher, illuminator, printer, and bookseller. Zainer was a painter and goldsmith who probably was also the first printer in Augsburg. The second image is a close-up of the illuminated capital B.

Calendar for the Years 1486 through 1504

This unique, single-leaf print is a rare fragment of the perpetual calendar in Latin for the years 1486 to 1504 issued by the Nuremberg printer Konrad, or Conrad, Zeninger in Venice in 1486. The page is printed with initials in red and black. It lists saints and their feast days. At the bottom is a table showing the predicted occurrence of different phases of the moon in different months and years. Fragments of pages from this work exist in two other libraries in Germany and Austria, but this page from the Slovak National Library is the best-preserved exemplar in the world. It is believed that the type for the calendar was created by Bernardino Giolito de’ Ferrari, known as Bernardino Stagnino, a printer from northern Italy who was active in Venice between 1483 and 1538, and who often cooperated with printers and booksellers on the northern side of the Alps.

Woodcut from Prüss’s Latin Bible

Presented here is a hand-colored devotional single-sheet woodcut inspired by one of the compositional schemes of the German engraver and painter Martin Schongauer (circa 1450‒91). The artist has not been identified. The theme is the Resurrection of Christ. The detail is a lively scene with large figural extras, dominated by the figure of Christ with a triumphant flag and a double cross in his left hand. In the front and on the left side by the tomb are soldiers with their weapons. On the right, behind Christ, is an angel removing the cover of the empty tomb. In the back is a group of figures entering the gate of the cemetery, led by the three Marys mentioned in Chapter 16 of the Gospel of Mark—Mary Salome, Mary mother of James, and Mary Magdalene—who are approaching the grave with containers of myrrh and balm. Further back is a symbolic landscape and the rising sun. The woodcut was probably imported separately from Nuremberg, Germany, and subsequently glued to the inside front cover of a copy of an incunabulum Latin Bible, printed by Johann Prüss (1447‒1510) in Strasbourg in 1489.

Dialogues of Saint Gregory the Great. Fragment

This fragment containing a part of the Dialogues traditionally ascribed to Saint Gregory the Great (540–604; Pope Gregory I, 590–604) from the 11th century is considered to be the oldest artifact in the collection of medieval codex fragments kept in the literary archives in the Slovak National Library. Of unknown provenance and by an unknown scribe, the fragment is part of a manuscript that was used by and originally preserved in the milieu of the Bratislava Franciscans. The Dialogues and homilies of Saint Gregory were widely read in Europe in the Middle Ages. The first three books of the Dialogues recount the deeds of Italian saints, with the second book devoted entirely to Saint Benedict (circa 480–547), author of the famous Rule of Benedict for monks and founder of the abbey and monastery of Monte Cassino near Rome.

Treatise on the Issues of Marriage. Fragment

This parchment fragment from the 13th century is part of a treatise in Latin on issues relating to marriage under canon law. Of unknown provenance and written by an unknown scribe, it possibly originated in a university environment. The fragment was preserved in the bookbinding of an unknown press or in a codex belonging to the historical library of the Franciscans in Skalica (present-day western Slovakia). Two full pages, written in double columns, are preserved, along with parts of two other pages. The Franciscans settled in Skalica in the middle of the 15th century, where they built a church and monastery that operated continuously until 1950. The fragment is now in the collections of the Slovak National Library.

The Consolation of Philosophy. Fragment

De consolatione philosophiae (The consolation of philosophy) is a philosophical work written by Boethius, the scion of an influential Roman family, around the year 524. It is regarded as one of the most important and influential works in the Western world. The book was composed during a yearlong period of imprisonment that Boethius served while he was awaiting trial for the crime of treason under the Ostrogothic king Theodoric the Great; he was found guilty and executed in 524. Written in the form of a dialogue between Boethius and Lady Philosophy, the work was one of the main sources by which scholars in medieval Europe came to know and understand the philosophy of the ancient world. This 14th-century manuscript fragment of De consolatione philosophiae, preserved in the collections of the Slovak National Library, originated within the French academic milieu, perhaps in Paris. The scribe is unknown. Under unknown circumstances it was moved to the Franciscan Library in Bratislava. Its contents are identical to those of the incunabulum of Cologne provenance, printed in October 1493. The manuscript is heavily annotated, with notes in the margins and in places between the lines.

Commentary on the Divine Comedy of Dante Alighieri

The manuscript presented here is a two-page fragment of a commentary on the Commedia by the great Florentine poet Dante Alighieri (1265‒1321). The text, written in Italian by an unknown scribe, was produced in Italy the second half of the 14th century, only a few decades after the poet’s death. This was also about the time that the poet Giovanni Boccaccio (1313–75) first applied the epithet “divine” to Dante’s poem, which Dante himself had simply called Comedia. This fragment was preserved in the historical library of the Franciscans in Skalica (present-day western Slovakia). The Franciscans settled in Skalica in the middle of the 15th century, where they built a church and monastery that operated continuously until 1950. Dante’s great allegorical epic in three parts, Inferno, Purgatorio, and Paradiso, based on the geocentric world view of Dante’s time, synthesized nearly all medieval knowledge in a structure of flawless art that is sustained through the work’s 100 cantos. Dante’s poem was the subject of countless commentaries, almost from the time it was written, and it remains an inspirational work of great literature that speaks to the contemporary world.