Collection of medieval manuscripts of the Czech Reformation

Documentary heritage submitted by Czech Republic and recommended for inclusion in the Memory of the World Register in 2007.

The collection of medieval manuscripts of the Czech Reformation (i.e. mostly Hussite manuscripts or so-called Hussitica and the manuscripts of the Unity of Brethren) is an artificially created collection of primary importance for Czech, European and world history. There are several factors, which make this collection unique. First, the manuscripts contain primary historical narrative, which maps the early stages and development of one of the key turning points of the history of European and world civilisation. Undoubtedly the Reformation initiated a number of essential processes, which resulted in political, cultural and social transformation of Europe, led to emergence of a new chapter in intellectual history (humanism, development of science, spreading education to the broader masses catalysed by the invention of the book press, etc.) and created a new religious landscape of Western Christianity (the emergence of protestant churches and of important reform movement inside and outside of the Church). Second, in terms of quantity there is no other library in the world with such a collection. Last, but not least, the collection is unique because it preserves a type of manuscripts, which due to the time of their origin and frequent use, is far less common than other groups of medieval manuscripts.

The Reformation is a generic name for the processes in the Christian Church culminating in the 16th century, which aimed at the transformation of the Church and return to the Christianity free of centuries of practice and traditions. The Reformation was a movement characterised by complex origins and causes, many-sided factors and actors, and rich results and consequences. The Reformation had number of predecessors – Bernard of Clairvaux, Cathari, Albigenses, Waldenses (the first protestant church formation), Franciscans. The initial phase of the Reformation took place at universities, namely in Oxford and Paris but later also in Prague. This is reflected in the works of an important English theologian John Wyclif, which were soon brought by Czech students to Bohemia and today they represent an important and unique part of our collection. The reform movement in the Czech territories called the Czech Reformation or more often the Hussite Movement (after the spiritual leader of the reform movement, Jan Hus). The Czech Reformation, which since mid 14th century gradually gained momentum and which is considered part of the second phase of the European reform and critical movements, reflected the general crisis of European and (at a small scale) Czech history. The main part of the collection consists of the works of the key priests and lay-preachers, which inspired the process of the Czech Reformation. The most important of those was the university teacher Jan Hus, the spiritual father of the entire Czech reform movement. The collection contains tracts and sermons outlining the main concerns of the Reformation movement. The Czech reform movement led to formation of new protestant church structures, utraquism and the Unity of Brethren (“Unitas fratrum”). In Central Europe the Unity of Brethren represents a unique phenomenon; it is the oldest Czech protestant church with its own belief system and unprecedented organisational structure. It took active part in the main stream of the German-Swiss Reformation, founded by M. Luther. In this phase, i.e. in the mid 16th century, the reform movement involves the whole of Europe; it changes the status quo of the medieval world and creates a new system of understanding and perceiving of the world in all strata of society.

 

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