The only book of its kind in Poland – the Gutenberg Bible

Only 47 km south of Gdansk there is "Pelplin - A city with a soul". The soul of Pelplin is undoubtedly the former Cistercian abbey, but the greatest treasure is the Gutenberg Bible.

Invariably, since the turn of the XIIIth and XIVth centuries, its heart has been the Gothic Cistercian church, today a cathedral basilica, which for 50 years has had the title of Minor Basilica, given to it by Pope Paul VI. When you are there, you must look inside to see the largest wooden, gilded Baroque altar in this part of Europe with a valuable depiction of the Coronation of the Blessed Virgin Mary by Master H. Han and 22 other, no less impressive side altars, as well as Gothic stalls and the monastery part with a patio, scriptorium and cloisters.

Muzeum Diecezjalne Pelplin, photo: Pomorskie.Travel

Muzeum Diecezjalne Pelplin, photo: Pomorskie.Travel

Pelplin's most valuable treasure

However, Pelplin’s most valuable treasure is a certain book. It is a masterpiece of world literature – the only copy of the original Gutenberg Bible in Poland. Between 1452 and 1455, Johannes Gutenberg published the first copies of books printed using movable type. It was the Bible. The secrets of Gutenberg’s method quickly spread beyond his workshop, mainly because the Mainz inventor often changed his assistants and could not always pay their salaries.

Thus, his financial problems were to the good of the entire Western civilization. Although the book remained a luxury good for many centuries, printing on a mass scale democratized reading. Access to the written word increased, and society slowly began to emerge from the darkness of illiteracy. A new era has begun.

Biblia Gutenberga, photo: Magda Kuchta

Biblia Gutenberga, photo: Magda Kuchta

How did it happen that the original of this revolutionary publication came to Pelplin?

Of the almost two hundred copies of the Holy Bible produced by Gutenberg, forty-eight have survived to this day, including twenty in complete condition. The Pelplin Bible is the only one located in Poland. The story of her arrival is unclear. It was probably purchased in the XVth century by the Bishop of Chelmno, Mikołaj Chrapicki, for the Franciscan Order in Lubawa.

In 1833, it came to the Library of the Theological Seminary in Pelplin. She experienced most of her adventures during World War II. The authorities of the Third Reich were so determined to steal as many valuable exhibits as possible from the occupied countries that they created a separate unit to search for relics. To protect the Bible from falling into the wrong hands, Father Antoni Liedtke, then director of the seminary library, packed it in a leather bag, which he ordered especially from the local saddler Gutkowski, and took it to Warsaw, from where it went to Romania and Paris.

Documents confirming the export of the Bible remained in Pelplin, but fortunately it managed to avoid falling into the wrong hands. It has been moved around over the years. It travelled on the transatlantic liner “Batory” and eventually found refuge in Canada. It spent the following years in the vault of the Bank of Montreal. It returned to Poland in 1959, initially to Wawel, and then – in exactly the same leather bag and assisted by the same priest, Antoni Liedtke – to Pelplin.

Currently it is in the Diocesan Museum in Pelplin.

Read also Gutenberg Bible in Pelplin




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