Johannes Gutenberg and the Pelplin Bible

Gutenberg Bible is the first book printed on the Old Continent. Up to the present times only 48 pieces survived, scattered around the world. One of them You can find in a Diocese Museum in Pelplin.

Gutenberg Bible, also called the 42 lines Bible or Mazarina Bible is the most famous book in the history of the mankind. First printed thing on the Old Continent, made using the invention of a constructor form Mainz. Till today only 48 pieces, scattered around the world survived. One of them can be found among the treasures of the Diocese Museum in Pelplin.

Between 1452 and 1455 John Guttenberg published the first Bible, a book printed by using a moving letter. The secrets of Gutenberg’s method quickly went outside his workshop due to the fact that the Mainz inventor changed his workers quite often because he was not able to pay them regular salaries. Thanks to his economic problems his invention spread out. Despite the fact that for centuries a book was a luxurious thing a massive printing made a reading habit more democratic. The access to the written word became more popular and the societies slowly were coming out from the dark illiteracy times. And this is how the new era started. How come that the original of this revolutionary book reached Pelplin?

Let’s star form the beginning…

This over 500 years old, complete example of the Bible, which was published thanks to the new method of German constructor, John Gutenberg, printing machine, using a moving letter. The Latin text (translation of St. Jerome) printed in a narrow two line pattern, 42 lines – that’s why the name. The third popular Bible name – Biblia Mozariana – comes from the name of a cardinal and the first investigated piece of the bible coming from his library.

The book was printed in around 200 specimen – 165 on the paper and 35 on  the parchment. The museum, situated near the Cistercian Abbey in Pelplin has two-volume – the only in Poland version on the paper which the original XV c. cover, made by the master Henryk Coster from Lübeck. The whole masterpiece in two -volume consist of 641 papers printed on both sides in two columns . The Bible does not only have the all text of the Holy Bible by the St. Jerome also his commentaries and prologues.

The Bible in Pelplin is one of the most precious among all the rest due to the character and the way of making the lines, so writing using the red colour at the beginnings and the endings of prologues and the books, so all “incipit” and “explicite”, which was not done in during its printings due to a very high costs of putting one more piece of paper on the press.

The winds of the history

The history how the Bible reached Poland in unknown. Most probably it was bought by a bishop Mikołaj Chrapicki for the Franciscan Order in Lubawa in XV c. In 1833 it reached the seminary library in Pelplin.

Very interesting is the WWII history of the Bible. The III Reich was so determined to collect the biggest number of  precious artefacts from the occupied countries, so they organised a separate unit in order to search for them. In order to save the Bible, Anotni Liedtke, the director of the seminary library, packed it in a specially ordered in a Gutkowski workshop, a leather bag and took it to Warsaw, from where it went to Romania and Paris.

The documents proving the bibles transports stayed in Pelplin. Thankfully, the Bible did not get into the Nazi hands. It travelled a lot. It was on the transatlantic “Batory”, to find a shelter in Canada. Later it was kept in the Bank of Montreal. It came back to Poland in 1959, at first to Wawel and finally, in the same, leather bag returned with the same priest, Antoni Liedtke –  to Pelplin.


A special specimen

There is one, tine, but very important thing that makes the Gutenberg Bible in Pelplin so unique. On the margins of, on the page number 46of the first volume there is a small stain. It is a reflection of a letter, which fell out during the printing process. That mark enabled to reconstruct the Gutenberg letter workshop.

Till today only 48 pieces of the most precious book in the world survived. Out of them only 20 are complete. 14 in USA.

The Bible from Pelplin was most probably bought by the bishop Mikołaj Chrapicki and presented to the Franciscan in Lubawa. After the secularisation of the order ot came to the seminary library in Pelplin (1833). During the interwar period there were plans to sell the Bible in order to get money for the church renovation and enlarging the seminary complex. The press comments and peoples’ protests let the book stay in Pelplin. Before WWII the Bible from Pelplin through the Warsaw went to Paris, From there in 1940 it wat taken to London and then to Canada. It came back to Pelplin in 1959. We can admire it in Diocese Museum.


John Gutenberg, or in fact Johannes Gensfleisch zur Laden zum Gutenberg was born around 1398 in Mainz (Germany). From his childhood, we only know he came from a very rich family, called Gensfleisch. Johann used his mother’s maiden name. He was a goldsmith.

Before Gutenberg’s printing revolutions books were written by hand or copied by using the woodcuts. Those were very time-consuming and hard methods, so there were not many books at that time. Some of those were incredibly expensive. So, only the richest, cloisters or universities could afford to buy them.

In order to change that, Gutenberg invented metal pieces of every letter. Combined with the special press it was possible to print whole text on one page. Despite the fact that the first printing machine was made almost 500 years earlier in China, in Europe that was Gutenberg who promoted this way of printing.

After many years of preparation he published 42 line Bible in Latin. Printing 300 copies, 1200 page each, was very time-consuming and expensive project, which was held between 1452-1455. In 1460 the inventor was in dept in Johann’s Frust, who made him leave the printing office. Gutenberg left the printing business and died 8 years alter in big poverty. The Gutenberg  invention was very practical so it was promoted very quickly. At the end of XV c. there were already 250 printing houses all over Europe.


Source The Diocesan Museum in Pelplin
Fot. T. Konopacki, R. Baranowski



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