This September, the small town of Kralice in the Czech Republic came alive to celebrate a national treasure—the Kralice Bible.
2013 marks the 400th anniversary of the final, third edition of the Kralice Bible, the first complete translation of the Bible from the original text into the Czech language.
At the festival celebrating this anniversary, more than 2000 visitors attended exhibitions, lectures, poetry readings, films and more highlighting the importance of this book. The town, about 100 miles from Prague, was decorated with verses from the Bible for the event.
For Protestants and even many Catholics in Bohemia, Moravia, Silesia and Slovakia, the Kralice Bible is a national treasure. But for many years, the Kralice Bible could only be read in secret in Bohemia and Moravia. It was illegal to own this translation; many were destroyed when found and their owners prosecuted.
The festival weekend was planned with the Church of the Czech Brethren and the Lutheran Church of Silesia and Slovakia. A highlight of the festival, which was attended by many Germans as well as Czechs, was the celebration of the closing service that included the Church of the Czech Brethren as well as representatives of the Lutheran, Moravian, Methodist, Baptist and Catholic churches.
The Kralice Bible
The Kralice Bible became the standard translation of the Bible into Czech. It is as significant to the people of the Czech Republic as Martin Luther’s translation is in Germany. It influenced the Czech language in a way similar to how the King James version influenced the English language.
The Kralice Bible was translated by leading scholars of the Unity of the Brethren and printed in their print shop in Kralice in Southern Moravia. Several attempts had been made to translate the Bible into Czech. But the translations were from Latin texts (not the original Hebrew and Greek) and for many weren’t acceptable.
During the 16th century, the Unity of the Brethren (the precursor of the Moravian Church) was instrumental in translating the Bible into Czech. Jan Blahoslav, a bishop of the Unity, translated the New Testament from the original Greek in 1564. Between 1579 and 1588, five additional volumes of the Old Testament were published by Zacharias Solin, financed by Count Jan von Zerotin, the local lord of Kralice.
In 1596, a one-volume edition was printed followed by a third revision printed in 1613. It was the revised text of this 1613 edition that became the standard text for the Czech Bible for centuries to come.
Copies of the original Kralice Bibles are prized by their owners. In 1952, the Northern Province Archives obtained a set of the original six volumes published in 1579-1593. The set had a history of being buried in a tin box under a garden and smuggled in bags of hay until it came with its owner to America in the mid 1800s.
Thanks to Rev. Benigna Carstens, a member of the Provincial Board of the European Continental Province; Herrnhuter Bote, the magazine for the Moravian Church in Germany; Paul Peucker from the Northern Province archives and The Rev. Dr. Craig Atwood for information in this story. To learn more about the Kralice Bible,
see the October 2013 issue of “This Month in Moravian History” at www.moravianchrucharchives.org.
From the December 2013 Moravian Magazine