The Czech Prime Minister Jiri Paroubek was in Sweden this week, and he made a most unusual request. He surprised his host, Prime Minister Goran Persson, by asking to borrow the Devil's Bible, one of the artefacts that was stolen by the Swedish army from the Czech lands during the Thirty Years War in the mid 17th century.
When the Swedes invaded Prague in 1648 they got their hands on the huge art collection amassed by Rudolf II - priceless artworks, manuscripts and even statues. The booty was carried off to Sweden as a present for Queen Christina. Three and a half centuries later not much of it remains in Sweden but the Devil's Bible is still there - and in rather impressive condition, given that it was written at the beginning of the 13th century by a Benedictine monk in a monastery in Bohemia. Legend has it that the monk wrote it to atone for a serious sin. Although the Bible has 624 pages the monk was said to have written it overnight - which made believers think he must have had help from the Devil himself - thereby its name. Goran Baarnheilm, an expert on manuscripts at the Swedish Royal Library, says that despite its name the Devil's Bible is not a satanic version of the Bible:
"No, it is just a popular denomination...but some people believe exactly that, so we have had, years ago, visits by young black-dressed people, who wanted to see this book. And in fact it has been attacked also; the showcase was destroyed at one time."
Although the question is raised now and then regarding the possibility of having the Bible returned to the Czech Republic, the Prime Minister made it clear that he fully respects Sweden's right to it. The Czech Republic has merely asked to borrow it for an upcoming exhibition here in Prague. If Sweden agrees, the precious manuscript, made of 160 donkey skins, will make a journey back to the Czech lands - if only for a visit.
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