National Library eyes priceless "Czech" manuscript in upcoming auction


The Czech National Library is setting its sights on an unprecedented prize: a surviving fragment of a translation in Latin of the famous "Chronicle of Dalimil", one of the earliest Czech language chronicles dating back to the 14th century. For three generations the parchment - featuring rich illuminations and text - lay forgotten in a dusty bottom drawer - before being rediscovered by its owners - a prominent Parisian family that has now put it up for auction. The bidding begins at around 200,000 dollars but it has already been estimated that the Czech National Library may have to bid well over a million to earn the right to bring the manuscript home. Is it worth it? Jan Velinger spoke to the National Library's Zdenek Uhlir to find out.

A fragment of the famous Chronicle of Dalimil', photo: CTKA fragment of the famous Chronicle of Dalimil', photo: CTK "The manuscript that appeared in Paris is a very important fragment for the Czech national heritage. It's a till now unknown Latin translation of the Czech chronicle of Dalimil. During the 20th century there was no similar discovery. This manuscript is so far unknown!"

Who might have commissioned this translation into Latin?

"It's a difficult question but there's a good chance it was either the Czech king John Of Luxembourg or his son, Charles IV, during the 14th century."

Much of its history is shrouded in mystery, its turned up in Paris, several generations in this one family, but before that we don't really know much about it, where it has been all these years...

"We don't know how the Paris family acquired the manuscript but it doesn't matter because it is of such high importance."

Let me ask you this: what do we know about what kind of condition the manuscript is in?

"The manuscript is in quite good condition, a fragment of 12 leaves, several full-page illuminations, containing six chapters."

And what are some of the stories contained therein?

"Some of the stories mentioned are the story of Svatopluk, Borivoj, St Ludmila, St Wenceslas and also the story of a Czech war with a Polish prince in 1040."

Of course, because it is going up for auction it is impossible to set a final price, is it not?

"It's true that the price could rise to about one million euro (approx 1.3 m U.S. dollars)."

If indeed the National Library does manage to obtain the manuscript, how big a day will it be for Czech historians and for Czechs in general?

"Yes, that would be a great day. If we obtain it we will arrange a special exhibition and I suppose we will prepare a printed edition as well as an electronic edition of the whole manuscript fragment."