The largest book, one of the most valuable Polish items in the collections of Cieszyn’s Historical Library, is the manuscript code on parchment paper with the dimensions of 66 x 43 cm,
dating back to approx. 1520 – 1526 and known under the name of “Officia de Beata Maria Virgine” (Office for the Holy Virgin Mary). The book is one of the four parts of the Gradual of Collegiate Church in Tarnów; the three other parts are kept in the Cathedral Treasury in Tarnów. In the Roman Catholic Church, a gradual is a book containing texts and notes for the Mass chants. Polish graduals, mainly manuscripts, were written between the 13th and 18th centuries. They were often illuminated so they make great items to study miniature illustrations.
Apart from other chants, the code kept in Cieszyn contains the text and notation of “Bogurodzica” (The Mother of God) chant in two versions: Latin and Polish; this is one of the oldest transcripts of this hymn. The gradual also includes many unique transcripts of chants, including a few dozens of Polish chants, and some of them are the only transcripts kept in Polish collections. The collection itself is one of the most important collections in Europe. The manuscript was written on parchment paper by a copyist and was illuminated by Wawrzyniec, who was working in Cracow between 1520 and 1532, as well as the code illumination maker, Jan Łaski, who made the initials. The applied technique and style of initials and floral ornaments bear late Gothic Period features, the book cover likewise. The code book was bound in thick boards covered with light leather (today it is much darker). The leather cover is secured by massive metal ends and clamping brackets. The title and date of the cover – 1526 – was embossed on the top cover.
The smallest book size is 4,5 x 4 cm. It is the Library’s mini prayer book, which, according to the transmission, was last owned by the Princess Elżbieta Lukrecja (1599 – 1653). The parchment manuscript was written by three copyists in German and Czech languages. It contains five full-page illuminations presenting the life of Jesus Christ. It has not been actually verified if it had been the property of Elżbieta Lukrecja. At least the Princess did not leave any markings indicating that she owned the prayer book …