CHANGE UNIVERSE: Magazine Jewels
Prague | AttractionJanuary 23, 2008

Stahov Monastery Libraries

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Founded in 1140 by Prince Vladislav II, the giant white Strahov Monastery looks down from its Petrin Hill vantage point over the busiest areas of Mala Strana.

This tranquil setting was established for the Premonstratensians, followers of the teachings of St Augustine. Destroyed by fire in 1258, it was rebuilt in Gothic style, with later Baroque additions.

Today, the monastery is of great importance in the history of the Czech Republic. In 1989 its archives housed over 6 million items. The Strahov library contains over 900 thousand volumes and 300 thousand works of expressive art. Over the centuries, the monks have assembled one of the world's best collections of philosophical and theological texts, including illuminated (decorated with colored designs) manuscripts and first editions. The oldest manuscript is a summary of the Gospels which dates back to the tenth century. The collection is extremely valuable not only in monetary figures but in historical significance as well.

The ceiling of the 1679 Theological Hall is a stunning example of baroque opulence, with intricate leaf blanketing the walls and framing the 18th-century ceiling frescoes. The rich wood-accented Philosophical Library's 14m-high (46-ft.) ceiling is decorated with a 1794 fresco entitled "The Struggle of Mankind to Know Real Wisdom", by A. F. Maulpertsch, a Viennese master of Rococo. The fresco symbolizes the human search for truth through religious wisdom. The painting includes a picture of French encyclopedists hovering above an abyss between spiders and toads, terrified by the power of religious wisdom over science. However a strange irony exists here, in the same hall as the fresco, the monks placed the encyclopedia in a place of honor as its first literary work.

Intricate woodwork frames the immense collection of books. Ancient printing presses downstairs are also worth visiting, as are several altars and the remains of St. Norbert, a 10th-century, German-born saint who founded the Premonstratensian order. His bones were brought here in 1627, when he became one of Bohemia's 10 patron saints.

Paths leading through the monastery grounds take you to a breathtaking overlook of the city. The collection includes works of world famous printers such as Aldus Pius Manutius of Venice, Frobenius of Basle, Plantin from Antwerp, and the famous publisher Elsevier. Also included are typographs dating back to the eighteenth century from the renowned Italian, Bodoni.

The Strahov Monastery is a fine example of the important role religion has played in the lives of central Europeans for centuries. It is a wonderful example of the architecture of the Gothic and Renaissance periods, and will always stand as a monument to the past.

Joelle's Picks:

Strahov Monastery and Library (Strahovský klášter): Daily 9am-noon and 1-5pm Strahovské nádvo?í­ 1, Hradcany, Admission 80Kc ($3.35) adults, 50Kc ($2) student Tel: 220-517-278

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