Strahov Monastery, Prague

Day 37, Tuesday, October 1, 2019

On the way to the Strahov Monastery we pass this memorial to the victims fo Communism.  It is dedicated to those who were executed and those whose lives were ruined by totalitarian despotism.  This sculpture makes us smile.  It appears to have a dog drinking dish at its bottom. Peering into a church courtyard we see this crucifix right beside a gift shop.  It seems strange to have an upscale gift shop in a church courtyard. Bob leads us down several little side streets to the John Lennon Wall.  Since the 1980s it has been filled with John Lennon-inspired graffiti, pieces of lyrics from Beatles’ songs, and other designs relating to local and global causes.We stop for a picnic lunch in this little park beside St. Charles Bridge… and sit on a dragon bench.
The streets in Prague are busy no matter where we go.  We wonder what they must be like during the summer months? It showers on and off as we arrive at the monastery.  Note the cobbled road.  All these uneven cobbled surfaces are quite hard on our feet and ankles. The Strahov Monastery was founded in 1143 and has many buildings and extensive gardens. First stop is the Strahov Library and I am delighted to find that there is an exhibit of Cabinets of Curiosities!  I love these cabinets and have several drawers at home with my own curiosities.  Perhaps I need to make my own Cabinet of Curiosities? Some of the contents are rather strange. We are told that this ‘might’ be a young dodo bird! These books are very unusual. This is a 68 volume Dendrological Library.  Dendrology is the science and study of wooded plants.  The covers of each volume are made of the wood of a particular tree, the spine has its name in Latin and German, and inside each volume are pieces of the roots, branches and twigs, as well as leaves, blossoms, fruit, and sometimes even insect pests.  As a paper artist and bookmaker, I find these unusual volumes fascinating and inspiring. Along the hallway between two magnificent libraries are display cases with very old volumes.  This 1632 woodcut first appeared in a compilation of English Alchemical texts.  This piece was printed by hand on Japanese hand made paper and the pass-partout, or mat, is covered in handmade marbled paper.   The John of Šellmberk’s Bible preserves the oldest translation of the Bible into the Czech language and dates from the 1400’s.  Notice how thick the volume is! This exquisite miniature book from the 15th century is only about 3″ x 4″ and would have belonged to a private citizen. A page from the Missale of Louka, 1483, illuminations from the Strahov Evangeliary, 860-865 AD and on the bottom right, a book for private use from the 15th century. The Theological Hall was built in the 1600’s and holds over 20,000 volumes. One whole wall is filled with various editions of the Bible, or its parts, in various languages. The ceiling depicts the life of the librarian.The Gothic wooden statue of St. John the Evangelist is holding a girdle book. Because the girdle book was a travel volume very few have survived.
There are several globes, both terrestrial and astronomical, in the centre of the room and the interesting device on the left is a book wheel from 1678 for the study and compilation of books.  The gear inside enabled the shelves to remain at the same angle when they are turned so that the books would not slide off the shelves. As magnificent as the Theological Hall is I think that the Philosophical Hall is even more impressive. This library, finished in 1794, is 32 metres long, 10 metres wide and 14 metres in height.  The ceiling painting, ‘The Spiritual Development of Mankind’, was created by a Viennese artist, and one assistant in just six months! The shelves of books in the gallery are only accessible from hidden spiral staircases in both corners, masked by false book spines.
The books are shelved two deep. At one time tourists were allowed to walk through the library but this caused too much humidity and put the paintings and volumes at risk.  Now we have to contend ourselves with peering in from the doorway.  Too bad but it is still wonderful to see these incredible libraries.The Philosophical Hall contains more than 50,000 volumes on Philosophy, all the sciences, history, law, and natural sciences. Next we visit the Convent Building which has galleries on two floors around this cloister with its unusual trapezoid pool.There is an exhibit of large restored paintings depicting the life of St. Norbert but they were difficult to see.  My neck got sore from looking up all the time. The ‘procession’ at the end of the room holds a reliquary with what appears to be part of St. Norbert’s skull. Another room has exhibits of beautifully embroidered church vestments and other liturgical objects including heavily jewelled monstrances. It does make me wonder just how much money the Catholic Church has? The second floor has a gallery around three sides of the cloister.   There were a few paintings I liked but most of them didn’t really impress either of us all that much. Bob notices another ornate old lock. As we leave the monastery grounds on our way to the Prague Funicular, we pass the 63.5 metre high Petrin Tower, which is reminiscent of the Eiffel Tower.  This tower was built in 1891, and is used as an observation tower as well as a transmission tower. The 383 metre long funicular takes us back down to Prague city streets. I didn’t get much of a view because some young people kindly jumped up to give me a seat, so instead of standing where I could see I sat all the way down!  The hazards of having grey hair! It has been a full day and we are happy to be home.  I had planned on going to life drawing again tonight, but we need to clean and pack for our trip to Vienna tomorrow so I decide not to go.

2 thoughts on “Strahov Monastery, Prague

    • I know, I was in awe, and all those old books! I would have loved to be able to spend time alone in that library. We keep trying to visit libraries but they are not always easy to locate or get into. Seems strange as I always think of libraries as being for the people, but not always so it seems. They are often closed to those without library cards, or only open very limited hours. We both were very impressed with this library even if we could only stand at the door and look in. How would yo like to be a librarian in a place like that? xox

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