The home of Premonstratensian monks had been set up here in 1140. It was destroyed by fire in the 13th century and rebuilt in Gothic style with later Baroque additions. The Monastery was nationalized in 1948. There is one of the finest libraries in Bohemia and form the most important collection. Within the ornamental and frescoed Theological and Philosophical Halls, decorated by Ignaz Platzer, are 130,000 volumes and there are further 700,000 in storage. the attainment of books didn’t begin until the late 16th century when the Monastery escaped Joseph II’s dissolution of the monasteries by changing its place into a research institute. Another part of this area is the Strahov Gallery with a fine exhibition of the collection of religious art. The Gospel Book is the oldest manuscript trom 9th century and is on display in the entrance to the library. The Museum of national Literature is on the side of the comlex and is devoted to the Czech literature. It is now still working monastery and the services are held in the Church of Our Lady, which retains its twelfth century basilica ground plan.
The hill above the Prague Valley was for a long time overgrown with thick woods and home only to wild animals. In the 12th century monks built a monstery of wood in a clearing. Because there had to be an armed guard to protect the pilgrims and travelers, the place was named Strahov (strahovat = to guard). The bishop of Olomouc, Jindrich Zdik, founded an order of Premonstrats at Strahov, who fell under the jurisdiction of the french center in Premontre.
A large reconstruction of the monastery began in the renaissance and baroque period when buildings were added. The expensive reconstruction was hardly finished when a threat emerged. Emperor Josef II was a soldier through and through. He did not want monasteries and he closed all of those which gave no public profit. The Premonstrats only stayed because of the delivering idea of abbot Mayer, member of the masonic lodge At the Three Crown Columns, to arrange a public library next to the existing one.
The oldest manuscript is a summary of the Gospels and dates from the 10th century. Extremely valuable is the collection of first editions. The collection includes world famous printers like the Venetian Aldus Pius Manutius, Frobenius from Basle, Plantin from Antwerp and the famous publisher Elsevier, or the renowned Italian typographer Bodoni of the 18th century.
A strange irony exists here if you look at the ceiling fresco, painted by Anton Maulbertsch, which symbolizes the human search for truth through religious, wisdom includes a picture of french encyclopedists languishing above an abyss between spiders and toads, frightened by the power of religious wisdom. Yet in the same hall the monks placed the encyclopedia in a position of honor as its first literary work.
In the fifties the monastery was expropriated and three years later changed into the Museum of National Literature. The archives contained almost 6 million items in the year 1989, the Strahov library 900 thousand volumes and the collections of expressive art 300 thousand items. The monastery was returned to the Premonstrats in 1990 and with it all the collections which originally belonged to it. The Museum of National Literature can stay at Srahov for a limited time only. The collections acquired by the museum will eventually be moved to other buildings.
Strahovske nadvori1, Prague 1
Open:Tue-Sun 9am-12:30pm; 1-5pm