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More from KUHF's Spring Tour: Prague
May 30, 2009
by: Elaine Kennedy
"...and behind door number 2..." This massive 17th-century door conceals one of my favorite parts of our visit to Prague a little over a week ago.
The Strahov Monastery in Prague was built in 1140 and has a storied past. By the end of the 12th-century, most of its original wooden structures had been replaced by Romanesque stone buildings. Sometime later, it was rebuilt in Gothic style (afterall, one must keep up with the curent fashion) but was destoyed by fire in 1258. Rebuilt again, it was plundered by the Hussites in 1420 and once again sacked in the 1600s during the 30 Years War. Near the end of the 17th-century, the monastery was expanded and rebuilt in Baroque style. The French bombardment of 1742 wiped out most of the medieval gothic buildings, and they were rebuilt in Baroque style to match the rest.
With all of this turmoil, it's astounding to see what it behind that mighty iron door: the Theological Library of Strahov Monastery (which is, by the way, still a working monastery). It is absolutely breathtaking! The incredible vaulted ceiling boasts splendid frescoes. There are historic 17th- and 18th-century globes that show the geography of the world as it was known at the time (for instance, California was an island). There's a handsome wooden turnstile-like contraption which allows one to read several books at the same time. Just place the books on the long shelves which are attached to a large wheel. Rotate the wheel and you have an easy way of doing your research. It's a beautiful piece of furniture, and I believe they said it's one of only 3 in the world and the only one that still works. What a privilege to see it in motion!
A table gloriously decorated with wood inlay turned out to be a one-of-a-kind puzzle piece, but as you might guess, it served an important purpose. Flip open the top and a small chair is tucked away inside a step stool that is folded within. It is an ingenious work of art and is the only one in the world.
The monastery employee told us that the Theological and Philosophical libraries house some 300,000 books and manuscripts. They also have a pretty mean museum of curiosities...a suit of authentic chainmail, various insects displayed for study, books decorated in gold and jewels, monks' shoes from centuries past, and even a stuffed armadillo. they must have known we were coming to visit.
See the Theological Library in my following picture. Until later, --Elaine