The Strahov Monastery, The Radiance Beyond Fortune
A treasure for botanists, philologists, believers, architects and historians, this site has been through the mists of historical adversity.
The Strahov Monastery is located on a hill outside Prague. As well as still functioning as a monastery, it offers visitors an invaluable treasure of old books, codices and medieval manuscripts, a cabinet of curiosities, an art gallery and a sublime xylotheque (or ‘tree library’).
The monastery has a history of resistance to time and adversity: It has survived fires, sackings, bombardments and evacuations – events that perhaps contributed to the forging of the pristine halo that it now emanates.
The complex houses the Basilica of Our Lady, where lie the remains of Saint Norberto, the founder of the Premonstratensians. Inside the chapel is an organ played by Mozart in 1787 during one of his visits to Prague.
The library, one of its greatest treasures, is divided into two spaces: the Theological Hall and the Philosophical Hall. The former has more than 18,000 religious books, including Bibles from diverse countries, eras and in various languages. The upper edges of the shelves are decorated and bathed in gold, indicating the classification of each. There are also globes and maps from the 17th century. The Philosophical Hall, in classical style, has some 42,000 ancient and spectacularly preserved texts on themes such as philosophy, astronomy, mathematics and history.
One of Strahov’s most treasured collections is its cabinet of curiosities. Acquired in 1798, it exhibits strange and unique objects, such as the remains of a dodo – a bird that is now extinct – an 18th century electrostatic instrument, marine species, insects, minerals, two elephants’ trunks and a narwhal’s tusk, once considered to be a unicorn’s horn.
Furthermore there is, of course, the xylotheque. The books it contains are strange and beautiful and whose fly leaves are made from the wood of the tree they describe, the spine is covered with its bark and inside you can find roots, branches, flowers, fruits and a catalog of each species’ maladies.
Strahov is an exhibition of beauty, wisdom and luxury, a place trapped in time that not only demonstrates the wealth of the Catholic church but also that its unbelievable spaces and extraordinary collections holds some of the world’s most stupendous treasures that, like the prodigal daughters of gods, have survived fires and wars. There is no doubt that Prague holds some of the world’s most stupendous treasures.
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