The Archbishopric of Prague has begun moving more than ten thousand historic books from its private collection to the library in the Strahov Monastery. It is hoped that this will make the publications more accessible to the public, especially researchers and students.
The library of the Archbishopric of Prague holds thousands of publications, which stretch back hundreds of years. Around 10,500 of them are now being transferred to the Strahov Library, an architecturally beautiful, publicly accessible repository of knowledge in one of the oldest monasteries in Bohemia.
The spokesman of the archbishopric, Jiří Prinz, says that the collection encompasses a wide array of subjects ranging far beyond theology.
“There are books on the natural sciences, medicine, linguistics as well as very valuable prints exploring architecture, the history of art and gleaning in general.”
Vít Kochánek works as an archivist at the Archbishop’s Library and is part of the team involved in loading the various volumes, often made from cow or pigs hide, into trollies. It is a lengthy and delicate process. Not just because of the books’ value, but also their size, which is often unconventional in modern terms. For example, the Bible from Antwerp is half a metre tall and weighs 3 kilograms.
A historian by profession, Mr Kochánek is not only well versed in the library’s catalogue, but also the backgrounds of the archbishops who assembled them. He says the oldest volumes set to be transported to Strahov belonged to the collection of Antonín Brus of Mohelnice – the first Catholic archbishop to reign in Prague after the Hussite Wars.
“One could say that ‘thanks to the Hussite Wars’ there was no recognised Archbishop of Prague by the Catholic Church [from 1421] until 1561, when Emperor Fedinand I. ensured the restoration of the seat and gave the job to Antonín Brus. Having served before as the Bishop of Vienna, Brus brought some of his books with him.”
Living in a time of religious turmoil, when Western Christianity was in the process of division following the dissemination of Martin Luther’s Ninety-five Theses, Antonín Brus’ collection includes both Catholic and Protestant books on theology.
The second and far larger collection of books now en route to Strahov, around 7,000 publications, belongs to 18th century Archbishop Jan Moritz of Manderscheid. Archivist Vít Kochánek says the library itself is sometimes referred to as the Mandersheid library, simply because of the prolific amount of writings gathered during his reign.
“He had a difficult relationship with Empress Maria Theresa, whose reign began during Jan Moritz’s time in charge of the Prague Archbishopric. The empress felt that the archbishop lacked loyalty during wartime and he was therefore cut off from her court.
“We joke sometimes that, because Maria Theresa did not let him into her court, he retreated into his books.”
The Archbishopric says the move will make these two collections more accessible to the general public. Researchers and students, are certainly likely to benefit from the more access friendly Strahov Library.
However, it is unclear when exactly the move will be finalised. Mr Kochanek believes the process could take many years.