The Librarian at Strahov (Reflection by Sally Cubitt)

Written by Sally Cubitt, SNC Library and Archives_MG_5927

When I first signed up for the Norbertine Heritage tour last year, many people who have seen Stahov Monastery told me that I would be astonished at the beauty of the two libraries there.  But after visiting the incredibly beautiful libraries both at Roggenburg and Schlagl, I was a bit afaid that the Stahov rooms would not live up to their reputations. From my first glimpse of the shining wooden bookcases, to the brilliant frescos, and most of all, to the volumes of ancient books on the shelves, I was completely enthralled.  Frater Stephen, our tour guide, explained the history of the libraries and how they survived the Thirty Years war and the Communist era. He explained that some of the books were from Louka Abbey, which was not so fortunate and was closed.  Stahov was then able to incorporate not only the books, but the beautiful wooden bookcases as well.

The two Stahov libraries are divided into the Theological and Philisophical halls.  The older of the two, the Theological Hall, has not only rare books, but a collection of 17th and 18th century globes, and a “book wheel”, spinning book shelves for the researcher, scribe, or for when I read multiple books at one time.

The Philosophical Hall, in addition to holding 20,000 volumes, has the gorgeous wooden bookcases installed from Louka Abbey, complete with hidden staircases to the second level behind false-fronted bookcases.   Both libraries are decorated on the Baroque style, covered with frescoes, gold leaf, and plaster ornamentation.

As amazing as these rooms are, it is the collections that are truly inspiring.  One large cabinet holds the only complete copy of a set of books donated by Marie Louise, the second wife of Napoleon I.  The library includes over 2000 incunabula, and numerous manuscripts.  I had to clasp my hands behind my back to help resist the temptation to touch them. For me, the most fascinating book is the Strajov Evangeliary, dating back to 860 – yes, 1,155 years ago.

As a librarian, it is expected that I would be most impressed with these libraries, and for once, I really fit the stereotype.  And as great as the Mulva is, now that I think of it, there are a number of white walls that could use decorations.  Anyone know a fresco artist?

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