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Cinnaminson, New Jersey
March 13, 2005
This whitewashed large monastery with green cupolas can be seen from afar, especially since you have to climb the hill to get to it. The monastery dates back to the 13th century and is a mixture of Gothic and baroque. Strahov Chapel was closed with a gate, precluding me from walking up to the altar. However, you can see everything from the entrance: long ceiling covered with plaster vignettes and frescoes, baroque chapels leading up to the huge gilded altar with dark marble columns, and gilded angles with haloes of golden rays. There are also beautifully carved ends of seats and lot of light from the windows. Baroque façade with angel statues above the entrance and metal artwork on the door leading in is very typical of Czech churches.
The monastery has 12th-century Romanesque cloisters (whatever is left of them), and currently there is an exhibition of modern art there. Upstairs, there is Strahov Gallery, open 9am to noon and 12:30pm to 5pm daily, closed Mondays. Admission is 50Kc for adults and 20Kc for students. It has an exposition of religious art of the 16th century – triptychs, madonnas, crosses in gold frames, wooden statues of saints, paintings by Cranach, von Aachen, Spranger, van Dyck, Skreta, Brandtl, Liska and a lot of Czech baroque masters. There is also a copy of Durer’s "The feast of Rosaries" by Gruss. This art collection is considered one of the most important religious art collections in Bohemia and Central Europe. You can also visit Philosophical Hall ,with baroque bookcases and a beautiful ceiling fresco that shows the struggle of mankind to know real history.
From journal Travels in Czech Republic - Prague, Part II
September 29, 2004
The monastery itself was founded in 1140 by Prince Vladislav II (r.1140-72) for the monks of the Premonstratensian Order. The monks set to work immediately building up a wide-ranging library, but the original collection was destroyed, along with the monastery buildings, in the fire of 1258. The monastery was rebuilt in early Gothic style and the monks set about reestablishing the collection. While fortifying Hradčany, King Karel (Charles) IV (r.1346-1378) built the monastery into the walls, placing it on the front lines of the battles that were to follow. The Hussite Wars (1419-34) lead to another fire in 1420, the Thirty Years War (1618-48) ended with Swedish troops carting off the library to Scandinavia, and French troop entrenched in the monastery gardens were bombarded into submission in 1742. Each time, the monastery and its collection bounced back under the guidance of Abbots like Jan Lohel, Kaspar of Questenberg and one, I swear, called Crispin Fuck. Surviving and indeed profiting from the 1783 dissolution of the monasteries by Josef (Joseph) II (r.1780-90), the monastery’s collection was at the heart of the 19th-century Czech National Revival, only to be closed down by the communists after 1948.
The 50Kč allows you to view the Teologický Sál (Theological Hall) and Filosofický Sál (Philosophical Hall), although you are not allowed to enter, and photography costs extra. The Baroque Teologický Sál is the older of the two constructed by architect Jan Dominik Orsi of Orsini in 1671 for the Abbot Jeroným Hirnhaim. The room was extended 50 years later, as the collection continued to grow and decorated with thick stucco and frescos by Brother Siard Nosecký, whose self-portrait can be spotted on the right wall amidst other prominent members of the order. The room is lined with 1632 bookcases, including the libri prohibiti for prohibited books, where one of Abbot Hirnhaim own books ended up for his daring to criticize Scholasticism. The Filosofický Sál was hastily constructed in 1782 by architect Ignác Palliardi on the orders of Abbot Václav Maysel to accommodate the books pouring in from the abolished monasteries and was decorated with the emblem of the Emperor Josef to ensure Strahov didn’t join them. The Classicist interior was lined with Jan Lahofer’s 15m high, carved walnut bookshelves and the ceiling fresco "Struggle of Mankind to Gain Real Wisdom" was aging Baroque master Franz Maulbertsch of Vienna’s attempt to reconcile himself to the new style. On display in the connecting hall are the 9th century bejeweled Strahov Gospel, a series of volumes on Czech trees bound in the relevant bark, and a magnificent cabinet of curiosities that includes wax fruit, dried sea monsters, and even a whale penis or two.
It may be a little overpriced for two rooms, but the whale penises make it all seem worth while.
From journal Prague’s Castle District: A Very Bohemian Capital