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Abbey of Strahov

A Premonstratensian abbey at Prague Bohemia

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Strahov, Abbey of, a Premonstratensian abbey at Prague Bohemia, founded in 1140 by Bishop Henry Zdik of Olmütz, Bishop John of Prague, and Prince Ladislaus II. A colony of monks from Steinfeld, near Cologne, was brought here, and Gero, a canon of Cologne, became its first abbot. This new abbey in a very short time flourished to such an extent that some of its members were soon appointed bishops of Prague.

During the twelfth, thirteenth, and fourteenth centuries the abbots of Strahov took keen interest in the public affairs of the kingdom, and their names are often mentioned in public documents and grants of special privileges.

On October 19, 1259, the abbey was destroyed by fire, but Abbot John I (1250-66) built a new and magnificent church. The monastery suffered greatly during the plundering reign of the king’s regent, Otto of Brandenburg and that of Henry of Carinthia. It, however, again flourished under Charles IV. On May 8, 1420, the Hussites set fire to the buildings, and looted and destroyed everything. The main cause of anger of the fanatics against the abbey was that John Zelezní, Bishop of Leitomischl, a Premonstratensian, was one of the accusers of Hus at the Council of Constance.

From this time onward Strahov continued to decline, and its lands were gradually stolen and sold, until in 1577 and 1578 not one of its members remained, and the meagre income was turned over to the chaplain of the Emperor Ferdinand I. Later a Premonstratensian, John Lohelius, who subsequently became Archbishop of Prague, gathered monks from various monasteries, colonized Strahov anew, infusing into it new physical as well as spiritual life. Lohelius rebuilt the church and a greater part of the monastery, and Abbot Caspar of Questenberg (1620-40) completed the work. During the bombardment of Prague in 1842 Strahov suffered greatly; the damage, however, was soon repaired. When the Emperor Joseph II suppressed 58 abbeys in Bohemia, Strahov was saved from a similar fate by Abbot Wenceslaus Mayer (d. 1800), who had won favor even at the hostile Court by the interest that he took in fostering schools and education. Abbot Zikmund Stark (1879-1905) built the new church and improved the old church. The present abbot, Method Zavoral, is a man of great ability as a preacher.

The monastic Church of the Assumption, built in 1601-1605 by Abbot Lohelius, is beautifully decorated by numerous frescos; the pictures on the arched ceiling symbolize some of the invocations contained in the Litany of the Blessed Virgin, and on the side walls are scenes from the life of St. Norbert. These beautiful frescos are the work of the Prague artist Georg Wilhelm Neuherz (d. 1743). The Chapel of St. Norbert has the saint’s relics in a casket of copper and bronze, richly gilded. The organ is the work of the Strahov monk Lohel Oehlschlägel (d. 1774).

The monastic library contains upwards of 110,000 volumes, of which 1200 are incunabula. Of these there are about sixty unique volumes. Of the many rare manuscripts the most precious is the “Evangelistarium” of the sixth century, written in uncial letters and still well-preserved. Among others may be mentioned: “Gerlaci Chronicon”, Codex Strahoviensis from 1220; the “Pontificale” of Bishop Albert of Sternberg, made in 1376; the “Missale” of the Premonstratensian Abbey of Louky of 1480; the miniature manuscript of the Bible of the thirteenth century, written by a nun of the cloister of Doksany; “Sich’s Graduale” of 1610, weighing fifty pounds. The art gallery has the original painting of Dürer’s “Blessed Virgin of the Rosary“, of 1506, with the master’s own portrait; and paintings by Correggio, Van Dyck, Holbein, van Aachen, Reiner, Skreta, Brandl, etc.



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