History of Strahov monastery

After his pilgrimage to the Holy Land in 1138, the Bishop of Olomouc, Henry Zdík, conceived the idea of founding a monastery of regular canons in Prague. With the support of Prague bishops and rulers, a monastery was established at a place called Strahov, but it did not prosper much. It was only from 1143, when the Premonstratensians from the Rhineland's Steinfeld came to Strahov, that the life of the religious community began to develop successfully there.

Strahov Monastery around 1750
Strahov Monastery around the year 1750

Founding Charter of the Monastery

The founding charter of Strahov Monastery has not been preserved in the original. The oldest known copy dates from 1410 and is incomplete. Its Latin text was published in the edition Codex diplomaticus et epistolaris Regni Bohemiae (I, no. 156).

(In the name of the Lord. Amen). In the name of the holy and indivisible Trinity. Henry, by the grace of God the humble servant of the Olomouc church, to all Christians of the present and future times. Because, as the notable apostle says, everyone who wishes "to remain in Christ, must also walk as he walked" [I John 2:6], so that, having received Christ through faith as a resident into the heart, one might also be a temple of God and a dwelling of the Holy Spirit, it is fitting and just that those who are members of the highest head, should resemble their head in holiness of life and decency of manners, and boast that they form one spirit with God through spiritual life.

For there are indeed many examples of the holy fathers in every branch of Christian religion, showing that some in the mountain of contemplation, out of love for seeking the truth, are raised in mind to God, while others, bound by family ties, do not abandon pious deeds for the bond of that love by which the relative is loved; and when all the faithful eagerly strive to follow those deeds, every day a temple of the true Solomon is being built from stones finely worked by trials and hardships not in this [earthly] Syria, but in that heavenly Jerusalem, without the sound of hammer and axe.

And so, when I carefully contemplated this in mind and observed that some go along the way of God in one manner, others in another, I, Henry, by the grace of God an unworthy servant of the Olomouc church, longed to be included among the sons of God, and I also thought about what gifts I would give for the abundant gifts bestowed upon me by God; and therefore I began to ponder in careful contemplation which way of life would be most suitable for me to happily follow in the footsteps of the holy priests, into whose order I, a sinner, was called by God.

Indeed, in this contemplation, in this excitement of the burning spirit, it occurred to me, as I hope, by the inspiration of God, that I should undertake a pious pilgrimage to Jerusalem to visit the glorious tomb of the Lord and other holy places, and to pray to my Lord Jesus at the place where His feet stood. And when I got there with the help of God's grace and stayed in the holy places for some time, I often repeated that saying of Saint Jerome: "It is commendable, not that you were in Jerusalem, but that you lived well in Jerusalem," and, inspired by God, from whom all good things come, I resolved to put off the old man with his deeds and to put on the new one, created in righteousness and holiness of truth according to God, and to strive under the rule of Saint Father Augustine in the monastic habit to serve God.

And so when I announced the desire of my mind to both the patriarch and all the brothers at the tomb of our Redeemer serving the Lord in the same monastic habit, I achieved what I longed for, and taking upon myself at the place of our redemption the garment of holy life, I hastened to return home.

Meanwhile, the Prague church was administered by the dignified bishop John, outstanding in holiness of life and in all decency of manners. He, having learned of the desire of my will, as he was a godly man, piously offered through us to God properties and other necessary things for the construction of a dwelling for the brothers of that order. And although premature death prematurely snatched away the more abundant fruit of his good will, we believe it did not diminish his merit in the eyes of the majesty of God, to whom every heart is open and to whom every desire speaks.

VladislavAnd so, when in a short time both the Czech duke of blessed memory, Lord Ulrich, and the above-mentioned dignified Prague bishop passed away from this world, having been duly elected to their place, the glorious prince Vladislav took the seat of the paternal principality and Lord Ota, a man honorable in Christ, the chair of the Prague bishopric. And they, enlightened by the grace of the Holy Spirit, very willingly wished to complete the work of God and expressed joy that in their days both in number and in merit the people serving God were increasing, and therefore they desired with princely generosity to lay a solid foundation for this place, to which also the duke and the dignified and God-devoted duchess, as well as the above-mentioned bishop, donated many necessary things in richly flowing charity, both prince and other good Christians, and also the

 above-mentioned ordinance of our unworthiness became forever valid, I asked that it be confirmed by a charter of our lord of the holy Apostolic See, the supreme bishop, and strengthened by the proclamation of an eternal curse, and I achieved it.

The endowment of that church is this: John, the bishop of Prague, gave all his property that he had in the village of Lochenice and which he bought there from his relative named Mstěna and his sons and other relatives, and the lands that he acquired from the pious duke Vladislav, and the district called Skalka; in Lužany the whole village with the whole Mezný forest and there Újezd to the watch, which in the local language is called "guard"; in Veliš the property, which he bought there from Beneš, son of Marek; in Černotice what he had; in Rašín the whole village with the forest; there he donated mares, which we call breeding; in Třebnouševes land for a plough; in Hořice half of the village Hradiště and forest; in Chudonice what he had; and in the same village Myslibor and his wife donated land for three ploughs. The same bishop in the village of Libonice donated whatever he had; in Jenišovice the whole village; in Neděliště land; in Konicí land. Servants of bishop John: Muniš, Radovan, Utěcha, Ratva, Malava, Maňka, Bohumila, Mošna, Milgost, Branka, Čichta, Agta, Pivoňa, Haňata, Nepřivad, Moravka, Toma, Mstiš, Boletag.

This is what Duke Vladislav, the pious and noble founder of monastic purity in all of Bohemia, donated with his wife, Lady Gertruda, the pious mother of priests, monks, and all orphans, for the salvation of his soul to the brothers and sisters serving God and the holy Mother of God and Saint Augustine: two hundred denarii of coin every Saturday; his court Radonice with all its appurtenances, namely villages, servants, maids, and other various appurtenances.

The names of the servants are these: Buš, Miloň, Blaž, Oňata, Všan, Ban, Drugan, Jakub, Bohdan, Ostoj, mare shepherd, Čelek shoemaker, Modlák, Nedoma, Lubata, Radosta blacksmith, Dědoň, Straš are turners of vessels. In the same village, the following voluntarily submitted to servitude: Gradata, Cudař, Bohdan, Božepor, Gogol gardener, Vlkoň, Bohuta, Soběstoj.

These then are the oxen: Buďata with four others, Peztek with three others, Utěch with two others, Žirák with four others, Lutoň with two others, Goliša, Mikeš, Bula maidservant, Naděj, Bohdan. In the village of Orasice four lands, in Lahovice lands, in Hřivčice 20 lands, in Vrbno Srn ploughman and six lands. The same duke also donated the village of Chyška for the soul of Michael and Lašovice of both kinds, also donated the village of Ouhonice with this family: Běl with four others, Radák, Postan with four others, Křižan with seven others, Modliboj with three others, Chropoň, Radosta, Dobrotag, Bohdan with three others, Božana maidservant with two others, Lýsek with four others, Borek with mate, Vácemil, Dalata with five others, Dievek, Přěmil with four others, Bieška with three others, Milejší, Nubil with three others, Pomněn, Krátký with three others, village Holonohy and Lovosice with one grove, On Konopnici, Telčice, which his father for a hundred...

The rest of the charter is missing.

Czech translation: Letopis Vincenciův a Jarlochův, Prague 1957, pp. 188-190

Next stages

The Premonstratensians initially built a wooden structure for the monastery and began the construction of a Romanesque basilica. By 1149, a stone church, or at least its choir, probably already stood here. After the completion of the basilica, construction activity continued with the building of stone monastery buildings, which were nearly completed by 1182. After a fire in 1258, the monastery complex was restored. The material and spiritual development of the monastery was interrupted by the Hussites in 1420 when the monastery was plundered. The period up to the end of the 16th century marked a time of decline and literal impoverishment for the monastery. A turnaround occurred with the arrival of Jan Lohelius. In 1586, he became the abbot of Strahov and began the restoration of the monastery, both in terms of construction and spirituality. He renovated the dilapidated church, built monastery workshops, restored the abbey and convent buildings, and established new gardens. In 1594, a twelve-member community of brothers lived in the monastery. When Lohelius was appointed Archbishop of Prague in 1612, Kašpar Questenberg took over as abbot and continued his work. He completed the reconstruction of the lower cloisters and the prelature. In addition, he built the St. Elizabeth's Hospital in Pohořelec, a monastery brewery, founded the St. Norbert College in Prague's New Town for the study of order brothers, and once again rebuilt the church, extending it westward. Among his greatest achievements was the transfer of the remains of St. Norbert, the founder of the Premonstratensian Order, from Magdeburg to Strahov, where they rest to this day.

The coat of arms of Strahov Monastery.
The coat of arms of Strahov Monastery.

Towards the end of the Thirty Years' War, the monastery was again plundered and looted, this time by a Finnish regiment of the Swedish army. Many precious items from the church, as well as manuscripts and books from the library, were lost during this event. The reconstruction of the monastery began after the end of the war. Abbot Vincenc Makarius Franck rebuilt the damaged prelature and constructed a new St. Elizabeth's Hospital. Under Abbot Jeroným Hirnheim, the library hall, now known as the Theological Hall, was completed in 1672. The monastery continued its Baroque-style reconstruction in the 18th century: a new summer refectory was created, the brewery was remodeled, and the monastery's economic facilities were updated. War once again impacted the monastery's history. In 1742, the entire complex was damaged by bombardment during the French siege of Prague. Afterward, the original medieval building substance was restored in the Baroque spirit. The last major construction activity in the monastery complex was the building of a new library hall, now known as the Philosophical Hall, under Abbot Václav Mayer (the hall was completed in 1797). The buildings remained essentially in this form until the 1950s, when, after the communist regime forcibly dissolved the monasteries, a thorough archaeological survey of the entire complex was conducted, and at least part of the Romanesque appearance of the monastery was very sensitively restored. After 1989, when the Premonstratensians returned to the monastery, an expensive reconstruction of the entire complex was started, which actually continues to this day.