From the History of Library Collections

The Royal Canonry of Premonstratensians at Strahov, of which the Strahov Library is an integral part, was founded in 1143 by the Olomouc bishop Jindřich Zdík, with the support of Prague bishops Jan and Ota, the Bohemian prince and later king Vladislav, and his wife Gertruda. The first community of regular canons came from the Rhineland monastery in Steinfeld.

Volumes in the Philosophical Hall

Volumes in the Philosophical Hall

A Brief History

Despite the existence of several Romanesque codices from the oldest "layer" of the library, we cannot speak unequivocally of a conscious continuous development of the library. It can only be stated that the origins of the collections date back to the very foundation of the monastery. Over the centuries, the monastery was struck by several catastrophes, which necessarily disrupted its smooth development.

On the site of what were probably wooden buildings that burned down in the fire of 1258, a Romanesque building was constructed, which since then has become an integral part of the Prague panorama. The monastery was plundered by foreign troops in 1278 and 1306 and by Hussite radicals from Prague in 1420. It was then abandoned during the Hussite wars. After 150 years, during which the monastery struggled to maintain its existence, Jan Lohelius (1586-1612), the later Archbishop of Prague, was elected abbot. He became the restorer not only of the monastery itself but also of Strahov education.

In 1627, his successor Kaspar Questenberg transferred the remains of the order's founder, St. Norbert, from Magdeburg to Strahov. St. Norbert became one of the Bohemian national patrons, and Strahov, by this act among others, secured a special place among other Premonstratensian monasteries. The efforts of Abbot Questenberg and his successors to build a library were thwarted by the invasion of Swedish troops under General Königsmark in 1648, who carried most of the book collections to Northern Europe.

The books amassed after the Peace of Westphalia were given proper storage in the newly built library hall in the 1670s, now known as the Theological Hall. Around the same time, the library regulations were also written.

After extensive acquisitions in the second half of the 17th and during the 18th century, the growing collections required the construction of another hall, the so-called Philosophical Hall, at the end of the 18th century. At the same time, the monastery became one of the havens of the Czech National Revival, represented at Strahov by librarian G. J. Dlabač.

The second half of the 19th and the first half of the 20th centuries were dedicated primarily to the cataloging of the collections. After 1950, when orders and congregations were abolished in Czechoslovakia, their members executed, interned, and imprisoned, and their property confiscated, the Strahov Library was incorporated into the newly established National Literature Memorial, and the monastic archive, music collection, picture gallery, and exhibits were dispersed to other state institutions. Shortly after 1989, following the fall of communism in Czechoslovakia, the monastery buildings and other confiscated property, including the library, began to be returned to the Strahov Premonstratensians as part of redress for some property injustices.

The Strahov book collections contain about 300,000 volumes. The books are stored not only in both halls but also in adjacent repositories. A significant part of the collections consists of old prints from 1501-1800. There is also a valuable collection of incunabula (nearly 1800 works) and manuscripts (3500 works), which are kept in a special treasury room.

Currently, the collection is growing mainly through donations. The largest donors from church institutions are the Prague Archbishopric, the Province of St. Wenceslas of the Franciscan Brothers, and the Congregation of the Most Holy Redeemer (Redemptorists). Part of the Carmelite library was also purchased. From the bequests of individuals, the Strahov Library has received book collections of historians and art historians (Zdeněk Boháč, František Dvořák, Jaroslav Kadlec, Marie Anna Kotrbová, Anežka Merhautová, Emanuel Poche, Jaromír Stach Černín, and others), and exceptionally also natural scientists (Jasoň Schützner).