Foundation of Strahov

The foundation of Strahov, which its founders, Prince Vladislav II and the Bishop of Olomouc, Jindřich Zdík, named "Sion," has a history of being not only a center of education and culture but equally a spiritual center – a place where people come to encounter God and hear His voice through liturgical celebration. Strahov was this in the past and strives to continue this legacy today.

A view of Strahov Monastery before 1736.

Bishop Jindřich Zdík

After his pilgrimage to the Holy Land in 1138, Olomouc Bishop Jindřich Zdík conceived the idea of founding a Premonstratensian monastery in Prague. With the assistance of Prague's bishops and sovereigns, a monastery was established on a site called Strahov, which, however, did not prosper significantly at first. It was only from 1143, when Premonstratensians from the Rhineland's Steinfeld arrived at Strahov, that the monastic community there began to thrive successfully.

The Premonstratensians initially built a wooden monastery structure and began constructing a Romanesque basilica. By 1149, a stone church, or at least its choir, already stood there. After completing the basilica, construction continued with the stone monastic buildings, which were nearly completed by 1182. After a fire in 1258, the monastic complex was rebuilt. The material and spiritual development of the monastery was interrupted by the Hussites in 1420 when the monastery was plundered. The period until the end of the 16th century was a time of decline and literal subsistence for the monastery. A turnaround occurred with the arrival of Jan Lohelius. In 1586, he became the abbot of Strahov and began the monastery’s reconstruction in both architectural and spiritual terms. He had the dilapidated church rebuilt, established monastic workshops, restored the abbey and convent buildings, and created new gardens. By 1594, the monastery housed a twelve-member community of brothers. When Lohelius was appointed Archbishop of Prague in 1612, Kašpar Questenberg succeeded him as abbot, continuing his work. He completed the renovation of the lower cloisters and prelature. In addition, he built the St. Elizabeth's Hospital on Pohořelec, a monastic brewery, founded the St. Norbert College for the study of order brothers in New Town, Prague, and extended the church westward. One of his major achievements was the transfer of the relics of St. Norbert, the founder of the Premonstratensian order, from Magdeburg to Strahov, where they rest to this day.

Towards the end of the Thirty Years' War, the monastery was again plundered and looted by a Finnish regiment of the Swedish army. Many precious items from the church and manuscripts and books from the library were lost during this event. The monastery's architectural restoration began after the war ended, with Abbot Vincenc Makarius Franck reconstructing the damaged prelature and building a new St. Elizabeth's Hospital. In 1672, under Abbot Jeroným Hirnhaim, the library hall, now known as the Theological Hall, was completed. The monastery's Baroque transformation continued in the 18th century: a new summer refectory was created, the brewery and the monastery’s economic infrastructure were renovated. The monastery's history was once again affected by war. In 1742, the entire complex was damaged during the French siege of Prague. After this, the original medieval architectural substance was restored in the Baroque spirit. The last major construction activity in the monastery complex was the construction of a new library hall, now called the Philosophical Hall, under Abbot Václav Mayer (the hall was completed in 1797). The buildings remained essentially unchanged until the 1950s, when after the forcible dissolution of monasteries by the communist regime, a thorough archaeological survey of the entire complex began, and at least partially, the Romanesque appearance of the monastery was sensitively restored.

Saint Norbert
Norbert is rightly counted among the men who effectively devoted themselves to the Gregorian reform. Initially, he wanted to educate a new priesthood, dedicated to a pure evangelical and apostolic life at the same time, pure and poor, which would accept "both the garment and the adornment of the new man: the garment in religious attire, the adornment in the dignity of the priesthood," and which would strive "to follow the Holy Scriptures and have Christ as their leader." He usually recommended three things: "purity in serving at the altar and in performing the divine office, cleansing from transgressions and negligences at the chapter, and care for the poor and hospitality." (from the biography of St. Norbert)

Present day

After 1989, when the Premonstratensians returned to the monastery, a costly reconstruction of the entire complex began. The transfer of the monastery premises from the state occurred very slowly, practically over thirty years after the Velvet Revolution. Until then, the National Literature Memorial, which gradually vacated the premises, was located in the monastery spaces. It completely left the monastery premises in the fall of 2022. These reclaimed spaces needed to be reconstructed in a way that would allow the renewal of monastic life. The monastery basilica served liturgical purposes throughout the era of socialism. From 1986, its reconstruction was underway. After 1990, when the Premonstratensians returned to Strahov, the liturgical space was modified by installing a new altar according to the liturgical reform given by the Second Vatican Council, allowing the liturgy to be celebrated facing the people. The altar was designed by Egino Weinert from Cologne. By the late 1990s, the basilica's interior was insulated by installing double-glazed windows.

The monastery library, both the Theological and Philosophical Halls, were taken over from the Memorial at the beginning of the 90s. In 2009, the Philosophical Hall was expensively reconstructed, with original library cabinets repaired, the ceiling fresco cleaned and repaired, and electrical and data networks revitalized. The hall spaces are cleaned and conserved annually to ensure the library collections are well-preserved for future generations. In 2023, the renewal of lighting in both the Philosophical and Theological Halls began, utilizing the most modern standards in terms of light color and stability, while also considering energy efficiency requirements.

The convent building spaces were adapted from office spaces to living quarters for the monastic community's life right at the beginning of the 90s. A convent chapel was also established in the freed spaces, serving the monks as a place for silence and personal prayer. In further stages, the Provisorate spaces were reclaimed, in which a total reconstruction has been underway from 2014 to 2023. After this repair, it will return to its original purpose, serving as administrative spaces for the management of the monastery's economy.

The spaces of the abbot's prelature, which were taken over in the fall of 2022, are still waiting for their challenging reconstruction. Currently, the space is being surveyed, with plans and project documentation being created.

However, the restoration of the buildings is intertwined with the renewal of monastic life. The brothers immediately revived the regular choir prayer in the early 90s. They gather daily in the basilica to praise God through the singing of liturgical prayer. For this, they use the language of the church, Latin, and primarily sing Gregorian chant, which represents a precious treasure of liturgical prayer. The revival of Gregorian chant in the church dates back to the end of the 19th and beginning of the 20th century and was a great wish of Pope Pius X. Gradually, liturgical books designed for prayer and the singing of psalms, hymns, and antiphons were published. Currently, the Strahov brothers use the Premonstratensian Vesperale praemonstratense, published in 2014 by Windberg Abbey.

Next Monasteries in Our Country

In our country today, there are four independent male monasteries – so-called canonries. In each of them, the brothers under the guidance of their abbot (or administrator) strive to live the ideals of St. Norbert and operate in the places (parishes) belonging to them. These are the monasteries:

  • Strahov (1143)
  • Želiv (1149)
  • Teplá (1193)
  • Nová Říše (1211, as a male monastery since 1641)

After a hiatus of several centuries, the female religious branch was reestablished in our country in 1998 at the place where the sisters lived until the dissolution of the monastery by Joseph II, praying and interceding for God's blessing for the world, the church, and all who turned to them in trust.

  • Doksany (1144)

At the beginning of the 20th century, a congregation of sisters was founded at Svatý Kopeček near Olomouc, connecting in the female branch of the order the spirituality of St. Norbert and St. Augustine with a more active lifestyle.

  • Svatý Kopeček (1902)