I finally visited the Strahov Monastery in Prague, which is something I had wanted to do for a long time. I’m really glad I’ve seen it. The exteriors have been restored to pristine beauty and parts of the interiors are breathtaking.
First I took a peek inside the gorgeous Strahov Church, which was not open to visitors, but gave me a preview of what’s to come. I began my tour of the monastery in the building of the Convent. I loved the different rooms on the ground floor, especially the winter and summer refectories, but also the cellar-like romanesque rooms from the 12th century. The Strahov Picture Gallery occupies the first floor. I didn’t particularly care for the grim religious and mythological scenes, gloomy landscapes and dark portraits that are displayed there and that can almost make one feel uneasy.
Next I bought a ticket to see the famous library. It holds 280,000 books, the oldest and most valuable one being the Evangeliary (a liturgical book containing portions of the Gospels), which dates to the middle of the 9th century. The book is covered in red velvet and its front is decorated with precious stones and ornaments that were added in the course of time. The center of the cover is adorned with a cross, supposedly a gift from king Charles IV. The Evangeliary on display is a somewhat recent copy, but don’t think you’re being shortchanged. When the copy traveled to an exhibition in Germany in 1999, it was supposedly insured for 1.5 million deutschmarks!
An interesting part of the Strahov Library exposition is the xylotéka, a collection of 68 “tree books” made by Karel of Hinterlagen around 1825. Each “volume” is really a box representing and documenting one European tree. The box cover is made from the wood of the tree and is covered with its bark. If you opened the box, you would find different parts of that tree – a root, a twig, a leaf, a dried piece of its fruit, etc. The boxes are protected behind glass though, so you can only see them from the outside. The Strahov xylotéka is one of the two such collections in Europe.
I learned all this from one of the library staff who, after prompted, started telling me a lot of interesting and in my opinion essential facts about it. The strange thing is that had I not asked, I would have left with absolutely no information. It’s a pity that such an important and beautiful institution does not make it easy for its visitors to learn about the treasures contained inside.
I highly recommend visiting the Strahov Monastery. You can easily do it on the way to the Prague Castle. A tour of the Convent and Library will take you 15 – 20 minutes each and you’ll need another 30 minutes or so if you include the Picture Gallery.