The Strahov Monastery (Strahovský klášter in Czech) also known as the Royal Canonry of Premonstratensians at Strahov, located on the western edge of Hradčany is one of the oldest monasteries of the Premonstratensian Order in the World.
The monastery was founded in 1149 by Bishop Henry Zdík of Olomouc, Bishop John of Prague, and Duke Vladislav 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 came to flourish in a very short time and to such an extent that some of its members were soon appointed bishops of Prague. It has been a working monastery practically ever since it was founded. Even when the members of the monastery were unable to live within its walls, they gathered wherever they could and nurtured the spirit of their House until they were able to return to the monastery complex.
During the 12th, 13th and 14th 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 19 October 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 Emperor Charles IV.
On 8 May 1420, the depredatory 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 Železný, Bishop of Litomyšl, a Premonstratensian, was one of the accusers of Jan Hus at the Council of Constance. From this time onward Strahov continued to decline, and its lands were gradually stolen and sold. 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 in 1601-05 and a greater part of the monastery in 1614-1626, with Abbot Caspar of Questenberg (1620-40) completing the work. In 1613 a new garden of the abbey was also founded. In 1627 a shrine with relics of St. Norbert (the founder of the Premonstratensian order) was brought here from Magdeburg.
In 1648, in the very end of the Thirty Years’ War, the monastery was looted by Swedish soldiers, who stole many books and other valuable items. Baroque reconstruction of the complex was done by architect Giovanni Domenico Orsi (1671-1674), who built also a new library hall, and John Baptist Mathey (building of the abbey, after 1682). During the bombardment of Prague in 1742 Strahov suffered greatly; the damage, however, was soon repaired. New facade was made by architect Anselmo Lurago. When Emperor Joseph II suppressed 58 abbeys in Bohemia, Strahov was saved from a similar fate by Abbot Wenceslaus Mayer (d. 1800), who had won favour even at the hostile Court by the interest that he took in fostering schools and education.
Points of Interest
The monastic Basilica of the Assumption is an originally Romanesque building, rebuilt in 1601-1605 by Abbot Lohelius. It is beautifully decorated by numerous frescoes; 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 frescoes are the work of 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 Church of Saint Roch is a Gothic-Renaissance building, built in 1603 by Rudolf II, Holy Roman Emperor, in gratitude for the end of plague in Prague in 1599. It was rebuilt in 1747 and again in 1882.
The monastic library contains over 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 Gradual” 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, Škréta, Brandl, etc.
The Premonstratensian Order
The Premonstratensians are an order of canons regular founded in 1120 by St Norbert. They are an integral part of the Roman Catholic Church, not only as an organizational, legal, and independent unit, but also, and especially, they are an integral spiritual element of the Church. Ever since their establishment, a move seen as an attempt to reform canonical and clerical life, the Premonstratensians have tried to live in the spirit of their order’s five ends: the singing of the Divine Office, the spirit of habitual penance, a special devotion to the Holy Eucharist, a special devotion to the Blessed Virgin, and zeal for the salvation of souls. Strahov Abbey and its members also pursue this way of life.
The solemn liturgy which takes place at the Basilica of the Assumption of Our Lady every day, a profound experience of devotion to the Holy Eucharist and to the Blessed Virgin connected with the formation of our own guilt, forms the basis for a life of saving souls, i.e. spreading the Gospel. The Strahov Premonstratensians carry out their work in the parishes entrusted to the abbey and in the parishes of various dioceses in Bohemia, Moravia, Slovakia, Austria, and Germany.
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