Monastery Library

Rajhrad Monastery  

From its foundation up to 1813, the Rajhrad monastery was subject to the Břevnov Abbey, which significantly complicated an understanding of the monastic library’s early history. We can assume that the exchange of  monks and manuscripts was commonplace in this period. Another problem is  the fact that almost no book was to remain in its original binding. In the 18th century, the books were given new white parchment bindings. These new bindings were to destroy various notations on  ownership found on the boards and the covering and joining sheets.

It is conjectured that the monastery library with a small number of volumes was in existence soon after the monastery’s foundation as some books were necessary for the conducting of monastic life. The monks needed them for prayers; these were  presumably lectionaries, gospel books, books of graduals, missals, breviaries, autobiographies of the saints and martyrs. A Code of monastic life of the Order of St. Benedict and basic manuals of the canonical law were present  for sure. Following the great devastation  of the monastery that occurred during the 13th century (the Tatars in 1241, the  Cumans of Béla IV.  in 1253 and the Hapsburg armies following the defeat of King Ottokar II of Bohemia in  1278) the library stocks were significantly depleted. Among what remains of the library is the so-called Martyrologium Adonis (the lives of the martyrs), written down by the French Archibishop Adon. This oldest book in the Rajhrad collection, dating from the third quarter of the 9th century, is older than the Duke St. Wenceslaus himself as well as being  also older than the institution of the Church itself in Bohemia. For this reason,  experts rightfully assume that this book could not have been created in the Czech lands. This book  attracts  researchers though by its religious Slavic notes, which were inscribed in our territory.


Thanks to  the monastery’s prosperity in the 14th century, the Rajhrad monastic library was to receive other very interesting additions. There is, for example, a book of graduals or an antiphonary from 1313, which were created on the order of the prior Thomas of Rajhrad. Another provost of Rajhrad, a lawyer John, devised the manuals of  canonical law around 1328. Monk Peter, an illuminator of the breviary of the provost Vitek (Vitus) from 1324, was one of the interesting and significant persons at the monastery of Rajhrad during this time. The first three illuminations in this breviary were even credited to be the work of the famous gothic artist master Theoderic. It is paradoxical that the troubled 15th century did not affect Rajhrad and even  witnessed the library’s prospering.

Benedictine cultural activities at that time were transferred to Rajhrad, and it was in the monastery at Rajhrad that the monks from Břevnov and Broumov were to find  temporary asylum. Among the interesting personalities, mention can be made of Wenceslaus Břevnov of Chvaletice, Mark of Broumov or the well-known prosecutor of John Huss from the assembly at Kostnice, John of Holešov. From his part, there remains a hand-written tract "Utrum credi possit in Papam" (If it is possible to believe in the Pope) in the Rajhrad library. It is known about John from Holešov that he was the first person in our territory to write about the song "Hospodine pomiluj ny" (Lord, Have Mercy on Us) and about the old Bohemian and Christmas Eve traditions in the first half of the 15th century in the work "Largissimus vesper" (The Longest Night). We can assume that this manuscript was originally deposited in Rajhrad, because it was maintained in the transcript of Bonaventura Piter. The monastic library of Rajhrad has also an extensive number of books from the Hussite period; for example, the Chronicle of Tábor of Nicholas of Pelhřimov, then there are two Hussite postils about the saints, two Czech tracts by Master Jacob of Mies (Stříbro), etc. By the end of the 16th century, during the time of the provost Christopher Soběkurský of Soběkursko, we have the first account on the construction of the library from printed books. This  follows on from the excellent manuscript library established in the 15th century.   

The cultural significance of the library grew simultaneously with that  of the monastery. This is shown in the works of Bonaventura Piter of Třebechovice in Bohemia (1756 - 1764). This great explorer received much of the precious hand-written wealth for his library, especially the eleven volumes of the work "Monasticion Moraviense" (Moravian monasteries). Significant researchers, such as Josef Dobrovský, Řehoř Volný and many others, derived information from Piter's works. By this time, the library already had a monumental setting created by Giovanni Santini and decorated by the fresco paintings of John George Etgens of Brno.

The history professor Řehoř Volný acquired for the monastic library the famous book of psalms of the queen and widow Elizabeth Richeza. The famous Librarian was Victor Schlossar (1820 - 1832). During his time, the library witnessed a treasured visit from Joseph Dobrovský (1828) and new items were added to the library stock, such as the six-volume Bible of Kralice and the precious manuscript from 1424 with German translations from the bishop John  Olomouc of Středa. Victor Schlossar established fruitful contacts with Augsburg, he continued the building of the card authorial catalogue  founded by the librarian Richtr, and he founded a catalogue of the library in the prelature. During the time of Schlossar, the library was visited by František Palacký in 1837 (Schlossar was already the Abbot by that time), who even viewed the archive. A year after this, the library hosted Paul Joseph Šafařík.

A native of Kojetín, Beda Dudík, is another significant person for the Rajhrad monastic library. His affection for books is evident from his numerous treatises on libraries, manuscripts and various archives (Kroměříž, Mikulov, Vratislav, Petrohrad). From amongst this excellent historian’s work mention has to be given  above all to his History of Moravia. Dudík laid the foundation for the Rajhrad collection of maps.  Dudík's collection of maps was to be continued by the priest, painter, cartographer, calligrapher and mechanic, a native of Žabčice, Vojtěch Slouk, the creator of the famous self-propelled globe  of 1.70 meters in diameter, of a world clock and other mechanisms and devices which always drew keen attention in the Rajhrad library. At the time of the Abbot Korčian, the monastery was visited by the traveller Emil Holub. He kept very close contact with the monastery and donated many precious items from his personal collections to the monastic museum.

More and more books were added even after the First World War. Thanks to Augustin Vrzal (A. G. Stín), the library obtained over a thousand volumes of Russian and other Slavic books and journals. Augustin Vrzal was a known translator of Russian classical literature and he made himself famous by working on the first extended ”A History of 19th-century Russian Literature,” published in Brno from 1891 to 1897. As well as the attacks of the Tatars, Cumans and Swedes, the Second World War did not spare Rajhrad. The war had an impact on the monastic library as well. The 1950s  continued in the state  the war had begun. In 1950, when the library was taken over by the university library of Brno, it was important to secure the library materially in the first place, as was by the repair of the windows and  the heavily destroyed ceiling with the fresco painting of J.J. Etgens from 1735, representing the merits of the Benedictines in scientific progress.

Regarding the library itself, it was necessary to carry out a revision, to reorganize the library and supply the missing numbers of journal collections , of which there were more than 1 500 titles. When the revision was finished, there was a problem of monstrous losses in the form of piles of spare library catalogue cards, to which no books were found. When the library was, more or less, in the a librarian's state of order, the professional job of cataloguing  could  finally start. There were found and remade Czech and Slovakian prints up to the year 1800 from the whole library. After proper processing, ''The Book of the Czech and Slovakian prints from the oldest era up to 1800'' could have been included in the retrospective bibliography. It is certainly a strange situation that from ''The Book'' there were only two Bohemian works known from the Rajhrad library before 1950; even though the survey covered approximately 650 units with dozens of unique items.

The number of volumes held at  the Rajhrad library had never accurately been surveyed till the beginning of the 19th century. Only an estimated number: from 85 000 to 100 000 volumes was given. The exact count at the turn of the 1850s and 1860s registered65 000  volumes, of which 14 000 volumes were in the main hall. This time was convenient for establishing the Moravian Literary Monument but the situation was to take  a different direction. The library fell into a very undignified state and the intensive and the detailed work of Mr. Vladislav Dokoupil, Ph.D., a former employee of the university library in Brno, was severely  devastated. Nowadays, the situation has changed. In 2000, the construction works for the library were finished, in 2002, the major part of the library fund was deposited in the renewed depository; and in 2003, the restoration works on the library furniture were also completed. Its base and facilities were finished and furnished. In 2004, the treatment and the moving of the rest of the library fund to the foyer and the library’s main hall of the library was started.

Since the 1st July  2005, the library has become an integrated part of the in the sightseeing tour for the newly opened Moravian Literary Monument.