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Saturday, July 16, 2011

Abbot Zavoral

(click here for the Romanian version)

My friend RIM just made a wonderful trip: Hungary, Poland, Sweden, Norway, Denmark, Germany, Czech Republic. He published the impressions on his blog: an opportunity for me to call in mind my own memories about Budapest and Bratislava, about Prague and Berlin. I know the other cities he visited, Stockholm and Goteborg, Oslo and Copenhagen, Warsaw and Gdansk and Oświęcim, from my readings only.

So his passing through Prague awoke in me my own wanderings there. When I came firstly to Prague, in 1967, I didn't know all I do now. One of the persons I had already known about was Abbot Methodius Zavoral, the superior of Strahov Cloister during the First World War and after.

If you look for information on the web about Abbot Zavoral, it's rather scarce. It's normal: so much time has passed since those years and so many things have happened!

I had read about Methodius Zavoral long time ago, in my teens. An uncle of mine that I was often visiting had in his home library a Romanian encyclopedia from 1930 (Minerva). Everytime I was visiting I was browsing Minerva, and it was there I learned about Abbot Zavoral: a great friend of Romania, who had been given the title of citoyen d'honneur of our country, also the title of honorary member of the Romanian Academy. During the First World War a military hospital was installed at Strahov, the monastery where he was the superior. Romanian soldiers were brought there and the abbot took care of them. He learned Romanian and later, in 1918, he became the president of a Czechoslovak-Romanian Institute, also he was one of the leaders of a People's Party, militating for the independence of his country.

Here is what Abbot Zavoral would later write, about the way he started to learn Romanian (I leave his text in Romanian as he wrote it, and, believe me, I have tears in my eyes, copying it here; oh. my God!)

Mi s-a facut mila de romani ca n-au cu cine sa vorbeasca, am inceput abecedarul roman numai asa de saga, curand insa aceasta limba m-a incatusat intr-atat, incat m-am apucat de un studiu serios si incepand cu sfarsitul lunii noiembrie 1914 i-am consacrat pana azi acestui studiu cateva ceasuri pe zi.

So when I came to Prague, one of the places I went was Strahov. This had been a Premonstratensian abbey since 1149 (by the way, the Premonstratensians history starts in 1120: St Norbert of Xanten, an archbishop of Magdeburg, was their founder). So Strahov was a cloister that have witnessed the whole Czech history: the Hussite Wars and the War of Thirty Years, the times when Prague was the capital of the Holly Roman Empire and the times when the Czech identity emerged, the two world wars, and the years of Communist rule. In 1950 the cloister was disbanded and a Museum of National Literature was organized on that place: there were about 110,000 volumes in their library. Here is what I found on the web:

The monastic library contains upwards of 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, Skréta, Brandl, etc

So when I visited Strahov in 1967 it was a museum. I walked through the great halls, with magnificent paintings on the ceilings, with the endless books on the shelves, and as I was listening to the explanations given by the guide, about the Theological Library and about the Philosophical's Room, I was thinking about Abbot Zavoral and his connections to the Romanian universe: a man who had lived among these great books and surrounded by these great paintings, a man who found a bridge to the Romanian ethos! From this patrimony of knowledge and of art!

Strahov Cloister - the Theological Library, with stucco decorations and paintings from 1720's

Strahov became a monastery again, after 1989.

As I said, I looked today on the web for references about Abbot Zavoral: I found a document mentioning that he became a Doctor Honoris Causa of the University of Cluj, in the thirties.

Here is a list of links:




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