Monday, January 13

Up for breakfast at Schlägl. A beautiful buffet with the assortment of breads, fresh fruit, meats, cheeses, and yoghurt we’ve become accustomed to (yep, we’re spoiled!) But this particular buffet included collection of small white china plates, each featuring a different kind of cheese. The soft cheese that had layers of walnut paste and was topped with whole walnuts (looked like a miniature layer cake) was spectacular.

We had an uneventful trip between Schlägl and Strahov. Probably the most interesting development is our much-improved communication with Peter. Seems that we have bonded, and his English is much better than we – or he? – thought. The roads we were on were narrow and winding the entire way, and took us through densely forested, hilly terrain. Many of the towns and villages we passed through looked run-down, certainly less prosperous appearing than Austria or Germany. We drove through the city of Prague to get to Strahov, and Peter pointed out the St. Charles Bridge, the Prague Castle, the cathedral, and Old Town. Very much a city – industry, graffiti, apartment buildings, traffic.

Strahov is on top of a hill with magnificent views of the city. The Abbey – enormous – is all white. There was a booth outside the gateway selling Glühwein (hot, spiced wine) and hot chocolate: great for this colder weather!

Our visit at Strahov began at the church, the site of St. Norbert’s tomb. We gathered in the side chapel by Norbert’s casket and Fr. Jay said mass. It was a deeply moving moment for all of us: to pray with our Norbertine priests at the tomb of the founder of the order. As Fr. Jay said in his brief homily, Norbert not only founded an order, centuries later he is still making a difference in the world – and in the lives of those of us standing in that chapel.

From chapel to restaurant, where we all warmed up with roasted chicken at long, wooden tables. Then back to the Abbey for our tour. Much to say about this Abbey, but I’ll just give a few highlights:

*Although suppressed during the communist era, Strahov was not damaged by the regime – perhaps because of its beauty. The art, the paintings, the lighting – stunning.
*The summer refectory with the depiction of the Feast of all Saints on the ceiling, and the trompe l’oeil windows high on the inside wall.
*The view of Prague from the Abbey gardens.
*The two libraries. Which deserve a whole blog just to themselves. (Well, actually, a book or two with hundreds of photos would better serve to describe these libraries!)

The first library – the Theological Hall – dates from 1679, and contains volumes on theology and geography; huge globes sit on the tables at the center of the long, rectangular room. The painting on the ceiling depicts the triumph of divine wisdom. My favorite part was the image of foolish philosophers tumbling out of heaven after being (literally) kicked out of Sofia’s presence. (Not slamming my philosophy colleagues! There were wise philosophers, too, standing proudly in her presence… I just liked seeing the joker’s mask falling through the heavens.) Displayed in this first library are an illuminated manuscript and an incunabulum – Jan of Šelmberk’s German language Bible dating from 1440. The second library, the Philosophical Hall, dates from 1779 and contains volumes on philosophy, the natural sciences, and social sciences. We were amazed by the rows and rows of volumes, the gorgeous woodwork, the sheer size of the libraries, and the quantity of knowledge collected and contained within these two halls.

We ended our tour in the Abbey gardens, high above Prague.

Checked into our hotel, went our separate ways. The hotel is just a few minutes’ walk from Wenceslas Square.

Highlights? *Fr. Jay saying it was the first time he’d seen his breath when saying mass (yep, a bit chilly in the church), *the church is only open during mass – so while we went in, tourists waited outside and were told that the church was closed, *same with the libraries; other tourists can only look in through the roped-off doors; we felt so privileged, they looked a bit irritated, *watching Tess – so happy to be back in a city that she tackles Amanda, *listening to Brady, Brennan, Nelson and all talking about where to write down the name of our hotel in order to find their way back if they get lost (they had some interesting ideas), *appreciating a very different atmosphere here in Prague… I can feel and see the effects of the communist era in the architecture, the people, and the black grime of acid rain.

Tomorrow, we’re on our own in the morning; we have a tour of Prague in the afternoon. Sleep in!

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