THE HISTORICAL LIBRARY OF THE BRNO'S CAPUCHIN CONVENT
The Convent of Brno is the second oldest Capuchin residence in the Czech Republic. The original convent outside the City Walls existed between 1604 and 1645. The present convent inside the City was constructed between 1648 and 1651. The church was finished in 1656. In that time the Library was situated in the convent wing on the east side of the church. This part does not exist any more. Already at the beginning of the 18th century the library was too small and from 1716 there were attempts to construct a new one which was eventually built in 1763-64 within a new convent annex which is now called the Trenck's Wing.
To make the picture complete, it is necessary to say that there was a library already in the original convent outside the City Walls. It is testified by dates in information about proprietors of the books. The oldest one dates back to 1606. The first inventory of books existed in 1618 already. In that time the collection accounted to about 60 volumes. Since the Capuchins came to Bohemia from Italy there are relatively many books written in Italian conserved in Brno which are dated to 16th and the second half of 17th century. Still these days the sheets and bindings of these books give off a musty smell and are twisted by humidity. It seems that their journey from the Apennine peninsula was not easy.
Thanks to the detailed analysis of the Province records we know nearly
all donators of the books. At least 42 volumes come from the library of
Michael Schwab, a parish priest at St. Jacob's church, who wanted to
reward the Capuchins for their preaching activities. Probably 7 prints
were donated before 1640 by members of the Hovorius Family (Olomouc'
Canon Frantisek, Brno's provost Elias and Brno's pronotarius Georges).
During the Thirty Years' War some other valuable books were added by
other convents in Brno and by the Capuchins from Vyskov and Mikulov.
The Capuchins gained also not less than 40 volumes of mostly valuable
books including five incunables from the library belonging to the
parish priest in Kunstat Bernard Voscinius. In six volumes of the
collected writings of Martin Luther there are conserved very
interesting armorial supralibros by a famous physician of Brno,
Lutheran Jacob Conrad Praetorius. His collection of more than a
thousand volumes came into this library thanks to a brother of a
Capuchin Benedict from Forchheim who was authorized in 1627 by Cardinal
Francis von Dietrichstein to proselytize to Catholicism non Catholics
who had widespread in the town shortly before. Later also a collection
of books from a defunct parish house in Kamenec near Brno became a part
of the Capuchin library. This collection was bequeathed by P.J.
Mikslanek, a chaplain from extinct village Zelovice, when he was
visited by a Capuchin priest Benignus from Moravia who assisted him
before his decease on 22nd December 1676. Forty five items in the
collection list are books of Brno's printer Jakub Maxmilian Svoboda
buried in the church's crypt after his death in 1736.
The present library is formed by three rooms. Two of them are smaller, about 4 x 5 metres, and the main hall in the centre, which is 9.6 x 5.4 metres. This library is unique among the Capuchin ones by its height over two floors. It was projected by an architect Franc Anton Grimm, whose full brother was in that time a provincial minister. This library is superior to the other ones also by its remarkable interior decorations: e.g. the fitted consoles rich in convex-concave profiles, supplemented by a sculptural ornamentation of little angels, and especially the impressive ceiling fresco (only in Czech language) made by Josef Stern.
In the period from 1769 to 1780 the books were painted on their shelfback and signed according to the subject field. After 1780 the books were no more signed. An interesting part is formed by 166 book of the index of prohibited books. These ones were not bought by the Capuchins but confiscated from the protestant libraries, which is testified by the ex libris of the original proprietors.
Some books were bought in 1750 by P. Mansuet from Prague, the guardian at that time, and in 1766 by Simplician form Bohdanec, the guardian at that time and later provincial minister. The greatest acquisition of that time (namely 300 books) was from a closely not specified person named Nicolaus Bellaci.
From the first half of the 18th century the books were added up in the library in amounts of fifteen to two hundred fifty items as a legacy after deceased Capuchins. Latest in 1853 the library of the Third Order of St. Franciscus was added to the collection which has been conserved only partially but originally amounted to about 660 items.
Sometime after 1842 the books got new signatures which distinguished no more the subjects but referred to the room number, bookshelf and the placing in the shelf. All of the shelves were filled up by the turn of the 19th and 20th century.
During the Second World War the Capuchins transported some of the most
precious books to the Convent of Prague-Hradcany to prevent them from
damage when soviet troops were coming. In 1950 after the communist
putsch the books were confiscated, the Capuchins were imprisoned and
the books became propriety of the Country Library in Brno.
LITERATURE:BAJGER, Matyáš. Knihovny kapucínských klášterů v Čechách a na Moravě. Brno: Masarykova univerzita. Filozofická fakulta. Ústav české literatury a knihovnictví. Kabinet knihovnictví, 2004. 86 s., 11 s. příloh. Vedoucí diplomové práce Mgr. Zdeněk Kučera, Ph.D.
RABAS, Vavřinec. Řád kapucínský a jeho působení v Čechách v 17. století. Praha: [Vydavatelstvo Časopisu katolického duchovenstva], 1937. xii, 164 s. (Knihovna Časopisu katolického duchovenstva. Řada nová; č. 8.).