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The Library of the Metropolitan Chapter

The library of the Metropolitan Chapter ranks among the oldest ant the most valuable historical libraries in the Czech Republic. Historical archives form the oldest part of this library. Along with these archive materials the chapter has long since also accumulated books, initially in manuscript and later in printed form. Old inventories of St. Vitus's Church acquaint us with the gradual growth of the chapter library. Mention is made of 151 volumes in 1354 and one year later this number had grown to 184. Listed in the inventory of 1387 are 45 liturgical books and 205 others. Even in that period as well as in later times gifts and bequests, mainly from members of the chapter, were in the principle source of new acquisitions.

The archives and the library were first housed in St. Vitus's Cathedral. In restless periods it was necassary to hide important documents also in other places, for example, at Karlstejn Castle or at the archiepiscopal castle at Roudnice. After many transferres the library has been housed in one of the canons' houses in Hradcanske Square where it has remained to the present. The historical archives and manuscript codices are housed in the Archives of Prague Castle.

Initially the books accumulated by the Metropolitan Chapter mainly served for the private study of its members. However, it is known that immediately after the establishment of the Prague bishopric (in 973) a school attached to the Prague cathedral, which attained European standard and attracted students also from neighbouring countries already in the 11th century, began its activity. Historical sources make specific mention of the canon Vincent (latter half of the 12th century) and the chapter dean Vit (first half of the 13th century) in this connection.

The present division of printed books was carried out in 1874 by the canon Antonin Ludvik Frind, who later became the bishop of Litomerice, according to the individual scientific branches.

Printed books of the 16th to the 19th century - in all approximately 12,000 volumes - are housed in six rooms. Sheet-music of the 18th and 19th centuries, originally kept in the choir of St. Vitus's Church, also forms a separate departement. Books of more recent origin acquired from heritages and in the form of gifts are not ranked among the others, but have a place of their own.

Manuscripts of the Library of the Metropolitan Chapter

The core of the capitular library consists of books of the church of St. Vitus which became episcopal church in 973 - 976 and archepiscopal church in 1344.

The oldest books were presented to the church by the bishop and by the ruler, exceptionally they were also found among gifts brought by diplomatic missions from the neighbouring countries. The circle of the donors was extended by the St. Vitus prelates, altar priests and sacristans, of whom many had brought manuscripts from France and Italy, where they had gone seeking higher education.

The production of books increased considerably when the king of Bohemia, Charles IV founded a university in Prague in 1348. Since the 15th century, single volumes and whole sets of books of deceased prelates and canons were bequeathed to St. Vitus' library, and thus gradually originated one of the most extensive and remarkable medieval ensembles of books. From the 16th century the manuscripts have appeared less frequently but the printed books prevailed.

A modern list of the manuscripts was compiled in the mid-18th century. The manuscripts were divided into fourteen groups marked by letters A - O: bibles, patristic and theological literature, preachers' reference books and sermons, writings dealing with ecclesiastical and political history, and manuscripts of natural sciences, philosophical and literary works. In the years 1869 - 1879, the section P - liturgical works - was added. These signatures are still valid. The greatest merit in the care for the library goes to the capitular dean and consecrating bishop Antonin Podlaha (d. 1932), to whom historians owe for an edition of a two-volume catalogue of 1,663 manuscripts. His indefatigable effort made the valuable medieval works known to both local and foreign professional public.

The owner of the library is the Metropolitan Chapter of St. Vitus. The collection of manuscripts was given under the protection of the Archives of Prague Castle in 1957. The printed books are kept separately, in the library of the Metropolitan Chapter.