Earlier this week, Prague's Klementinum, which houses the National Library and many Czech literary treasures, saw the opening of a long-awaited addition. After extensive restoration, a new gallery has just opened.
The opening ceremony for the Klementinum Gallery took place in the picturesque courtyard of the National Library on a warm evening, and brought together those who have awaited the restoration of a wing damaged by the floods of 2002, as well as many of Prague's religious elite. Symbolically, the new Klementinum Gallery's first exhibit, which runs from April 25th until June 15th, is devoted to the history of the Czech Jesuits and the Klementinum. Once the official speeches were over, I had a chance to ask Professor Tomas Halik, who is also a Roman Catholic priest, about the Jesuit connection to Prague:
"In the year of the death of St. Ignatius, the Jesuits in Prague founded the first college. It was a very important centre for education, for science and for arts. Many missionaries also came from here, for example the missionaries for England in the time of Elizabeth II. The St. Edward Campian studied here and was ordained a priest here in the Klementinum. Many missionaries left from here for far-away destinations, and some of them were the pioneers of something which we could today call inter-cultural dialogue."
The opening also ran parallel to an international conference being hosted in Prague, about the history of Jesuits in the Czech lands from 1556 to the present day. Frantisek Hylmar, the head of the Jesuit Order in the Czech Republic was also present at the gallery opening, and he told me about some of the more interesting items on exhibit:
"Two things strike me. The first is a drawing which is entitled something like 'Codex Pictorius Mexicanus' and it is a picture that depicts images and shows scenes from the Mexican missions of the Society of Jesus. This picture shows life in its variety—it's not just narrowly religiously oriented, but it's really what Jesuit missionaries were trying to transmit, a particular style of life. The second thing is copper plate engravings which make-up the title pages to doctoral theses which were written and defended here in Klementinum where there were theological and philosophical faculties run by the Society of Jesus."
"Frankly speaking, to influence Czech society now is a very difficult task. I wouldn't say that the Jesuits would be able to profoundly influence the society as a whole. The society is under much stronger influences, such as the media and so on. However, we can create a space with a specifically Jesuit approach to religious faith within the Catholic Church. The Jesuit faith stresses a connection with life, it takes the human condition seriously, and is friendly with the world as such."
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