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The Archdiocesan Library

Perhaps the finest of its type in Central Europe, the Archdiocesan Library is absolutely stunning.

When it opened in 1793, it was only the second public library in Hungary, and was planned as a university library, but Empress Maria Theresa put paid to that when she decreed that there was to be no university in Eger.

The Archdiocesan Library bookshelves - designed by Jakab Fellner, built by Tamás Lotter

However, the hard work of stocking the library had already been done; Bishop Eszterházy, who oversaw the construction of the Lyceum, had wanted a library that would provide for a four faculty University, to this end he had systematically collected a large number of scholarly books and manuscripts.

By the time he had finished, the collection numbered 16000 volumes, but his university was not to be.

Detail from ceiling fresco showing heretical works of Calvin and Zwingli being struck by lightning

Today the Archdiocesan Library holds 150000 books including a number of codices, 85 incunabula and, among other gems, a signed Mozart letter. Yet, it is not so much the manuscripts that demand your attention, tucked away as they are, but the surroundings in which they are kept.

eger lyceum ceiling

Library ceiling depicting the Council of Trent: János Lukács Kracker

Although the library is beautiful to behold on all levels, it is the ceiling fresco that demands your attention.

The ceiling fresco

The work of Johann Lukas Kracker, a Viennese artist, and his son in law Zach József, it depicts the Council of Trent (1545-1563). Kracker did the lion`s share of the work, it was Zach`s task to render the architectural elements and ensure the optical illusion worked.

Completed in 1778, it is Eszterházy`s response to the Enlightenment and Reformation.

The Council of Trent, was an ecumenical council called by Pope Paul III to breathe life into a church under attack. By the time it closed in 1563, the council had condemned Protestant heresies and delineated church teachings on Scripture, Original Sin, Justification, the Sacraments, the Eucharist and the veneration of saints.

One`s eye is naturally drawn to Salmeron, a Jesuit priest and theologian, above the library`s door, below him are two books that reflected the spirit and tone of the Council: the Holy Scripture and the `Summa Theologica` of Thomas Aquinas.

The Jesuit, Salmeron, with the representatives of the Holy Roman Emperor, the Pope and the Hungarian King, Ferdinand I (note the two books)

To the left of Salmeron is the rather fancily dressed Marquis Vegil de Quisiones, representing the Holy Roman Emperor, and to his left are seated four cardinals, representing the Pope. In front of them is seated György   Draskovich, standing in for the Hungarian king (who at the time was Ferdinand I).

In all, the fresco contains around 150 figures, leading lights of the ecclesiastical and lay world.

The rows of dignitaries, however, are interrupted in the corners by thematic scenes. As mentioned earlier, the Council of Trent was convened to clarify church teachings, four of these themes are represented in the four corners of the painting: Book censorship, ordination of priests, sacrament of the sick and reverence of the Virgin and the saints.

The books are kept on shelving, not just any old shelving, however; Jakab Fellner, one of the architects who worked on the building, designed it to fit harmoniously into the surroundings.

Tamás Lotter, a local craftsman constructed them without using any nails, an amazing feat when you consider the weight they have to carry.

eger library

Baroque in style, with a gorgeously warm patina that just makes you want to run up and stroke them (don`t, as I imagine you`ll upset someone) the shelves stretch up to the trompe i`oeil ceiling depicting the Council of Trent.

As you can just make out in the image to the left, inset into the shelving are 24 large gilded medallions, each with a head in relief. The depictions are of individuals that Bishop Eszterházy believed had made important contributions to Europe's cultural life and influenced him in his thinking.

Page from Buda Chronicle, 1473; first printed book in Hungary (Archdiocesan Library Eger)

The library is first and foremost a statement, with its beautiful and, let`s face it, hugely expensive decoration, it is fit for a university, one where learning can take place and which affirms the church`s role in education and society as a whole.

Perhaps Esterházy focused too much on surface issues, even the books were catalogued with the aesthetic in mind: they were arranged according to size, making it time consuming to find anything.

This lack of foresight was maybe a sign that the Bishop was not altogether practical in his thinking, maybe if he had been he would have seen that his dream of a university for Eger would never happen in the climate of Enlightened Absolutism.

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