Forum Digest

Historia Universitatis

A New Coat for the Karolinum
Our Jubilee is Around the Corner

Notes on the Founding Charter of Charles University, Prague, 7 April 1348

The founding charter of Prague University was issued by the chancellery of the King in two originals, written in Latin on parchment. The first copy was given to the university, the second was given to the Archbishop of Prague, in his capacity as the university's Chancellor. The university's copy, with a golden bull, which had already been stolen and then returned to the university in the 19th Century, was kept in the Karolinum in Prague. The Nazi custodians of the university archive removed it in 1945, together with the university's oldest insignia, registers and other historical relics, which are missing to this day. The second copy of the founding charter of Prague University, to which is attached the sovereign's wax seal of majesty, is deposited in the Archive of the Prague Metropolitan Diocese.

The text of the charter was taken almost word for word from the well-known medieval handbook of style by Petrus de Vinea; only a few parts (e.g. the date and the names of locations) were changed. The model was the charter of Emperor Frederick II for the University of Naples (1224), supplemented by details from two charters of Konrad IV for the University of Salerno (1252-1253). The author of the charter, the king's secretary, Mikulas Sortes, was, however, clearly working in accordance with the wishes of the university's founder, the King of Bohemia and King of the Romans, Charles IV. Charles was able to tie in his efforts with the older educational traditions of the Czech lands, as well as the unsuccessful attempt of his grandfather, the Czech King Wenceslas II, to establish university studies in Prague at the end of the 13th Century. From 1346 onwards, Charles, together with the Archbishop of Prague, Arnost of Pardubice, led negotiations at the Holy See, the result of which was the publication of a charter by Pope Clement VI on 26 January 1347. This papal privilege established, on the basis of the petition of the king, a general seat of learning in Prague, and appointed the Archbishop of Prague its chancellor, with the right to grant the titles of doctor and magister. Charles' founding charter of 7 April 1348 then granted teachers and students a guarantee of the sovereign's protection during their journey to the university and during their stay in the university city. It also directs that the new university should abide by the customs of the Universities of Bologna and Paris. The initial phase in the creation of Prague University was completed by another act of the sovereign, the so-called Eisenach Diploma of 14 January 1349, in which Charles IV guaranteed the university the same rights and prerogatives which had been granted other seats of learning by his predecessors, the Holy Roman Emperors and Kings of the Romans. Thus it was that the first university north of the Alps came to exist in Prague, the first general seat of learning in Central Europe, which in the first decades of its existence played the role of the foremost university of the Empire.

PhDr. Michal Svatos

(vol. 1, no. 1, 1995)

The Founding Charter of Charles University
Prague, 7 April 1348

[fragment of the Founding Charter, Stepan Bojar, camcorder, Macintosh, VideoSpigot]
The King of the Romans and King of Bohemia, Charles IV, founds in Prague, the city of his seat, a general seat of learning, takes into his protection doctors, masters and students, promises them material support and grants them the same prerogatives as are enjoyed at the Universities of Paris and Bologna, above all legal protection on their journey and during their stay in the university city.
Notes on the Founding Charter
Our Jubilee is Around the Corner

A New Coat for the Karolinum

During the first weekend in April, members of the public waited almost four hours in line to see the ceremonial areas of the Karolinum, before they are closed for long-term refurbishment later this year. On show were the underground vaults, a selection of jewels, the university insignia, the founding charter and other historical treasures belonging to the first and oldest European university north of the Alps.

The condition of the Karolinum has cried out for repair since the beginning of the 1960s, when it was declared a National Cultural Monument. This is why it has been decided that, for approximately the next year and half, the Karolinum will be closed to the public. It will probably not be until 1997 that students will again be able to come here for their matriculation ceremonies, professors and their guests for lectures, the university administration for ceremonial occasions and the general public for cultural events.

Doc. Ing. arch. Marian Belohradsky - for many years a close associate of the architect Jaroslav Fragner, who reconstructed a number of historical monuments in Prague in the 1940s and 1950s - has a remarkable knowledge of the nooks and crannies of the Karolinum complex, as well as other notable Prague buildings. He remembers the reconstruction that was carried out in the first years after the War, and the celebrations of the university's sixth centenary which took place there in 1948. He is a proponent of the present reconstruction, even if in general he is an advocate of only limited intervention into the structure of historic buildings. He is a member of one of the two committees which, at the end of April, opened the envelopes containing the names of interested construction companies, and which will later have the job of choosing the best plan for the reconstruction of the historical courtyards and the rector's wing. It is expected that the reconstruction will involve repaving the Honour Court, cleaning and restoring valuable hangings, reinstalling the classical furnishings, and repairing other areas at the historical core of the university.

Doc. Belohradsky, what do you think about the current reconstruction? Do you think that these repairs to such a valuable historical building are really necessary, and is it possible to meet the completion date of just a year and half?
I think I can honestly say that giving the Karolinum a new coat really is necessary, but in my opinion, trying to complete the whole process in such a short space of time is unrealistic. The plans that will be submitted by the architects will show how they will come to grips with the problem, but I think that such an untraditional structure requires an untraditional approach and untraditional techniques, so reconstruction will be extremely difficult.

What is actually going to be modernised and how much will it cost?
It is necessary to repair the structure of the Grand Hall, the Patriotic Hall and other smaller spaces, plus the floors, the seating, the tables and the historical fixtures. Part of the funding for this will come out of the state budget, from both the Ministry of Education and the Ministry of Culture. However, some of the repairs are being funded privately; for example, the repair of the Gothic bays and arches will be paid in part by the Czech Savings Bank. The total budget for the whole reconstruction has been set at 120 million Czech crowns.

Will the reconstruction have any effect on the entrance to the University Rectorate, and where will the Rector hold ceremonial occasions, including graduations?
This depends on the plans of the architect. The university administration would like to continue holding graduation ceremonies as usual during the reconstruction. If this is not possible, graduations will be transferred to the Aula Maxima at the Faculty of Law; this is actually where they were held during the first years after the War, even if not on quite such a massive scale as today. Other official visits, lectures and meetings will take place in the office of the Rector or in the larger lecture halls of individual faculties outside the main university complex.

PhDr. Nora Dolanska

(vol. 1, no. 3, 1995)

A Gothic portal in the north wall of the Grand Hall of the Karolinum. (cca 150 KB)

Photo: from the archive of M. Belohradsky

The Grand Hall of the Karolinum in 1945 - looking west (cca 250 KB)

Photo: from the archive of M. Belohradsky

The proceeds of a collection held among members of the public during the Karolinum's open days, totalling 9000 Czech crowns, will be used to restore Frantisek Maximilian Kanka's valuable architectural plans of 1711. The plans depict the Gothic structure of the Karolinum, together with Kanka's baroque adaptations.

Notes on the Founding Charter
A New Coat for the Karolinum

Our Jubilee is Around the Corner

It really is, at least in so far as every jubilee is around the corner from the moment when a body is organised to prepare for it. And our university has had such a body, under the leadership of His Magnificence the Rector, since the end of last year. It may appear that the half-centenary jubilee which falls in 1998 is not important enough to require preparation so many years in advance. In this context I would like to quote the remark of the Organising Committee for the Celebration of the Five-Hundredth Anniversary of the Prague Universities, dating from 1843, that "in the last four hundred years it has not been granted us to celebrate the foundation of this noble institution. Ruinous wars and a kind of sorrowful exhaustion were the obstacles which ensured that bygone ages were unable to celebrate the more distant and beautiful past."

To Evaluate One's Self and One's Past More Fittingly...

The Organising Committee - the chairman of which was the Grand Master of the Knights of the Cross with the Red Star, Jakub Beer, and whose members included the professor of obstetrics, Antonin Jungmann, the lawyer, Jan Kanka, and the professor of philosophy, Franz Friedrich Exner - could not have suspected where events were heading. They did not presume that, even "under the gracious sceptre of the Habsburgo-Lotharingian house, in the blessed peace of the irenic olives, in the calm and benediction of the present, and on the stage of these better and more enlightened times", they would be unable "to evaluate one's self and one's past more fittingly." The jubilee year of 1848 was not even remotely calm and the revolutionary events effectively disrupted the long-prepared celebrations.

And what of the jubilee of 1948? Many of us still remember it vividly. Its protracted preparations - the restoration of the historical buildings of the Karolinum, which have served the university continuously since 1383, and the preparation of a three-volume history of the university - were interrupted by the German occupation, the forcible closure of the Czech universities and the Second World War. The jubilee celebrations themselves, even though they were held at the start of April, after the February totalitarian coup, did not lose their international character; they were, however, strongly marked by the demonstrative absence of a whole row of foreign universities. These universities, which had originally agreed to take part in the Prague jubilee, decided not to send their representatives as a protest against the limitations which had been placed on the university's academic autonomy, especially in the choice of teaching staff. (Specifically, sixteen professors and docents, including the Rector, JUDr. Karel Englis, had been either sacked or forbidden to give lectures). The universities involved in the boycott included those from Britain, Sweden, Switzerland and some of those from Italy, the U.S.A. and elsewhere. Also affected were thirteen honorary doctorates, that the individuals for whom they were intended never collected.

The coming jubilee, being held, as it is, under conditions where our universities have got back the academic freedoms that were taken away from them by the totalitarian regime, should to some extent be perceived as a substitute for the jubilee of 1948. The fact that large-scale half-centenary celebrations have no historical precedent is not relevant here. In 1898, which is probably the only year when a half-centenary might have been seriously considered, celebrations were made impossible by two factors. Firstly, only a short while previously (in 1882), the university had split into two halves - one Czech and one German - both of which had other problems to consider. Secondly, 1898 was also the year of another anniversary, which had to be given absolute priority, for the Emperor Franz Josef I that year celebrated half a century on the throne, and no other anniversary could be allowed to overshadow this more significant event. Happily, in 1998, we don't have anything similar looming on the horizon...

To "Take Care of the Considerable Fruits" of His Labour

The Organising Committee of 1843 was convinced that "the jubilee of our university should have the character of a national celebration, at which all Czechs will be represented." Of course, the terms "nation" and "Czech" must here be understood in the sense of the regional patriotism of the time, which is evidenced also by the fact that the proclamation of the Organising Committee had to be translated into Czech before it could be published in the journal of the Patriotic Museum of Bohemia (now the National Museum), from which it is here cited. It was anticipated that the celebrations would be attended by "the universities of the entire Austrian monarchy", as well as universities from abroad, especially those "which had their origins at the seat of learning in Prague." The celebrations were intended as an expression of thanks and respect to the university's founder, and "just as Charles IV laid the foundations of a new age in the arts, and just as he cultivated and ennobled the sciences", we should in this regard "take care of the considerable fruits" of his labour.

Specifically, the Organising Committee wanted, in the framework of the jubilee, to realise the following:

  1. The architectonic reconstruction of the Karolinum, as the crown of Charles's magnificent institution, so we can boast a work of the noble art of construction; in addition to which, let the walls of the large halls inside be decorated with paintings from the life of Charles.
  2. To erect a metal statue of Charles in a public place which is in some way closely connected to his work.
  3. A commemorative coin of the jubilee celebration should similarly be prepared.
    All the above works will be entrusted to artists whose name will guarantee their masterly execution. For the benefit of knowledge, however:
  4. Let there be prepared a history of our university, which will be drawn and constructed from historical sources.
  5. Let there be founded a general literary magazine, which will provide opportunities and encouragement for the writers' art amongst the Austrian intelligentsia.
  6. Let there be founded scholarships for young men who are devoting themselves to the educational process at university, through the assistance of which they may prepare themselves for their future profession by travelling, or by studying free of charge those subjects which are not normally at present taught publicly.
  7. It is requested that an important older manuscript be published in a typographically delectable edition, and from individual artists, that exquisite musical, poetic and other similar compositions be prepared

Committed to Contribute...

From this programme, which does not include the university celebrations themselves, and the granting of a large number of honorary doctorates, the Organising Committee was able to promise only the erection of the statue of Charles IV, the minting of the jubilee medal, and the publication of the history of the university. Regarding the rest, they had to state that "how many of the other items will be realised, will depend on financial resources, and how abundantly they can be brought together for this purpose." In order to raise money, the committee already had an "official permit to conduct a collection". The subscribers - both locals and Czechs living abroad - were meant to be asked to declare themselves "generously to the present task", either with a one-off contribution or by "committing themselves to contribute" regularly for six years.

Let us hope that this danger - that the expenses for the jubilee celebrations would have to be financed by public subscription - does not threaten either on this occasion. We have, after all, come a good few years from feudalism! The results of the collection were not as successful as the organisers had hoped. Although they were able, in their proclamation, to list their first generous donors - the Archbishop of Prague and Chancellor of the University, Alois Josef Schrenck, gave six thousand guilders, and three members of the College of Doctors of Law gave one thousand guilders each - it is evident that, with these, the larger donations finished. The other subscribers were no longer as generous, and even if we ignore the vaguely-formulated final point, at least half of the original seven-point plan remained unrealised. Thus, only the less expensive points were ever put into practice. It is clearly a shame that the creation of a foundation for the support of future university lecturers did not have a broader impact or any long-term effects, and we may perhaps regret that the committee was unable to found their proposed magazine. On the other hand, it is undoubtedly only to the good that it proved impossible to carry out the "architectonic reconstruction of the Karolinum", complete with frescoes to fill up the walls of the Grand Hall.

Of the various projects associated with the 1848 jubilee, two things can today be regarded as having had a permanent value: firstly, Prague gained a memorial to Charles IV in his role as the founder of the university, with allegorical figures representing the four faculties; secondly, the university itself gained Vaclav Vladivoj Tomek's extremely thorough history, which is admired and used by historians to this day. As regards the jubilee of 1948, it's only (albeit truly monumental) contribution was Fragner's restoration of the buildings of the Karolinum, which are so admired by foreign visitors to the university. The precise plans for our jubilee in 1998 have not been finalised yet; however, perhaps it is not too early to express our conviction that it, too, will bring with it certain results which will continue to be valued deep into the 21st Century.

PhDr. Miroslav Truc

(vol. 1, no. 3, 1995)

Notes on the Founding Charter
A New Coat for the Karolinum
Our Jubilee is Around the Corner
Jump to Charles University home page