A ceiling fresco in Eger, Hungary's 240-year-old Baroque Library struck me in part because of its relevance to political battles of the present day. The theme of the work is censorship.
The fresco features a gathering of religious and political authorities as part of the Council of Trent, a key event in the Counter-Reformation. The council, which met in Italy in the 1500s, defined what it deemed to be heresies committed by proponents of Protestantism and also issued key statements and clarifications of the Catholic Church's doctrine and teachings.
The council met in 25 sessions over the course of 18 years. The fresco depicts a bolt of lighting zigzagging through a gathering of church and political leaders and striking books. Snakes crawl out of the books. Counter-Reformation art regularly depicted Protestants in less-than-charitable imagery.
Is the image condemning the "censorship" of the Counter-Reformation or supporting it? Though it appears the fresco is backing the Counter-Reformation, a clerk in the library told me that the founder of the library, Bishop Karoly Eszterhazy, wanted to portray both sides of the issue. And the library stocks an original copy of a book by Copernicus, the Polish astronomer who ran afoul of Catholic doctrine for his heliocentric theories of the universe, as well as other groundbreaking works.
Censorship is a key issue in the U.S. as educators, teachers and parents wrestle over the availability of books covering "controversial" topics like identity, racism and slavery. Censorship has seen a rapid acceleration recently.
The Baroque Library was a great find on my recent visit to Central Europe. The library is housed in the town's Lyceum, which is its teacher-training college. The library houses some 60,000 books and other historic material, including a letter from Mozart to his sister Nannerl, as well as the Copernicus work and others. I saw an approximately 1,000-year-old book of hours -- an illuminated prayer book -- in French as well as other great books.
If you're visiting Hungary, Eger is a charming town with great sites. It's located in the heart of Hungary's wine country.