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Censorship and the Baroque Library's Fresco

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.

Posted by
3980 posts

That sounds so interesting. I’ll add Eger to my list of extra places to visit in Hungary. Did the clerk in the library give a tour of sorts or did you have a written guide to the history and symbolism?

Posted by
4283 posts

I love to visit libraries as I travel and have saved this. And with the explanation you received, it does seem to be a historical “tie-in”.
1. Mona’s question plus did you have to make a reservation to tour the library?
2. How did you get to Eger? Train and bus? Rental car?
3. What else did you do while in Eger? And how long did you stay there?,
4. Just a day trip from Budapest or part of a longer itinerary through Hungary?

Posted by
509 posts

I was aiming for the center in my interpretation of the fresco and attempting to see more than one side. The image is less than charitable in part because it shows lightening striking books and snakes crawling from the books. The snakes element of the fresco is key. Snakes in the Bible are associated with evil and devilry. The image seems to suggest that Protestant ideas are evil.

That's what is less than charitable in the fresco. Some Catholics during the Counter-Reformation were willing to listen to Martin Luther and weigh his ideas, but Catholic leaders who met in the Council of Trent appeared reactionary, regressive and retrograde. Counter narratives are fine, but they should also be convincing, apt and reasonable.

I put quotes around "controversial" in part because I am writing for a general audience on Rick Steves' site. What's controversial for some is normal and acceptable to others, but both parties participate in this site. I wanted to reach both sides.

Mona: The clerk answered my questions and had a great write-up, but she did not give a tour. However, she noted that there are two nights a year when the library has fundraising events, during which tours are given.

TexasTravelmom: I agree! I love libraries. They're very comforting. I have a decent-sized library at home with about 600 books. I spend most of my time at home in it.
1. No, I didn't have a to make a reservation. I just walked in. The library is in Eger's Lyceum, an immense building that functions as a teachers' college.
2. I was in Eger as part of a Rick Steves' tour, my first ever; in the past I always traveled independently. We arrived by bus. However, there is daily bus and train service between Budapest and Eger.
3. I was only in Eger for one day, but would have loved to stay another day. I toured the town, saw the church, saw the market, saw the cathedral and saw a camera obscura -- one of only two in Europe; the other is in Scotland.
4. I also spent three days in Budapest. On a visit to Hungary seven years ago, I visited a beautiful town in the south called Pecs.