Woodbooks

         In the quirky and beautiful Strahov Monastery museum in Prague, amongst an odd assortment of skins and shells, there was one cabinet that blew my breath away. It contained 68 books, but these were no ordinary tomes. They were woodbooks (Xyloteka in Czech, Holzbuch in German) made in 1825 by a monk. The books are made from two open topped wooden-boxes joined at the spine by hinges (sometimes sapwood is used for one half and heartwood for the other). The books are bound in bark; with the bark from the same tree as the wood and each book a different species. The name of the book is the species, printed on a small piece of leather on the spine, above a piece of decorative lichen. Inside each woodbook is a selection of more samples representative of the species: dried and pressed leaves, inflorescences, seeds, a stem cross-section and sometimes a young seedling. A small wooden panel in the spine holds a written botanical description. Together the series of volumes forms the most exquisite herbarium – made from the specimens themselves. A beautifully idea, crafted with great skill.
I saw another of these books at the Augustinian monastery in Brno. Incidentally this is where Gregor Mendel conducted is famous experiments on peas, investigating the inheritance of traits (something close to the heart of this lab!) and laying the foundations for the modern science of genetics.  The foundations of his glasshouse can still be seen in the grounds.

– Julia (back from holidays).

Woodbooks at the Strahov Monastery, Prague.

The remains of Mendel’s glasshouse at the Augustinian Monestery, Brno.

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