Jan Amos Komensky

By Alena Skodova Jan Amos Komensky - also known as Comenius was a thinker, philosopher, writer and educator. Here in the Czech Republic all school children know him - mostly under the name 'the teacher of nations'. I spoke with the director of the Komensky Museum in Prague, Ludovit Emanuel, who told me more about the rich but rather unfortunate life of this great Czech personality of the Baroque period.

While we know the exact date when Komensky was born, his birthplace remains shrouded in mystery: For all his life, Komensky remained a devoted Christian, and a member of the Unity of Czech Brethren, by which he was baptized and raised. This religious society was based on a rather strict teaching of a 15th century Czech yeoman, Petr Chelcicky, and one century later strongly influenced by the German reformer Martin Luther. After university studies in Herbron and Heidelberg in Germany, Comenius was ordained as a Czech Brethren priest in 1616. He married and had two children, but his happiness did not last long - his wife and both children died of plague in 1622. And it was a time of big changes throughout Europe: But there were crucial changes on the political scene in the Czech Kingdom as well: after the defeat of the Protestant nobility at the Battle of White Mountain near Prague in 1620, the Catholic grip tightened, and the Czech nation, hitherto allowed to profess both beliefs, was subject to strict re-catholization ordered from Vienna. A wave of involuntary migration started: Komensky could not betray his Protestant belief. He went into hiding and stayed with some of his friends in Bohemia, but finally he decided to flee: Komensky could never come back to his native country, although he wrote several protest letters addressed to the Swedish king. In 1648, his second wife died when their daughters Kritstina and Alzbeta were already adult. Their two younger children - 5-year-old Zuzana and 2-year old Daniel - were looked after by Komensky's third wife, Jana Gajusova, following his third marriage. But Komensky's life was not to be a happy one and he was to die in exile: Before his death, Komensky assessed his own life in the following words:

"I led a wandering life, I had no homeland. I was constantly propelled from one place to another, never and nowhere did I find a permanent home."

Despite his wandering life, though, Komensky was a very productive philosopher and writer, and he also worked on a new school system, which he wanted to be introduced in the Czech kingdom. Schola ludus - or school through play - was the main credo of his project for a new type of school. He wrote many didactical books, such as 'The Gate of Languages Unlocked" - which was a textbook for teaching Latin and making it more attractive to children, or 'The School of Infancy' - a handbook for parents and educators, which was the first systematic pedagogic work in the world dealing with pre-school education. His most famous work is 'The Labyrinth of the World and the Paradise of the Heart' from 1623 - a book influenced by other European utopian writings, in which he presented his ideas as to how society might be improved. His popular encyclopaedia 'Orbis Pictus' was still in use in the 19th century. The great German poet Johann Wolfgang Goethe wrote of it warmly many times - it was one of his favourite books when he was a child.

Mr. Emanuel quoted one of Komensky's principle ideas about tolerance: And with his universal ideas about the need for peace in the world ensured through a regular dialogue among nations, Komensky is said to have in mind ideals, that three centuries later became reality with the establishment of the United Nations Organization.