The Divoky Prayer Book

The Divoky name was in the village of Hrdlorezy, South Bohemia, for many generations.  Frantisek Divoky was born in Hrdlorezy No. 3 on the 24th of June, 1820.  He married in 1849, Katerina Lejsek who was born 27 April, 1829 in the same village in No. 24.

                                            Hrdlorezy number 3, a farmstead.

In 1858 Frantisek and Katerina decided to leave their homeland and emigrate to the United States of America.  They traveled by horsecart and train to a German harbor, bringing their first three children and a few belongings including a Catholic prayer book.  The book, Stepna Zahrada, was published in Jindrichuv Hradec in 1845 and remains in the possession of a Divoky descendant. 

The publisher was Alois Josef Landfras Bookstore.  Alois (Louis), mayor of Jindrichuv Hradec from 1850 to 1861, was the most famous of the Landfras family printers who had a shop in an imperial style building from the 1820s.  It exists today across from the museum in the city that boasts a castle complex, east of Trebon.  Here they printed many little books and booklets for “the common people”, particularly prayer books and other religious publications but also song books, natural history education, and regional newspapers.  The large company was active for over a century, distributing all over Europe, with many copies used by people who went on pilgrimages.  Their books are found in museums and with dealers of old and rare books.  The Jindrichuv Hradec museum has a collection of the Landfras books and plans to exhibit them in 2007.

                                             Inside cover of Stepna Zahrada

Translation:  Grafting Garden Containing Religious Prayers of the Christian Faith – Namely:  Prayers for morning, evening, during Holy mass, and vesper, at confession, at Holy Communion, and others.  Also:  Of the Virgin Mary and various saints, in general needs, for sick, deathward, and for souls in beneficial purification.  New, completely corrected, and with the Holy Cross Path (symbolizing the last road of Christ), illustrated/improved print – in Jindrichuv Hradec Bookstore Alois Josef Landfras 1845.  The book is approximately 3 ½ inches wide by 7 inches long and about 1 ½ inches thick exclusive of the elaborate metal cover with colored glass set as jewels, and has a clever clasp.  The letters are German fractur in the Czech language.  Paper unknown but is remarkably stable after 161 years.

No doubt an important part of their religious life, the book traveled many miles with the Divoky family. It is believed that they arrived in America in the fall of 1858, staying the winter in Chicago, leaving the city for the fresh air and rich farmland of eastern Iowa between the spring of 1859 and the spring of 1860.  The census of 1860 lists their household with guests Frank and Elizabeth Lejsek (Katerina’s brother).  These  families were farmers, having to break prairie with oxen and a plow to replace prairie grass with crops of corn, wheat, and oats.  Far from a Catholic church, they would have used the prayer book for devotions in the home.  The Divokys and Lejseks were probably the first of several families from Hrdlorezy and nearby villages to settle in Oxford Township, Jones County.  They wrote letters to their homeland, read aloud in the village pub where all recognized the town name Oxford Junction.  Frank Divoky became a U.S. citizen in June of 1864, one of the first Czechs in Oxford Township to do so.

Frantisek and Katerina’s daughter Anna Divoky (born 1865) married in 1885, Matej Sazma, also from Hrdlorezy.  Matej was born in 1857 at Hrdlorezy number 16.  He emigrated to America in 1876, going to Illinois and Minnesota before settling in Oxford Junction and obtaining his U.S. citizenship in 1884.  Matej and Anna held and protected the prayer book which stayed in the family for another three generations.

                     The Sazma family:  father  Matej, mother Anna Divoky Sazma.
        Left to right, daughters:  Christine, Mary, Agnes, Clara; and sons:  Louis, Edward 
                                   Hrdlorezy number 3 from the rear in 2005.

The last family holder of the prayer book was Lynn Hayden, great great grandson of Frantisek & Katerina Divoky.  Mr. and Mrs. Hayden donated the book to the Oxford Junction Heritage Museum after their son prepared a professional display to enhance the presentation.  The museum is pleased to have this item of significance to a local family.   Research and translation by Olga Cerna and Drs. Robert Dulfer of the Rozmberk Society, Trebon, Czech Republic.  Compiled by Judy Nelson, December 2006.