While staying in the picturesque southern Bohemian town of Český Krumlov, I took a day trip to the nearby Cistercian monastery Vyšší Brod, located in the town by the same name and nestled in the Šumava mountains region. Now once again the property of the Cistercian Order, the monastery, founded in 1259 and built over a period of 100 years, still retains a Gothic appearance with features of both Early and Late Gothic architecture, as I noticed upon my arrival.
First, I stepped into the church itself and especially took note of the high altar and the side altar of the Virgin Mary. Built from 1644 to 1646, the Early Baroque high altar is made of brown gilded wood. I loved how it was adorned with statues, such as those of Saint Eugene the Pope and Saint Bernard. A sculpture of the Crowning of the Virgin Mary and another of the Holy Trinity also impressed me.
The side altar of the Virgin Mary boasted a valuable panel painting of the Madonna of Vyšší Brod by the Master of Vyšší Brod sometime after 1400. Set against a golden background, the blond Mother of God cradled a naked baby Jesus while angels hovered above her and saints posed at the sides.
Then there were the abbots’ tombstones, some in Mannerist style and others from the Baroque era I also saw the wood inlaid and gilded choir studded with Baroque statues of various saints. A glance upwards and I was looking at exquisite Gothic stained glass windows decorated with themes from the lives of saints.
An art lover, I was enthusiastic to see the monastery’s art collection. Mostly Gothic and Baroque, it featured many Dutch and Flemish works (yes!) as well as Baroque creations by Czech artists such as Petr Brandl (one of the Baroque painters I hold dearest!). Baroque seascapes and landscapes by Norbert Grund and František Xavier Palko’s rendition of the 12 apostles and a portrait by Czech master Jan Kupecký were among the dazzling canvases in the exhibition. I especially liked Grund’s landscapes.
Soon it was time to visit the library, which held 70,000 volumes, making it the third largest Czech monastic library. Only Strahov and Teplá boasted more books. I set my eyes on Rococo bookcases dating from 1756. Works from 1500 to 1800 made up part of the collection, though some pieces dated as far back as the 13th century. A five-volume Latin Bible also caught my attention. It hailed from the early 14th century. Chants of the Cistercian Order were written at the turn of the 15th century.
Then our group came to the Library Corridor, which is home to 19th century and early 20th century collections written mostly in Latin and German. We moved on to the Philosophical Hall where books about such subjects as math, biology, and chemistry as well as German dictionaries are stored. The astounding fresco on the ceiling was the work of Lukáš Vávra. Latin quotations by Saint Bernard promoting education could be seen above the windows. In the center of the room I was blown away by a detailed map of the Czech lands that featured even the tiniest villages from the 1600s. I was awed by the attention to detail.
The Theological Hall was best known for keeping one of the largest collections of bibles in Central Europe, and the holy books in the collection come in 40 languages. Can you believe it? The white pigskin bindings hailed from the middle of the 18th century. Another fresco by Vávra adorned the ceiling, this one showing a 12-year old Jesus in a temple. The guide pointed out something intriguing about the painting. If you look closely, you notice that some of the things featured in the fresco didn’t exist when Jesus was alive. For example, one man donned glasses, another held a book, and there was glass in a window. The style of clothing and the architecture were also ahead of their time. Then the tour ended.
On the main square in the town, only steps away from the monastery, I found a restaurant in a hotel where I was able to have my favorite chicken with peaches and cheese. Then I stood across the street, waiting for the bus back to Český Krumlov, but it seemed that I had the wrong information. It would be another two hours before a bus came along, according to the schedule at the stop. I spent another hour in the restaurant, downing Viennese-style coffee and glasses of nonsparkling water and then stood at the bus stop for a while on that nice, though crisp, day. I let my mind wander and just succumbed to the feeling of happiness that overwhelmed me.
Tracy A. Burns is a proofreader, writer and editor in Prague.