Jablonné v Podjěštedí and the Minor Basilica of Saints Zdislava and Lawrence Diary

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The Minor Basilica of Saints Zdislava and Lawrence

I had wanted to visit Jablonné v Podještědí for a long time. I was not disappointed. I thought that Jablonné v Podjěštedí was a tranquil town. My friend and I savored delicious ice cream on the main square. Only later did I read about the history of the town, a tale, which is no less captivating than the town itself.

Nestled under the Lusatian Mountains of north Bohemia near Lemberk Castle, the town was first settled by Czechs and Germans. It was founded by Havel from Markvartice in the 13th century. His wife Zdislava came from a religious, noble family. She would become a saint for helping the poor and healing people. The monastery in the town was founded during the mid-13th century and was inhabited by Dominicans. During the 14th century, Jablonné v Podjěštedí held a prominent position as a customs checkpoint, and in 1369 Holy Roman Emperor Charles IV visited the town.

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An old postcard of the town from http://www.luzicke-hory.cz

The 15th century brought destruction and havoc as the Hussite Wars raged throughout the Czech lands. The Hussites razed the town. The monastery and church also sustained much damage.

Things would get better, though. By the mid-15th century, life was good again. During the 16th century, prospects looked even brighter as trades and businesses flourished. New buildings were erected, too, including a chateau, school, town hall and brewery.

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The main square of the town, aerial view, from http://www.luzicke-hory.cz

The owner of the town, Jindřich Berka from Dubá, did not get along well with the Dominicans in the monastery. Luther’s Reformation played a major role in religious life as Lutheran pastors preached there. There was so much friction between the Catholics and Lutherans in the town at that time that Emperor Rudolf II had to intervene in order to calm things down.

The Thirty Years’ War brought much destruction and plundering. Afterwards, the Lutheran pastors were expelled, and Catholicism dominated religious life again. Still, there was no love lost between the owners of the town and the Dominicans. In 1628 all Protestant books and pictures of Czech martyr Jan Hus as well as renditions of Martin Luther were burned on the town square. By 1648, the town was in very poor shape. Less than 160 families called Jablonné v Podjěštedí home. A plague epidemic did not help matters.

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Aerial view of Jablonné v Podjěštedí, from http://www.turistka.cz

The 1680s was a decade of reconstruction. The monastery was transformed into a Baroque jewel thanks to architect Jan Lukáš Hildenbrandt. The Baroque church was consecrated in 1729. Two years later the remains of Saint Zdislava were brought to the church to stay.

During the 18th century weaving and many other professions characterized the town. Markets took place in Jablonné v Podjěštedí, and economically the town prospered.

Unfortunately, the seven-year Silesian war between Austria and Prussia destroyed parts of the town. By the end of the 1760s, typhus and famine had hit. Things got even worse when, in 1788, a fire ravaged almost the entire town. Then the Dominican Monastery was shut down by the edict of Emperor Joseph II.

The beginning of the 19th century did not bring any tranquility to Jablonné v Podjěštedí. Most of Europe was at war with Napoleon. Soldiers from Poland, France, Austria and Russia came to the town. One day in August of 1813, Napoleon even made an appearance.

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On the main square, from http://www.turistka.cz

Then the damage was repaired, and the textile industry took off.  Many guilds cropped up, and 350 weavers worked there. The second half of the 19th century featured expansion and construction as well as a cultural boom. Factories also came into existence there.

Then World War I broke out. On the outskirts of town, there was a POW camp with 14,000 Jews plus Russian, Serbian, Italian, French and British soldiers. The camp was closed down in 1918. Some Ukrainians made Jablonné v Podjěštedí home from 1919 to 1921. Czech soldiers took control as 1918 came to a close. The German National Party resonated with many of the German inhabitants, but there were also attempts to promote Czech nationalism by establishing Czech schools.

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The interior of the Minor Basilica of Saints Zdislava and Lawrence

An economic crisis ensued, and the Sudeten Party found many followers in the town. On October 3, 1938 this part of the Sudetenland was taken over by Germany, and the few Czechs living there moved. Days later, Jablonné v Podjěštedí became part of the Third Reich. During World War II, refugees from towns that had been bombarded came there for shelter. The Russian army liberated the town on May 9, 1945. After the war, a school cafeteria was located in the monastery. The Dominicans were sent to work camps

During the Communist era of the late 1960s and 1970s, high-rises that became eyesores of the town came into being. A poultry farm and a food processing plant also were built.

After the 1989 Velvet Revolution toppled the Communist regime, tourists came to the town. In 1995 Saint Zdislava was canonized by Pope John Paul II. Now there are about 4,000 inhabitants.

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The interior of the basilica

I was struck by the history of this town because it seemed so peaceful, even though it had been through so many trials and tribulations. I tried to imagine flags of the Third Reich flapping from the buildings on the main square. I tried to imagine the dancing flames on the piles of books and pictures that were burned as an attempt to purge the town of Lutheran beliefs. I tried to imagine the main square with so many buildings destroyed, in ruins, during the Hussite wars and during later wars. To be sure, that main square could tell a lot of stories if it could talk. Life went on, through good and bad the town persevered, and now tourists have taken an interest in the place due to the dazzling basilica.

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A church stood on this site as far back as the 13th century, established by Zdislava, the wife of Havel of the Markvartice clan and future saint. She was buried in the church during 1252. By the 17th century, the church and priority were in such a bad state that they were demolished. A Baroque church was built on the site of the Gothic church that had been torn down. It would become a church to which pilgrims flocked because Zdislava was buried there. The church was not consecrated until 1729.

The year 1788 was a particularly bad one. A fire destroyed the church and priory and then the Dominican brothers, who had settled in the monastery as far back as the 13th century, were abolished due to Emperor Joseph II’s edict.

While the exterior of the basilica enthralled me, I was surprised to find the interior just as enticing. if not more so. The floor plan takes the shape of a Greek cross. The interior is 45 meters high, 29 meters wide and 49 meters long.

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The first room in which the group gathered featured medallions of Zdislava holding a model of the church she had founded and renditions of Dominican monks. There were 24 pictures about the life of Zdislava from 1660. A Baroque standard of a craft guild also adorned the space.

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Then we saw the courtyard and went into the hallway where I saw some remarkable contemporary paintings with political symbolism. I liked the one showing families seated in front of the television while the Communist hammer and sickle emblems were displayed on the screens. The painting served as a warning about how tempting it had been under Communism to normalize propaganda and platitudes. The family members in the painting looked resigned to their fates. They were as if in a trance and had adjusted to the rules and regulations of totalitarian society. It also showed the importance of family, which played a major role in the lives of Czechoslovak citizens during that era.

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Now to the interior of the minor basilica: Because much of the interior was destroyed during the 1788 fire, most of the furnishings dated from the last two centuries. Newer sections even hailed from this century. The frescoes in the vaulted cupola featured the life of Zdislava. The baptismal font was Rococo, dating from 1764, one of the few pieces that survived the fire. I liked the Late Gothic statue of the Madonna, which hailed from before 1510, decorating the Rococo Marian-Zdislava altar. The pulpit was Classicist from the late 18th century and included a bust of Saint Peter. The altars of Saint Anna and the Virgin Mary were both Rococo in style, hailing from the 18th century. The altar of Our Lady of the Rosary, on the contrary, flaunted Baroque features with intriguing statuary.

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The main altar, though, was younger, built in 1898 in pseudo-Baroque style. Paintings of Saint Lawrence and Saint Zdislava adorned the altar. The choir benches were Rococo and featured intarsia. I love stained glass windows, and the ones in this basilica lived up to my expectations. I took note of the designs portraying Saint Stephan and Saint Philip.

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We also visited the tomb of Saint Zdislava, viewing the marble sarcophagus. Tombs are not really my cup of tea, but it was intriguing to think that in that sarcophagus were the remains of someone who had lived in the 13th century, someone who did much good for humankind. I vowed to get to Lemberk Castle, the residence of Saint Zdislava and her husband so many centuries ago, the following season. I had visited it once, many years earlier. I remember it was romantically situated in a forest, and the interiors had been intriguing, to say the least.

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I loved visiting small towns, especially those in the mountains because I have always loved mountains. I felt at peace with the world, standing on the main square. There is nothing like discovering a gem that earlier had been a mere name on a map.

Soon we said goodbye to north Bohemia and returned to Prague. It had been a good day.

Tracy A. Burns is a writer, proofreader and editor.

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Rococo baptismal font

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