Manětín Chateau Diary

 

Image

I had wanted to visit the Baroque chateau Manětín, about 45 minutes from Plzeň by car in Western Bohemia, for many years, but for some reason I had been under the impression that it was closed to the public. Only while I was at Chyše Chateau did I find out that Manětín had been open to the public since 1997. Today I would finally see it with my own eyes, I told myself as I went by tram and Metro to the Zličín station at the end of the “B” line, my trip there taking me 45 minutes. Then I hopped onto the Student Agency bus to Plzeň, a ride that only took an hour. From Plzeň I went by car to Manětín. Buses ran very irregularly to Manětín, and it was not possible to go by public transportation during the times I needed to get there and get back.

When I arrived at Manětín, I was bewitched by the Baroque statues and a sculptural grouping of the Holy Trinity in front of the main square. A road led down to the Baroque chateau itself, situated behind the statues. At the small white church next to the chateau a group of six or seven musicians were playing funereal music on trumpets. People dressed in black walked solemnly into the church. I had read that the church was Baroque and that its main altar had been painted by Czech master Petr Brandl.

ImageIt was almost 10 am, and my tour began at the top of the hour. I had a few minutes to pop into the park. The Baroque and English park looked elegant and well-kept, very different than it must have looked between 1945 and the 1990s, when it was in a decrepit state. It had been restored in the 1990s to appear like it had during 1790.

Then it was time for the tour. The knowledgeable young man acquainted me with the history of the chateau that had been first mentioned in 1169. The chateau that had begun as a medieval fortress had been transformed into Renaissance style before 1600. After a devastating fire in 1712, it was reconstructed with a Baroque appearance thanks to the then owner, Marie Gabriela Lažanská.

The chateau had been confiscated several times.  Volf Krajíř z Krajku owned the place from 1544 to 1547, when it was confiscated because he had rebelled against Holy Roman Emperor Ferdinand I.  Following The Battle of White Mountain in 1620, which pitted the Protestant nobles against the Emperor and Catholic Habsburgs, the defeated nobles lost their property. The chateau was confiscated for the second time in 1622.

ImageThat was when Ester Mitrovská from Nemyšle, born Lažanská from Bukova, bought the chateau. When she died, the chateau came into the hands of her brother, Ferdinand Rudolf Lažanský. The Lažanský family would keep the chateau for more than 300 years. Times of cultural prosperity followed, especially when Václav Josef Lažanský and Marie Gabriela Lažanská manned the chateau.

After World War II, though, the chateau was confiscated for the third time, becoming the property of the state because two Lažanská women in charge of the chateau had married two Austrian brothers.  Thus, the chateau had been in part the property of the Austrian family. Due to the Beneš decrees that took away property from Germans and even expelled them from the country, Terezie Lažanská, one of the women who had married an Austrian, was deported to Austria. Some rooms were open to the public as early as 1959, and the chateau became a national monument in 2002.

ImageUpon entering the hallway, I was enthralled by the sculptures dotting the staircase as well as the ceiling fresco.  The four statues with putti on the staircase represented the four elements. One cherub was holding a fish, representing water. Another was depicted with a cannonball and decked in an old-fashioned fireman’s helmet that looked more like military headgear. This was Fire. Earth was portrayed by a cherub with a melon and snake, and Air was depicted by a putti flying on a bird. I could almost imagine the cherub whizzing through the cold, damp chateau air on the big bird.

A portrayal of what the chateau was supposed to look like in the 18th century took centerstage in the ceiling fresco. Allegories of architecture and painting also adorned the fresco as did the coat-of-arms of Marie Gabriela Lažanská, perhaps the most influential of the Lažanský owners. (The guide mentioned that Marie Gabriela had been addicted to card playing. In fact, more than once she had put the chateau at stake when she had made her bet.)

In the Reception Room there were four paintings depicting soldiers during the Thirty Years’ War, which lasted from 1618 to 1648 and was set off by religious disputes. One held a spear, another a sword. The oldest piece of furniture in the chateau stood in this room as well; it was a 1640 bureau, dating from the Thirty Years’ War as well. I paid particular attention to the elegant, brown fireplace and gold with black clock and vases, all in lavish Rococo style. I liked the gold with black décor even though I suppose it was ostentatious.

The portrait of the young woman depicted in black was Terezie, who was killed in a hunting accident when she was 21 years old. (Note that this is a different Terezie than the one who fled to Germany.) But perhaps it hadn’t been an accident at all, the guide conceded. Some say she was killed on purpose so she could not get married. Supposedly, her lover hated the man she was engaged to.

In a corner of the next room, a window was painted onto the wall. The guide explained that there had been originally a window there, but it had been filled when new rooms had been added in the 19th century. An 18th century chaise lounge, a Venetian mirror made in Morano and a group of white, Viennese porcelain also adorned the room. On the ceiling there was a small fresco of part of a boat, dating from the first part of the 18th century; most of the fresco had been destroyed, though. I tried to imagine what it would have looked like if the entire fresco had been visible. A port with boats and nobility strolling along an embankment on a crisp afternoon? I wondered.

ImageI loved the way the porcelain cups were displayed on small black shelves set at different levels on the wall. In a round portrait Marie Gabriela, clad in a silver dress, appeared strong-willed and somber with a no-nonsense expression. A light wood, Baroque desk hailed from the 18th century while the tapestry covering one wall showed a scene from the Old Testament with Moses. The two dressers, both green with floral patterns, were intriguing, for their irregular, curving shapes and color. A view of Venice was painted on each one. I recognized the Doges Palace on one and thought back to the thrilling time I toured the palace during my first day in that magical city.

The next hallway was decorated with green pictures of castles, chateaus and various places – the pictures had been cut out of magazines. I recognized the chateau of Blatná, as two people rowed a small boat around it. Another scene showed woods in Karlovy Vary. Still others showed the castles Orlík, Točník and Žebrák. Then we came to a room with a hunting theme. Nineteenth century guns, petrified hawks and a woodpecker made up the décor. The Baroque desk, closet and dresser looked out of place.

In the room where the nobility had gathered, the paintings on the wall showed boats at sea and hailed from 18th century Holland. A black Baroque table and bureau from the same era also adorned the room. The glass chandelier caught my attention.  It was exquisite. Made in Venice’s Morano, the chandelier was decorated with glass flower buds that looked almost as if they were icicles taking on decorative shapes. There was also an Italian mirror with a simple, gold frame.

ImageDecorating another hallway were more green pictures of castles, chateaus and places. I saw Plzeň, a major city now, as a 19th century village and Roundice nad Labem before its chateau had become dilapidated. A room with a horses’ theme was decked with small paintings of horses, a clock with four, white columns, a desk with cards and a German newspaper dated 1859.

Then we came to a room with unique paintings on the walls. They did not depict the nobility, but instead the servants and clerks who had worked at the chateau. A rarity in chateaus, this collection included 13 portraits from 1716 to 1717 hanging in several rooms and in a hallway. They were painted by Václav Dvořák, whose life remains mostly a mystery. All the people portrayed in this room were dressed in black. Two carriage drivers next to a carriage wore tall, fluffy hats with big feathers. In one portrait a solemn-looking priest stared back at me. He had written a chronicle of Manětín in three languages, the guide said.

Objects in the next room proved to be rarities as well. The space boasted a complete collection of porcelain, plates with tea and coffee service sporting white with brown decoration. It was not often that a chateau had a complete collection; usually there were only pieces of a collection featured.  In the former Billiards’ Room, there was no table, but there were more paintings of servants and clerks. Three men donning large, white wigs gazed at me. There were also portraits of a doctor, the chateau’s caretaker and the priest who was also a historian. An elderly woman held keys in one hand; she was responsible for the keys to the chateau and to the food storage rooms. The yellow tile stove with squiggly brown vertical lines appealed to me. A small device that functioned as a bell was there, too. If you spoke into the hole, a person in the dining room could hear you.

ImageThe biggest room was now used for weddings and concerts. The 1730 ceiling fresco boasted its original, vibrant colors and portrayed three figures showing God’s qualities in the center. I spotted the one in red with the heart as Love. The female clad in blue represented Strength. The third portrayed a girl pouring water from a jug onto a coat-of-arms. This was symbolic of Luck or Fortune. In the corners of the ceiling, the painted figures represented the four seasons.  Fall showed a naked girl with grapes and Bacchus, the god of wine. Winter had two symbols. One was Death as an angel, but there was also a woman in a black mask to depict winter as a time of social gatherings and parties. Summer was represented by a girl donning a big, straw hat and wielding a sickle as well as a woman holding a parasol. One girl pouring water while another held a parrot stood for spring.

Mythological events were also portrayed on the ceiling. I spotted Poseidon and a falling Icarus. There were two portraits of the Lažanský family in this room as well. One showed Marie Gabriela and her daughter along with a black servant. In the portrait of her husband with their sons, the painter put himself in the work, holding a palette and brushes.

 Painted Baroque statues flanked the doorway that led to the magnificent library, which held 5,000 books, many with golden spines.  Most were in German and dealt with economy, but books by Johann Wolfgang von Goethe and Johann Christoph Friedrich von Schiller also graced the shelves. There were also books in English, Italian and French, for example. Only two books in Czech were in the collection, and both described how to make beer. Topics of other books included fishing, fruit growing, history and theatre. There was even a Turkish textbook. Above me was a fresco of Zeus and his daughter Pallas Athena, the goddess of war. The ceiling had been reconstructed in the 20th century due to a fire that had erupted because a tile stove had not been closed properly.

I found the remaining two portraits of servants in the hallway. One showed a cook and woman washing dishes in the chateau kitchen. Another showed a woman pouring water into a basin. Since there was no hot or cold water back then, the water had to be boiled in the kitchen, the guide explained. The woman pouring the water was decked in a traditional folk costume.

ImageAfter the intriguing tour I went outside to take photos of some of the 30 Baroque statues that sprinkled the town and hailed from 1680 to 1780. I still could not enter the Baroque church next door. A simple, wooden coffin was placed in a black van, followed by a procession of people dressed in black, along with two decked in purple and white robes. I did not see the Church of Saint Barbara, either, though I later read it was Baroque in style and featured eight wooden statues of saints.

I went to the chateau restaurant and had my favorite excursion lunch of chicken with peaches and Cola light. Then I got back in the taxi and headed for the smallest town in Europe called Rabštejn nad Střelou, situated only nine kilometers away.

Image

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

 

Buchlov Castle Diary

Image

I had wanted to walk through the forest from Buchlovice Chateau to Buchlov Castle, but I did not have enough time before my bus back to Brno left from Buchlovice. I went to the information office and asked if there was any way I could get to Buchlov and have enough time for the 90-minute tour. The young, blond woman suggested I call a local man who gives rides back and forth. Since the information office recommended him, I thought it would be safe. The stout, bearded man came within 10 minutes, and soon massive, Gothic Buchlov loomed above me, overpowering me with its sheer size and strength.

First, the guide, a lanky man wearing a T-shirt that pictured the castle, explained that the history of Buchlov went all the way back to around 1300, when it was first mentioned in writing. At that time, Buchlov was royal property, but Moravian noble families were put in charge of it. The design of the Early Gothic chapel, forged in the 1370s, was inspired by Sainte-Chapelle Chapel in Paris. Unfortunately, it was mostly destroyed by Hungarians in an attack during 1468 and later abolished. The first private owners of the castle were the Lords of Žerotín, who took it over in 1520. Their tenure at Buchlov was short-lived, however, and the Zástřizly nobility called it home for 100 years, from 1544 to 1644. During this era Renaissance reconstruction took place.

In 1644 the Petřvalds came and would own Buchlov until 1800. The Petřvald family made some Baroque changes in the 17th and 18th centuries. From 1800 the property was transferred to the counts of Berchtold, who would become major players in the castle’s history. The two half-brothers Leopold I Berchtold and Dr. Bedřich Berchtold had been world travelers, and many of the souvenirs they had collected on their trips were displayed in the castle. Dr. Bedřich had another claim to fame: he had been the co-founder of the collection at Prague’s National Museum. The older brother, Leopold I, was known for setting up schools and a poor house, among other achievements.

The family kept it until 1945, when the so-called Beneš decrees made it state property. The Beneš decrees stated that Germans, Nazi collaborators, traitors and others living in Czechoslovakia had to relinquish their Czechoslovak citizenship and property without compensation. The guide did not specify the reason why the Berchtolds had to give up the property, but I guessed it was because they had had German citizenship. Much reconstruction took place during the second half of the 20th century and into the 21st century.

ImageAn intriguing legend is associated with the linden tree situated in front of the Dancing Hall, home to 18th century furnishings and Baroque portraits. According to the legend, some 400 years ago the tree was planted with its roots upward and its crown in the ground.  It was said to be proof that a man sentenced to death for poaching was really innocent.

After passing through a gate hailing from the middle of the 16th century, our group arrived at the third courtyard. In the black kitchen I marveled at the oldest architectural feature in the castle – the Late Romanesque arch dating back to 1340s. The pots and utensils were copies of those used in the Middle Ages.

The armory offered an intriguing perspective on the battle-ridden history of the castle. Some weapons dated back to 1421, when the Hussites tried to conquer Buchlov, and others hailed from the 17th century Thirty Years’ War when the Swedes did much damage. Buchlov survived that war only because a ransom was paid. There were weapons from all over the world – from Asia as well as Central and South America, for example.

ImageOn the first floor we entered the Baroque library, which was home to about 10,000 volumes. Books that promoted Protestantism were removed after the Thirty Years’ War Battle of White Mountain in Prague during 1620. The Bohemian Protestant rebels were defeated by the armies of Holy Roman Emperor Ferdinand II, who was devoutly Catholic, and the German Catholic League.

In the early 17th century the majority of the Bohemian nobility had been Protestant. When die-hard Catholic Ferdinand II was crowned Holy Roman Emperor and King of Bohemia, it meant serious trouble for the Protestants. After the Battle of White Mountain, the Czechs would find themselves under Habsburg rule, and German would become the prominent language of the lands. The books in Czech mostly came from the Czech National Revival, an 18th and 19th century movement that strived to promote the Czech language, Czech culture and national identity.

 I saw an intriguing architectural detail of an Early Gothic portal where the chapel from the 1370s was situated, now an empty space with spectacular views of the countryside.  Then we came to the Buchlov Madonna, whose expression seemed to be asking, “Is this kid mine?”  The statue dated from the first half of the 14th century. Another Madonna appeared to be trying to keep her son from wriggling away.  There was also a rendition called “The Last Supper of the Lord,” a double-sided painting, part of a winged altar, which is composed of a central panel and two side panels. It dated from the end of the 15th century. It always astonished me that artifacts from the 14th or 15th century could survive to the present day.  It fascinated me how they were tangible connections with the distant past.

ImageThe Knights’ Hall featured cross vaulting and reticulated vaulting. These architectural elements were decorated with the coats-of-arms of significant Moravian clans. Then we came to a room decorated with an ornate tiled stove that flaunted cherubs and floral motifs in brown, green, yellow and white. A complete knight’s armor from the 16th century weighed 30 kilograms. I could not imagine wearing it. I do not think I would even be able to stand up in that armor. I was intrigued by the calendar from the Middle Ages. I learned that February of 1693 had had 31 days.

The next section was the castle museum. It had been opened by Count Zikmund I Berchtold in 1856. Zikmund I had revolted against the Habsburgs in Hungary during 1848 and 1849. The rebellion was unsuccessful, and he got the death penalty. The court reduced his sentence to house arrest for life, so he organized the family museum. I saw plumed helmets, weapons of American Indians and the skins of a zebra, polar bear, grizzly bear and alligators. There were also human skeletons and a collection of shoes ranging from sandals to boots. In a jar was an embryo of a baby pig with eight legs and two tails. It made me think back to the revolting human embryos that Peter the Great had collected, now gathered in Saint Petersburg. My stomach had violently churned when I had seen them during that freezing April morning several years ago.

ImageThen the guide explained that after the Battle of Slavkov in 1805 the nearby Buchlovice Chateau had been used as a hospital where military personnel and civilians had received free medical attention. Leopold I Berchtold caught typhus there and died at the relatively young age of 50. On the wall was a picture of a woman in the third stage of syphilis. She had large empty sockets for eyes, and her nose was black. Her teeth made her look sinister and dangerous. It was absolutely horrifying. She looked like a monster, not like a human being. I thought of people with cancer and how the horrible disease could make people look so emaciated. I felt lucky that I did not have cancer and that my father had survived two bouts with the terrifying illness. I knew I would keep the image of that woman, stripped of human dignity, in my mind for a long time.

The next room was totally different. It featured an Egyptian mummy in a coffin made of cedar wood. It was about 2,300 years old. The illusive wall painting dated from the first half of the 19th century and made me feel as though I was inside an Egyptian tomb.

Last, we climbed the tower and saw astounding views of the south and east Moravian countryside. I could also see the church where the family tomb of the Petřvalds and Berchtolds was located, but it was not nearby, and we did not go there. We descended many steps and came to the locked door. For a moment I was disoriented and lost sight of the guide. Then he appeared and opened the door with one of his many large keys. We all filed out, into the sunshine. When I turned around to thank the guide, he had disappeared.

My driver came for me, and soon I was back in Buchlovice, standing at the bus sign on the highway as car after car sped by me. The bus did arrive on time, though, and before long I was back in Brno.

 

Tracy A. Burns is a writer, proofreader and editor living in Prague, Czech Republic.

Image

Rychnov nad Kněžnou Diary

 

 

Image

My journey started at 6:30 a.m. on a bus from a Metro station on the other side of Prague, about an hour from my home. We arrived in the east Bohemian town of Hradec Králové, where I was to change buses, on time at 7:45. Then I had to wait. But for how long? The information on the Internet stated that the bus to Rychnov nad Kněžnou would leave at 10 a.m., but the woman at the information desk in Hradec Králové confirmed that the time of my next departure was 9:30 a.m.

It took another hour and a half to get to Rychnov nad Kněžnou, situated in the foothills of the Orlické (Eagle) Mountains northeast of Prague, near the Polish border. While it was a sunny day in Prague, in the mountainous terrain it was much cooler, though still pleasant. The bus station was only minutes away from the chateau, so I didn’t have to worry about getting lost on my way back to the 15:05 bus to Hradec Králové. (Actually, I did get lost. I was about two streets away from the bus station on my attempt to return there. I always seem to get lost!)

I had already visited Rychnov once, about 10 years earlier. While the chateau may not have outdone those nearby in Častolovice and Opočno, it certainly ranked right up there. The chateau had an intriguing past.  The town had been home to a castle or fortress as early as 1258, but it became a ruin, and a church was built over it in the late 16th century. This chateau was built between 1670 and 1690, under the guidance of František Karel Kolowrat. The well-known noble Kolowrat family had purchased the estate during the Thirty Years’ War in 1640, and their descendants even live in the chateau today. (It was returned to the family in 1992.) The residence underwent a Baroque transformation between 1713 and 1727. The architect of what was once the riding hall was the well-renowned Gothic Baroque master Jan Blažej Santini Aichel. In the late 16th century a bell tower had been constructed in the town. It was the third biggest in Bohemia, weighing almost seven tons.

As I approached the chateau, I noticed the column with the Virgin Mary, dating from 1692 to 1694. Soon I was one of three people on the 60-minute tour. The first thing I saw was the coat-of-arms of an eagle on the hallway floor. Above the red and silver eagle was the word “faithfully;” below it, the word “always.” I paid special attention to the crown above the eagle; Emperor Charles IV gave the Kolowrat family the crown on their coat-of-arms after one member of the family had saved the ruler’s life during an assassination attempt in Pisa, Italy.

ImageMy favorite room was the picture gallery. The chateau boasted more than 300 paintings on display and furniture from as far back as the 17th century.  The picture gallery’s collection of about 400 paintings consisted mostly of portraits of the Kolowrat family members, still lifes and hunting scenes by Dutch and Italian masters, and there were also landscapes. Some works took up religious themes as well. The dark-haired, tall man who was giving the tour mentioned that at one time, the collection held 1,218 paintings. This gallery also traced the development of the nobility in portraiture from the 16th to the 19th century. The biggest delight for me was the masterpiece by legendary Czech artist Karel Škréta – his portrait of Ignác Vitanoský of Vlčkovice. However, not only paintings abounded in the chateau; decorated ceramic stoves were situated in each room, dating from the 17th to 20th century.

Other paintings of note included “Esther before Ahasuerus” from the South Netherlandish School of the 16th century. I noticed the luxury of the palace, where the scene took place. In the background, through an open door, I could see greenish-blue mountains and a winding stairway leading up to a mysterious building. What intrigued me the most, though, were the loud, red stockings of Ahasuerus.

In one room a large painting showed the execution of noblemen on Prague’s Old Town Square during 1621, after the Protestant Bohemian States lost to the Holy Roman Empire, Spain and the Catholic League in the Battle of White Mountain during November of 1620. Edison light bulbs were featured in a chandelier decorating another space.

One of my favorite artifacts was a painting of a winter landscape with figures on the ice in a quaint village scene. Several people rode a sleigh, and another was falling down. It reminded me of the wintry creations by my favorite Dutch master, Pieter Brueghel the Elder.

The Škréta portrait was certainly a highlight of the tour. Ignác Vitanovský of Vlčkovice had a gentle yet determined look in his eyes as he gazed at the viewer. I also saw Baroque furniture employing a green and tan leaf motif. In one space a pink and white Venetian chandelier greeted me. The guide pointed out that there was an engraving in the middle of one bureau. It showed Boleslav murdering his brother, the future Czech patron saint Václav (Wenceslas), in Stará Boleslav on September 28, 935.

ImageThen we came to the Knights’ Hall with life-size portraits of members of the Kolowrat family. The chapel was quaint with its ceiling fresco and altar featuring a very pensive Saint Mary of the Snow. Another room was filled with various fans of different colors, some of them made of silk. The guide explained how fans had been used to set up meetings or ask someone out on a date. For example, a gesture with a fan could tell a man if the woman was single or married. A Buddha also decorated that room. The head and hands could move, and it stuck out its tongue at the viewer.

In the Dining Room I saw Viennese, Empire style, Meissen and other styles of porcelain. What interested me the most were the paintings of dead animals on the walls. It seemed to be inappropriate décor for a place where people ate. Looking at those paintings during dinner would certainly ruin my appetite.

The tour was over too soon. Then I went to lunch on the main square, where I had my favorite chicken with peaches and cheese. I also checked out the Holy Trinity Church, erected on the site of what was once a castle or fortress. The church was closed, but I did see an intriguing fresco on one wall.

There was even more to see at the chateau. The Hladík Gallery featured statues of former Prague professor of the arts Karel Hladík, who lived from 1912 to 1967 and hailed from the Rychnov area. I was impressed. His busts, torsos, decorated totem pole-like sculptures and figures in agony spoke to me as they relayed strong emotions. I felt as if I really knew the people whose busts I saw, as if I almost could understand them. Another intriguing work was his portrait of a gaunt Franz Kafka.

The upstairs portion of the Orlická Gallery awaited me. There I saw the landscapes by Jan Trampota. These were landscapes in bright pastels, mostly of scenes in the Orlické Mountains. One of Trampota’s works showed the beautiful countryside with gentle hills and lush trees. The terrain was sprinkled with a few cottages. This watercolor “At the End of Summer” was executed during 1928-29 in soothing pastels and greens and browns, and was my favorite of his paintings on display. In another room landscape paintings by one of my favorite Czech artists, Antonín Hudeček, were hung. I wanted to take Hudeček’s field of pink flowers home.

There were many rooms in the gallery, all boasting intriguing paintings, plus a temporary photography exhibition. By the time I got through the gallery, it was time to hurry back to the station to get the bus back to Hradec Králové. I did get lost during what should have been a five-minute trek, but I still made it in time.

On the bus I noticed a sign stating that passengers must fasten their seat belts. But I didn’t have a seat belt. In fact, the other seats near me didn’t, either. Both buses coming to Rychnov nad Kněžnou had been equipped with seat belts. Luckily, there was no accident and upon arriving to Hradec Králové, I immediately got on a 16:30 bus to Prague. Image

Broumov Monastery Diary

Broumov2Getting to Hradec Králové from Prague was the easy leg of the trip, only taking one hour and 15 minutes courtesy of the comfortable Student Agency buses with plush seating. I had an hour before my connection, which would take me to Broumov on a journey lasting two and a half hours.

I had wanted to visit Broumov for about 10 years, but I was always put off by the four-hour or longer bus ride to get there. I do not like traveling by bus. A four-hour trip seemed too much to bear.

This time, though, I was determined finally to see the monastery that many of my friends had praised. Unfortunately, I would not have time to explore any of the rock formations near my destination, a town at the Polish border of northeast Bohemia.

My connecting bus pulled up on time. I spent about an hour reading about the monastery’s history. The town, I found out, had been established as far back as the 13th century. The first mentioning of the monastery that I could find came from 1306, when the Benedictines began to run a grammar school there. Several of the students would make names for themselves in Czech history: Arnošt of Pardubice, who served as the first Archbishop of Prague during the middle of the 14th century; writer Alois Jirásek; and the first Czechoslovak Minister of Finance, Alois Rašín. The history of the school was fraught with trials and tribulations, though. The Hussites destroyed it during 1420, and the uprising of the Bohemian Estates from 1618 to 1620 during the Thirty Years’ War also forced the school to shut its doors. The history of the uprising was intriguing, to say the least. Holy Roman Emperor Matthias had appointed Ferdinand as his heir, which caused a major fuss among the Protestants because Ferdinand abhorred Protestantism.

Broumov3I also read that in the early 17th century, Protestants constructed their own church near the Lower Gate of the monastery, causing much friction. Even though Emperor Ferdinand II ordered it to be shut down and put some rebels in prison, the church remained open. This Catholic-Protestant conflict in Broumov helped instigate the Prague defenestration of vice-governors on May 23, 1618, when the two representatives Ferdinand had sent to oversee the Czech government at Prague Castle were pushed out a window along with the secretary. (They survived because they fell on a pile of horse manure.) This marked the Second Defenestration of Prague and triggered the Bohemian Revolt.

That is when the directors of the Bohemian Estates confiscated the monastery, which was purchased by the citizens of the town. The complex was returned to the Benedictines after the Battle of White Mountain in 1620, when the Catholics, led by Holy Roman Emperor Ferdinand II’s army, defeated the Protestant Bohemians. The monastery was in ruins but was restored. The school was not closed again until 1939, when the Nazis controlled the complex. Benedictines from the USA oversaw the monastery from 1945 to 1948, but then the Communists took over, and the American monks went home. During 1950 the monastery became an internment camp for monks. It was not returned to the Benedictines until 1990.

To get to the monastery, I had to walk through the main square. Renaissance house number 105 boasted of a portal from 1595. I noticed two buildings in Neo-Renaissance style as well. The monastery was practically on the square. I purchased my ticket and gazed at the Baroque statues of saints on the balustrade of the monastery’s terrace before the tour began. Saint Prokop, in almost fluttering drapery, proudly gripped a cross. The Baroque masterpieces seemed to twist and turn on their own and gave the exterior a dramatic and dynamic atmosphere.

First, we entered the Church of Saint Vojtěch (Adalbert) – a Baroque wonderland thanks to Italian builder Martin Allio and the Dientzenhofer team of father Kryštof and son Kilián Ignáz during the 18th century. (The Dientzenhofers remodeled the other monastery buildings in Baroque style as well.) I was overwhelmed by the pink fresco-filled ceiling with white stucco décor. I felt dizzy with awe as I peered at the fresco showing the death of Saint Vojtěch. In the Saint Benedict Chapel, white angels fluttered amidst spiraling pink columns. In the choir I admired the carved wooden benches with gold decoration as well as the frescoes above them.  The 20-something guide with long blond hair pointed out a rendering of “The Last Supper”. The main altar, dating from 1706, was not disappointing, either. Flanked by Saint Václav (Wenceslas) and Saint John of Nepomuk, Saint Vojtěch stands proudly in the middle.

Broumov4Next, we went upstairs to the library – one of my favorite rooms on any tour. Originally, there were three libraries with a total of 67,000 books, but now only one remained, and the number of books has dwindled to 17,000. The guide explained that during the totalitarian regime, Communists threw books out the window. Other books went to Prague, and still others were stolen.  I tried to imagine someone hurling these exquisite volumes outside, but it was too painful. It was just one of the many ways that the Communists tried to suffocate Czech culture. Once again, I was reminded of how horrific the totalitarian era was. The reading material that remained was written in Latin, Spanish, French and Czech, among other languages. The books dealt with subjects such as law and history, the guide remarked, showing us a seven-volume set of The Old Testament, which made up the heaviest books. Each weighed 20 kilograms. I was moved by the portraits decorating the balustrade and the frescoes that adorned the ceiling. The illustrated manuscripts featured in display cases were a treat, too.

Downstairs to the first floor, we entered the refectory. The treasure in the room was one of 40 copies of the Shroud of Turin, discovered in the Saint Cross chapel during 1999. What a day that must have been! Imagine discovering a 17th century relic three centuries later!

Supposedly, Jesus Christ was wrapped in the original shroud after his body was taken down from the cross. Those who believe in its authenticity argue that an impression of a coin circulated at the time of Jesus of Nazareth’s death was shown on one of the eyes. Originally kept in Constantinople, it has been stored in Turin since the 16th century.

Made in 1651, this copy – the only one found north of the Alps – was a gift to Broumov Abbot Sobek of Bílenberk from Turin Bishop Bergirius. The shroud featured a brown impression of Christ’s body with a light outline. For some reason I had expected the impression to be more pronounced and the outline more visible, darker. Still, it was exciting to be able to see such a significant piece.

Broumov12In the corridor we stopped at three charts on boards. One denoted events from the 19th century, marking that the cholera epidemic had ravaged the region during 1836. A board from 1812 showed that hop-plant was the most expensive product that year.

Then the tour guide asked who wanted to see the mummies. I did not know anything about any mummies there, but, curious, I tagged along with two others. We walked deep down into the crypt. In two spaces I saw 20 mummies of 17th and 18th century townspeople in open coffins. There were 32 mummies in all, but only 20 were on display, the guide remarked. Then she explained that due to renovation work in Vamberk, the mummies had been kept here since 2000. She did not know when they would return home. I was aghast that the mummies were so small, the size of children rather than most adults. For a moment I was brooding and philosophical. I wondered if that is all there is after life. You wind up in a coffin, there is no God, no Heaven. You are stuck in a dark place for eternity. Moved by the sight of the open caskets, I tried not to dwell on those depressing thoughts and instead marveled at the mummies’ preservation.

The tour ended, and I went to the museum in the monastery, six halls focusing on 700 years of the Broumov region’s rich history. Gothic, Renaissance and Baroque objects were just a few of the attractions. Weapons, folk nativity scenes, shooting targets and regional folk costumes rounded out the permanent exhibition. There was also an exhibition of clocks – from ornate Baroque clocks to 20th century alarm clocks. The most intriguing object for me was the poster announcing that this region – the former Sudetenland with a German majority – was being incorporated into The Third Reich. The German citizens had been enthusiastic about it, I remember reading. They had welcomed the Munich Agreement of 1938 that ceded Czechoslovakia’s Sudetenland to Hitler. And I thought of the Beneš decrees instigated after World War II when Czechoslovak President Edvard Beneš expelled all Germans from the Sudetenland. History had certainly made a poignant mark on this seemingly tranquil town. Looking at that poster, I saw the brutality of 20th century events that had seeped throughout the region.

Wooden church in Broumov

Wooden church in Broumov

Next, I made my way toward the hospital. Across the street was a small cemetery with an exquisite wooden church – the Church of the Virgin Mary – that is the oldest preserved all-wood construction in Central Europe. There may have been a church on this site as far back as the 12th century, when this part of town made up a village. Legend has it that the church was built by a pagan princess during 1171. However, the first written documentation of its existence dates from 1383. In 1421 the church was destroyed by the Hussites, though the extent of the destruction is uncertain. The current church was constructed by the Benedictines in 1449. The Gothic structure had a single nave with a trihedral end and a steep gabled roof. A pyramid steeple punctuated the building. The ground floor was surrounded by an open gallery, and the interior was covered with planks.

The main altar

The exquisite interior of the church

The tombstones outside the church

The tombstones outside the church

The art work was incredible. There was a remarkable stencil mural on a wall. I admired the black stencil motifs of geometric shapes and vegetables on the ceiling and walls, too. The main altar depicted the Virgin Mary looking up to Heaven, surrounded by a gold frame supported by two angels. Two columns were situated behind the angels. A huge halo dominated the top of the exquisite structure. 

Another photo of the interior of the church

Another photo of the interior of the church

After spending about a half hour in that modest yet fascinating architectural gem, I had lunch in a hotel restaurant with a garden and terrace. There was a fountain and statuary in the garden that seemed to belong to a palace. The prices were the same as the pizzeria I often visited in downtown Prague, yet the dining atmosphere was much classier. I felt as if I were at a resort.

My stomach filled with delicious chicken and diet Coke, I walked around the corner to the bus stop. It would be a four-hour journey back to Prague on the direct bus. I was surprised to find out that there was no break during the trip, such as a 10-minute interval to use the bathrooms. I did have five minutes in Náchod, though, where I raced around the corner to the train station restroom and made it back with a minute to spare. While the skies had foreshadowed rain during my entire trip, it did not start pouring until I got off the bus at the Černý Most Metro station in Prague. Still, nothing could damper my excitement about a trip that had been well worth the arduous journey.Broumov5

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