Located in west Bohemia, situated near the famous spa town of Mariánské Lázně (Marienbad), Teplá Monastery is noted for its Baroque frescoes and spectacular library. I got there by train, changing once. This was my second visit. Facing the monastery, I looked up at the tall, gray towers that dominate the entrance.
Established in 1193 for the Premonstratensian Order by Czech nobleman Hroznata who later became a monk at Teplá, it is now owned by the Premonstratratensian Order. Historical figures have graced this sacral building. Even Czech King Václav I (Wenceslas I) attended the monastery’s first mass. Unlike the Břevnov, Plasy and Zlatá Koruna, this monastery wasn’t destroyed by the Hussites during the Hussite Wars. That was when two factions of the followers of Jan Hus fought each other, the moderates supported by the Holy Roman Empire, the Pope and others in the early 15th century (approximately from 1420 to 1434). While the church has been preserved from the 12th century, the library, my favorite space, is the newest building, constructed from 1902 to 1907. It is now the property of the Monastery of the Premonstratensians at Teplá.
First, I entered the Chapter Hall with its ornate, stucco ceiling frescoes of the 12 apostles and Saint Norbert. One ceiling fresco depicting Saint Norbert’s coffin being hauled to Prague’s Strahov Monastery in 1627 especially caught my attention. In the refectory, once the summer dining room, tables and chairs were notably absent. The only furniture saved was the exquisitely wood carved cupboard standing in one corner. Still, the room didn’t disappoint: on the wall was a fresco of the Last Supper from 1816, and a ceiling fresco paid homage to Saint Paul.
While making my way from the refectory to the church, I glanced out a window at the courtyard which appeared so tranquil with its four Baroque sculptures of Saint Prokop, Saint Jan Nepomuk, Saint Václav (Wenceslas) and Saint Vít (Vitus).
We came to The Annunciation of the Lord Church, the oldest part of the monastery, dating back to the end of the 12th and the beginning of the 13th century. Originally built in Romanesque Gothic style, it had been redecorated with Baroque ornamentation. The Baroque reconstruction was carried out in 1735 under the plans of architect Kryštof Dientzenhofer, the eldest of the two Dientzenhofer architects who hailed from Bavaria but worked in the Czech lands during the 18th century. The space dazzled me. There was so much exquisite décor in one place that I could hardly take it all in. I checked out the impressive large wooden statues by Ignác Platzer, studying those depicting saints and four religious teachers. The Baroque organ and the stained glass window above were intriguing, too.
A large wooden slab and plaque on the floor demarcated the place where Hroznata was originally buried in 1217, in front of the Rococo main altar, which showed Saint Norbert and Saint Václav (Wenceslas) in the middle with Saint Augustine, Saint Michal and Saint Anna accompanying them. I also noticed that the enormous 18th century Baroque canvases on the sides of the main altar that featured both Moses and the crucifixion.
To one side of the main altar I saw the Hroznata Chapel, where the remains of Hroznata were kept in a white marble altar. A painting on the right-hand side of the chapel showed Hroznata as a knight founding two cloisters. I was especially intrigued by the altar of Saint Theodore with its finely carved wood and statue enclosed in glass. The fresco above the chapel is divided into three sections, all of which fascinated me equally: one showed Hroznata being captured by robbing knights, another showed the dead Hroznata in prison at Kinsberg Castle, and the third showed him ascending to Heaven.
Then I walked down the hallway, noticing the elaborate oak benches on either side. At the end of the hallway, I looked back at the entire church: it was 65.25 meters long and 15.60 meters high. It was so overwhelming to take in all the breathtaking Baroque handiwork.
Now it was time to leave the church and enter the library. The first room welcomed me with an enormous illustrated Gothic manuscript and portraits of Austro-Hungarian Empress Maria Theresa (the only female to rule the Habsburg domain) and her husband Francis Stephen of Lorraine.
I entered the main hall of the second oldest library in the country, now housing scientific collections. The fresco on the ceiling by Karl Kratner depicted monks and angels celebrating flanked by four religious teachers and four Evangelists. While the library contained more than 100, 000 books, not all of them were on display. Still, the library was astounding! So many books I wished I could touch and read! I felt so comfortable around books, objects that had become good friends to me over the decades.
This particular collection included 700 manuscripts and 540 first printings. Wow! The books were written mostly in Latin (40 percent) but also in German and Czech. The oldest book dated from 915 to 930 AD (Can you believe that?), while perhaps the most well-known was called the Codex Teplensis, which is the oldest translation of The New Testament into German, hailing from the 15th century. Most volumes, though, dated from the 18th and 19th centuries.
Then the tour was over. I could have stood in that library for hours! It had to be one of my favorite libraries in the world! No, I did not want to leave. I walked out of the space slowly, reluctantly.
I had my favorite chicken with cheese and peaches in a comfortable hotel restaurant near the monastery and made my way back to the train station. I got lost returning to the station because I was thinking about the library and not paying attention to where I was going. I wound up walking down a deserted road, fields on either side of me. An elderly man finally crossed my path person, and I began walking toward the station. I had such a bad sense of direction! Not a good quality for someone who loves to travel! Yet for me part of the fun of traveling was getting lost and losing myself so I could find myself again, a changed person with a new perspective on life.
Tracy A. Burns is a writer, proofreader and editor in Prague.