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History of the Monastery

Established by Prince Vladislav I in 1115, the Benedictine monastery at Kladruby was set into a sparsely settled landscape inhabited by Slavonic population. It was provided with vast estates; in particular, in a triangle formed by the Mže River, the Úhlavka River and the frontier forest.

The first Czech monks were soon joined by missionaries from the nearby town of Zwiefalten. Close relation with Zwiefalten were being kept even later, when the Czechs recovered their numerical superiority in the monastery. Several times, the monastery became a venue of discreet diplomatic negotiations. For example, against the background of the culminating conflict between the Czech church and the temporal lords, Přemysl I met here representatives of the curia.

After having been Gothicized, the original Romanesque church was consecrated in King Wenceslas I’s presence in 1233. Sometime around 1233, under Abbot Reiner, the village of (Old) Kladruby was established in the vicinity of the monastery; namely, next to the current churchyard. By virtue of the astute Abbot Reiner’s purposive acquisition activities, the monastery considerably expanded its estates around Kladruby. During the second half of the 14th century, the power and significance of the monastery constantly grew thanks to new privileges and progressive economic method. Another important feature was the development of the nearby locality of Kladruby, which was elevated to the township at that time. The monastery then possessed 128 villages administered by three provosts based at Kladruby, Touškov and Přeštice. Kladruby Monastery several times feasted Emperor Charles IV.

Soon afterwards, however, Kladruby became a point of intersection where interests of the country’s top dignitaries incessantly clashed, thereby endangering the position of the monastery per se. Wenceslas IV decided to undermine the position of one of his most adamant adversaries, The Prague Archbishop John of Jenštejn, by establishing a new bishopric conceived to take over the estates owned by the monastery at Kladruby. Upon the death of Kladruby monastery’s Abbot Racek in 1393, however, the opponents managed to thwart the King’s intentions by promptly electing a new abbot, with the election immediately approved by the Archbishop’s Vicar, John of Pomuk. The resulting fierce conflict brought the archbishop into exile. After having been tortured, the half-dead John of Pomuk was thrown by the King’s adherents from the Prague Charles’ Bridge down to the Vltava River.

Originally, the Hussite revolutionary movement only meant material damage to Kladruby, since the monastery had to provide financial aid to Emperor Sigismund. In 1421, however, the partially fortified monastery was conquered by John Žižka of Trocnov, with the monks having fled in time to Regensburg with their most precious possessions. Afterwards, the Benedictines intermittently returned and fled, but they eventually failed to prevent the neighbouring Utraquist and Catholic aristocrats from annexing the monastic lands. In 1467, the monastery was devastated due to the fights of the baronial league and the Crusaders against King George of Poděbrady. Until the late 15th century, consequently, the monastery frequently had to pawn and sell its property.

The economic situation improved only slowly, with new mining and fish-pond-cultivating activities modestly contributing to the rehabilitation of the monastic domain. Simultaneously, the nearby townships of Touškov and Kladruby started to flourish again. Featured by the demanding reconstruction of Our Lady’s church (re-consecrated in 1504) and increasing diplomatic activities, the resurgence of the monastery did not last for long. With the position of the monastery perpetually unstable, even the fairly competent abbots failed to successfully face a host of unfavourable events at that time. Several misfortunes, including the extensive fire, which devastated the monastic buildings in 1590, along with prematurely abdicating abbots and incessant internal quarrels, only testify that the development of the monastery during the 16th century was not favourable.

The Thirty Year’s War resulted in conquering and plundering the monastery and the nearby township by both the warring parties. Nevertheless, the monastery managed to take advantage of the Catholic Church’s post-war boom to retrieve the worst losses in a short time (as late as the mid-17th  century, Kladruby Monastery possessed two townships and 28 villages). For that reason, the monastery could afford to carry out a challenging repair of Our Lady’s church as early as 1653. At that time, the grave of the monastery’s founder, Prince Vladislav I was uncovered, with the princely remains transferred to the altar situated in the nave. Within the framework of the 1728 remodelling, the remains were transferred to the high altar.

The comprehensive reconstruction of the convent was completed in 1670, with the prelate’s old residence erected between 1664 and 1670. Notably, the monastery became a place of pilgrimage in 1658. the late 17th century and the first half of the 18th century witnessed the genuine heyday of Kladruby, with the monastery irreversibly securing its position in the surrounding landscape and going down in the history of Czech architecture. At that time, the monastery entered its final stage, marked by the activities of the so-called great abbots and builders; namely, Maurus Fintzgut, Josef Sieber and Amandus Streer.

By regaining its farmstead at Přeštice in 1705 and buying some minor estates, the monastery virtually completed the rehabilitation of its property, thereby creating a material base for its subsequent activities. Consequently, in 1712 the monastery commenced the far-reaching remodelling of its dome. Supervised by the distinguished Baroque master-builder, Johann Blasius Santini – Aichel, the remodelling was completed in 1726, bringing about the culmination of the Czech Baroque Gothic style, primarily represented by Santini.

One of the largest ecclesiastical structures throughout Bohemia, Our Lady’s church at Kladruby was completed and consecrated in 1726. After that, the works continued by erecting the new convent and the prelate’s new residence. The design was allegedly made by Kilian Ignaz Dientzenhofer. By 1739, north and south wings had been completed, with the monks being ushered into the new convent. The construction works, as a whole, were completed before 1770. The above mentioned abbots managed to stabilise the monastic estates, accelerate their economic development, strengthen the order and discipline within the monastery, and considerably enhance the monastic library. Moreover, they bolstered the monastery’s prestige by buying sacred remains and various works of art, as well as by gaining new privileges. Orientated towards the enlightened system of government, the state authorities, however, tended to increasingly interfere with the monastic jurisdiction, with the threat of dissolving the Benedictine order and closing the monastery still looming. Like many other monasteries, the Benedictine convent at Kladruby was eventually dissolved by Emperor Joseph II in 1785, two years after the death of Amand Streer who had no successor. The monastery’s movables were sold up by auction and the monks dispersed. Consisting of 38 villages, 15 farmsteads and 9 mills, the domain was then administered by a religious fund. In 1798, the monastic structures were utilised as a military hospital, temporarily housing Trappist monks from France before they left for Russia. Between 1800 and 1818, the monastery served as barracks, hospital and disabled soldiers’ home.

In 1825, Kladruby Monastery (along with the surrounding lands and 23 villages) was bought by Field Marshal Prince Alfred Windischgrätz at 275 500 guldens. Nevertheless, he only paid one half of that amount, with the rest remitted thanks to his loyal support of the Austrian monarchy. Windischgrätz principally proved his loyalty by uncompromisingly intervening against insurgents in Prague, Vienna and Hungary in 1848. Having their ancestral residence nearby at Tachov, the lords of Windischgrätz paid little attention to Kladruby. In 1864 they established a brewery inside the original convent, with Our Lady’s church left to its fate. The situation did not change until 1918, when the Windischgrätz family lost its Tachov domain due to the land reform. Moreover, the main family line died out and the estates had to be divided. The new owner, Aladar Windischgrätz moved to Kladruby along with his great library and family archives. The Windischgrätz family possessed the Kladruby domain until the 1945 confiscation executed in compliance with the presidential decree.

Administered by the Czech Ministry of Agriculture and the National Land Office, the lands were cultivated by Czechoslovak State Farms and Czechoslovak State Forests. Negotiations on allocating the monastic property to the Benedictine Order were held in 1946, with a pertaining allocation decree already issued, but the Benedictines did not take over the property. Accordingly, the property was conveyed to the Prague-based National Cultural Commission. After 1960 the condition of the monastery deteriorated due to housing headquarters of a state farm. After having been taken over by the Pilsen-based Regional Conservation Office in 1967, the monastery at Kladruby was opened to the public. Comprehensive reconstruction works have been conducted here since early 1970s, with the most substantial progress achieved after 1989 thanks to crucial financial contributions by the state authorities or other sources, including the Phare Programme of the European Union.

 

1st tour - Monastery

I. the History of Benedictine order

The history of Benedictine Order dates back to the beginning of the 6th century. In 529, St Benedict of Nursia (the former from Subiac in Italy) established the first monastery of the order at Monte Cassino. The oldest western monk’s community have developed its activities in conformity with 73 articles of rules written by St Benedict called “Regula Benedicti”: St Benedict had described everything about the monk’s life there. In the 7th century his teaching was known all over the West Europe. Because of that St Benedict is called “Father of Monastic Life” or “Builder of the Christian West”. The most important Benedictines motto was: “Pray and Work”.

To the Czech Christian kingdom the first Benedictines came in 973; they found there a convent of St George at Prague Castle. About twenty years later, the oldest Benedictine monastery was founded by the Czech sovereign Bolestav II and St Vojtěch at Břevnov. Till the Hussite’s Wars, the Benedictine Order had administered about twenty abbeys with series of provosts buildings.

Initially, in the Sazava Monastery (special Slavonic (not Latin) divine services) had been under the leadership of Abbot Prokop.

During several years another Benedictine monasteries had been established there. However, many of them were destroyed after the Hussite Movement, or dissolved during the reign of Emperor Josef II in the 18th century. At the beginning of the 20th century there were only four monasteries in existence. Eventually, these four monasteries were dissolved by force in 1950.

Nowdays only the Benedictine Monastery at Břevnov operates.

The Kladruby Monastery was established as a nine Benedictine Monastery in Czech Kingdom by Prince Vladislav I who was buried in its church after his death in 1125. The monks had taken heed of economic growth of their lands. Kladruby, the only one church little town in Tachov region, was in Sovereigns favour who had conferred on it important privileges. The dissolution of the Kladruby Monastery in 1785 meant intellectual, economical and cultural loss for its region.

In the small circle room there is situated the Gothic statue of Madonna of Plasy.

II. the Exposition of St. Jan Nepomucký

St Jan Nepomucký (John Nepomucky) is the best-known Czech Saint who is at the same time the most frequently portrayted Saint all over Europe. His martyr’s death was connected with the history of the Kladruby Monastery: At the end of the 14th century the Prague Archbishop Jan of Jenštejn came into a conflict with the Czech King Václav IV (Wenceslas IV). The King wanted to limit the political and financial power of the Prague Archbishop by establishing a new bishopric in Western Bohemia. He chose for this purpose the Kladruby Monastery. Upon the death of Abbot Racek in 1393, however, the Prague Archbishop managed to thwart the King’s intentions by promptly electing a new abbot, with the election immediately approved by the Archbishop’s Vicar general, Jan Nepomucký. This made the King so furious that he had Jan Nepomucký (together with his two companions) imprisoned. The Prague Archbishop Jan of Jenštejn run to Rome, however, Jan Nepomucký was tortured to death and thrown down by the King’s soldiers from the Charles Bridge to Vltava River.

After many years, people have told about a number of miracles related to Jan Nepomucký. It gave rise to a beautiful legend: He is said that he was tortured to death because he had refused to reveal the seal of confession of Queen Žofie, the wife of King Václav IV. However, only few people know that the history of his death was different.

In 1729, Jan Nepomucký was festively canonized. He is known as a patron Saint of Bohemia, of confessors, seal of confession, priests, bridges, pilgrims, lawyers, millers, of honour etc.

In the third room of the exposition, there is situated a special collection of collages from the second half of the 19th century showing the life of St Jan Nepomucký from his birth till his martyr’s death and exhumation in the 18th century. When his body was exhumated, in his scull the exhumators found unusual substance which looked like tongue. They considered it as a miracle. In 1980s the anthropologist investigated this „tongue“ and they discovered that it is a part of brain – brain tissue. You can see it in St Vitus’ Cathedral at Prague Castle where Jan Nepomucký was buried.

IV. the Assumption church

Erected in two stages between the mid-12th century and 1233, the original church used to be a Romanesque basilica with a transept, three apses and two prismatic towers flanking the front. Considering its length of 86 m, it was the longest Romanesque basilica in Bohemia which was built under Norman influence.

The church received its current look within the remodelling conducted by Johann Blasisus Santini – Aichel between 1713 and 1726. He kept the peripheral masonry, replaced the termination of the presbytery with a trefoiled termination, tore down the lateral towers and shortened the nave in the west side by 4 m to set the cupola into the centre of the longitudinal axis. The church was painted in Gold Ochre.

Santini’s greatest accomplishment is the construction – or more precisely, the extension – of the transept crowned by a 39-meter-high cupola and a lantern which transmits light into the interior through the so-called oculus.

Santini enhanced the then Baroque style by applying some Gothic features; namely, lancet windows or pinnacles. According to the Penguin Dictionary of Architecture, a pinnacle is a small turret-like termination crowning spires or buttresses; usually or steep pyramidal or conical shape and ornamented.

The intricate system of the decorative ribbed vault often bears late Gothic motifs. The patterns of the vault were not chosen coincidentally; in fact, they conceal symbols having some relation to the monastery. For example, the vaulting of the is scattered with stylised trefoiled lilies. This symbol of purity also adorns the coat-of-arms of Kladruby abbots.

Structures erected in Santini’s Baroque Gothic style appear only in the Bohemian Lands; in other European countries they can be found only exceptionally. On account of its brilliant artistic conception, creative invention and enormous value, the dome at Kladruby meant the climax of Santini’s lifelong career. All furnishings of the church originated during the Baroque remodelling, with some pieces designed by Santini himself. Moreover, Santini closely co-operated with other artisans to achieve absolute consistence and purity of the church interior’s style.

Since 1973 the following features of the church interior have gradually been restored: side frescoes in the transept (restorer: Valentová), high altar, side altar near the high altar, St. Iucundus’ altar, tombstone of Vladislav I, choir stalls (including the statues), both altars in the transept, Victorianus’ and Aurelianus’ altars, Our Lady’s altar, St. Joseph’s altar, St Scholastica’s altar, Magdalene’s altar (restorers: Drahotušský and Gružkovský), as well as all four altar pieces by C. D. Asam (restorer: Berger).

V. the Abbot's rooms

The old prelature  (abbots house) was built in the 17th century. In the niches there are situated statues of Jan Nepomucký, St Antonius, St Dominic and St Andrew. There is also picture of Madonna with child (oil-painting, 19th century).

The Abbot’s rooms were usually composed of a reception room, dinning room, library and bedroom. These rooms were used for audiences and all kinds of dealings. However, it is not the original appearance of the Abbot’s flat. After dissolution of the Kladruby Monastery in 1785, its furniture had been destroyed or sold in action. These furnishings have been gathered from other historical buildings.

Monastery of Kladruby  -  349 61 Kladruby u Stříbra, Czech Republic  -  tel./fax.: +420 374 631 773  -  e-mail: kladruby@mybox.cz