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Tour in English (anglicky)

Tour Route I – THE MONASTERY

 

1. Welcome

Dear Guests,

We respectfully and heartily welcome you to Vyšší Brod Cistercian Abbey!

 

In 1990, after the fall of the Communist totalitarian regime, monks returned to Vyšší Brod to resume their way of life according to the Rule of St. Benedict and in accordance with canonical tradition. Vyšší Brod is currently the only living male monastery of the Cistercian Order in the Czech Republic.

The monastery in Vyšší Brod was founded by the noble clan of Vítkovci in the mid 13th century, not far from the Austrian border in the southernmost part of this country. This national cultural monument is remarkable for the authentic beauty of its medieval architecture. The Abbey of the Assumption of the Virgin Mary boasts the best preserved monastic library in the Czech Republic and our collections of historical art are the most extensive and valuable of any Cistercian monastery in this country. We are delighted to have the chance to tell you something about the past and present of Vyšší Brod Abbey as well as its entirely unique treasures from the past linked to European culture and the values of our Christian faith and which miraculously survived here throughout the ups and downs of history. Some of the most precious such items include the Madonna of Vyšší Brod and the legendary Záviš Cross.

 

Your companion throughout the tour will be this audioguide, which was co-financed by the Southern Bohemian Region from the Tourism Support subsidy programme. We would like to ask you to remain within the organised group during the tour of the monastery and follow the instructions of our guides. Please respect the sacral nature of this age-old monastery. Taking photographs and filming of the interiors of the abbey is not permitted!

 

We wish you enlightening cultural and spiritual experiences during this tour!

 

 

2. The Abbey

Dear Visitor,

Again, we welcome you heartily to the Vyšší Brod Cistercian Abbey!

 

We would like to ask you to remain within the organised group during the tour of the monastery and follow the instructions of our guides. Photography or filming of the interiors of the abbey is not permitted! Thank you for your understanding and we wish you an elevating experience!

 

We are standing in the abbey church, the most important site of every monastery. This place of worship was built out of hard local granite from the surrounding Bohemian Forest, known as Šumava in Czech, construction lasting almost a hundred years, completed in the mid 14th century. The abbey church ranked among the largest ecclesiastic buildings in the whole of Bohemia. It is 52 metres long and 17.5 metres up to the highest point of the vault. The church’s architecture reflects the Cistercian ideals of strict asceticism, devoted obedience and the purest abstinence.

The Cistercian Order was established in 1098 in Burgundy, when 21 monks left the comfort and safety of the monastery in Molesme, intending to reform their way of life. Under the leadership of the abbot, Robert, the monks headed to a valley near Dijon to the ruins of a deserted church where they founded the new monastery of Cîteaux, in Latin, Cistercium. In those days it had become commonplace in Europe for priests regular to devote themselves only to prayer and ostentatious religious services. However, Abbot Robert was drawn by the ideals of a strict rule and poverty. He wanted to worship God and to live uncompromisingly according to the Rule of St. Benedict: in isolation, without secondary income, just from the fruits of his own labour. Later, a habit was introduced for the Order, made of undyed, raw wool with a black scapular, a long piece of cloth that hangs down towards the ground from the shoulders over the chest and back. The monks worked hard, maintaining strict regularity of religious services with no exception, sleeping on the bare floor and eating bread and water and one plate of vegetables per day; only when monks were ill were they allowed to eat meat. At this moment probably nobody supposed that this reform, commanding a life of the strictest asceticism in the monastery that lay in a marshy valley, cut off from the outside world, would lay the foundation for other male and female monasteries that would significantly influence culture and the economy across Europe. Vyšší Brod is one such monastery. Here too, the monastery was built according to an established plan dictating the layout of each space and chamber, based on canonical spirituality.

 

Two winged altars from the late Gothic period stand facing each other against the longer walls. We can see the altar of St. Roch on the right and the altar of St. Barbara on the left.

 

In the middle of the church we find the so-called monks’ choir, adorned with statues of St. Peter and St. Paul flanking a latticed gate. Along with the confessionary and pulpit, it was constructed in 1725 by Vyšší Brod monk, Josef Raffer.

The monks of the Order enter the pews of the choir together seven times a day, according to Psalm 119, to worship God with hymns in Latin. The monk’s day at Vyšší Brod begins before three o’clock in the morning. The regular rhythm of prayer – the Divine Officium – sets the regime of the entire day. The monastery is primarily a place for intense search for God, which climaxes in dignified celebration of the Eucharist. In the Cistercian Order, however, the day is divided into a balance of prayer – meditational reading of scriptures – and manual work. The purpose of the monk’s way of life of silence, cut off from the hustle and bustle of public life, is a humble and unerring search for inner oneness with God, which gives rise to peace and harmony – essential qualities that today’s world is desperately lacking.

The small organ built into the double walls of the monks’ choir accompanies the Cistercian monks’ chorals.

 

3. Chapels of St. Benedict and St. Bernard

The Abbey church in Vyšší Brod is a Hallenkirche, or hall church. This means that the nave and the aisles are all equally high. The hall-like triple nave is crossed by a transept where we are now standing. This eastern part of the Abbey was the first to be built, influenced by the Classic French Gothic Style.

By the north wall of the transept below, the large window, we can see the neo-Gothic Altar of Holy Relics with a statue of the Saviour beneath a baldachin. The scenes in the stained glass windows above the altar tell the legend of John of Nepomuk.

 

The outer side chapel with a strip of blue and gilded crosses is dedicated to St. Benedict who is called the Father of Western Monasticism. The Holy Bible in combination with the centuries-tested Rule of Benedict is the fundamental companion for the search for God and for achieving the meaningful goals and meritorious work of the Cistercians and many other monastic orders, too.

This gravestone sunken into the floor is probably the work of a student of the master sculptor from Passau, Jörg Gartner. The sculpture of a recumbent knight bears the portrait features of the deceased Jan Zrinský, Count of Seryn. Jan Zrinský was the nephew of the last of the Rosenberg rulers, owner of the Rosenberg dominion and noble patron of Vyšší Brod Monastery. However, the Count died in 1612, soon after the death of Petr Vok, the last of the Rosenbergs, so he did not have the opportunity to enjoy his inheritance from the Rosenbergs.

Above St. Benedict’s Chapel stands the Rosenberg oratory where the legendary Záviš Cross is on display on the second tour route. You can find out about how to see this world-renowned unique relic and national cultural monument in the Abbey Visitor Centre!

 

The chapel next door is dedicated to St. Bernard, the best known Cistercian saint. Some remarkable headstones of abbots can be seen here. 25 such headstones have survived around the monastery. Over the past 750 years, 43 abbots and 4 appointed administrators have so far held the function of superior of Vyšší Brod Monastery.

 

4. The Presbytery or Chancel

On the south wall of the chancel there hangs a picture by Josef Hellich a painter from Prague, painted in 1840, depicting the tale of the foundation of the monastery at Vyšší Brod. Legend has it that on the site of the monastery there used to stand an age-old shrine. The supreme marshal of Bohemia, Petr Vok, who lived at nearby Rožmberk Castle, wished to perform a religious rite in the chapel, but to do this he had to cross the River Vltava to get to it. On that day, the river was swollen with water and the rider and his horse were soon at risk of losing their lives. In this moment of distress, Petr Vok swore that if his life were spared, he would build a monastery on the site of the chapel. Soon he managed to reach the other river bank and, as he had promised, out of gratitude founded an abbey dedicated to the Blessed Virgin Mary.

In the clouds in the picture we can see images of St. Anne and the patron of the Cistercians, St. Bernard. A winged angel is hurrying to save Vok from the raging waters of the River Vltava.

 

The painting on the opposite wall was painted by Bartoloměj Čurn in 1879. Kneeling Vok and his spouse, Hedwig, are showing the monastery to the Virgin Mary holding the Baby Jesus, begging for her protection and powerful intercession. The figure of St. Benedict reminds us that the monks of the new monastery should live according to his Rule, and St. Wenceslas indicates that the abbey is a treasure of Bohemia.

The handsome boy shows Henry I of Rosenberg, son of the founding couple, leading the first twelve Cistercian monks headed by Abbot Otto to Vyšší Brod.

 

Not just according to legend, but also according to historical sources, we know that Vyšší Brod Cistercian Abbey was founded in 1259 by Vok of Rosenberg, a close collaborator with the Czech King and Austrian Duke, Ottokar II of Bohemia. Vok’s wife, Hedwig, came from the influential family of the Counts of Schaunberg, who had a family monastery in Wilhering on the River Danube, not far from the city of Linz. It appears that thanks to this link, Cistercians monks came to Vyšší Brod from Wilhering. The Rosenbergs, the most powerful family in the Kingdom of Bohemia, founded and nurtured Vyšší Brod Abbey as their family monastery and spiritual institution where Cistercian monks prayed almost ceaselessly for the salvation of their souls and for those of the entire world.

 

Below the second picture, in the wall of the presbytery is a red marble gravestone. This epitaph with the central motif of the Rosenberg rider indicates that under the floor of the chancel lies the Rosenberg family tomb. Ten generations of Rosenbergs were laid to rest here – 38 people in all. Except for William, all of the Rosenberg rulers are buried here, as well as, for instance, Czech and Polish Queen Viola of Těšín. The last person buried here, in 1611, was Petr Vok, the last in the Rosenberg line. After the Rosenbergs, the Eggenbergs and later the Schwarzenbergs became the noble patrons of the monastery.

You can learn the surprising results of a survey of the Rosenberg tomb if you visit our multi-media exhibition which is part of tour route II – the ZÁVIŠ CROSS.

 

The tomb of the privileged founders was located in the chancel of the monastery church because medieval legend had it that on the day of the Last Judgement, the first of the dead to be resurrected will be those buried the nearest to the main altar and sanctuary. It is more than likely that the original main altarpiece of the Abbey church comprised the famous cycle of panel paintings by the Master of Vyšší Brod, which at present is exhibited in the National Gallery in Prague. Today, almost the entire end of the presbytery is taken up by an early Baroque altar which is gilded entirely with 24-carat gold leaf. More than fifty various figures and angels’ heads can be seen on the altarpiece. Wood carver, Linhart Wullimann and painter Franz Georgius, monks of the Order from Salem Abbey, worked on it between 1644 and 1646, so it took them just two years to complete. On either side of the altar we can see two larger-than-life statues representing St. Bernard and his pupil, the Blessed Eugene III, the first Cistercian to become Pope.

The scene of the coronation of the Virgin Mary in a circular niche near the top of the altarpiece was carved by Jan Kopáč of Rožmitál.

The Abbey church used to be part of the so-called clausura, enclosure of the monastery in silence and peace. Originally, only the Cistercians themselves and, on exceptional occasions, the noble patrons of the Abbey were allowed to enter this majestic prayer house. The common congregation was not permitted to enter the temple until more than four hundred years had passed since its foundation. With the help of an ingenious mechanism, the large painting in the central section of the altar could alternate in front of the eyes of the congregation.

Cistercians change the paintings of the altarpiece to this day. For most of the year, the Assumption of the Virgin Mary is displayed on the altar, while at Easter you will see paintings of the Crucifixion and the Resurrection. And Christmas is marked by the scene The Birth of Christ. The original paintings were painted by Josephus Hauska in 1654. Alternation of paintings is simulated on a model of the altar which stands by the grille gates beneath the choir loft.

Before the main altar, the society of Cistercian monks of Vyšší Brod serve the Roman Catholic Holy Latin Mass daily, and all are heartily invited.

 

5. The Chapel of the Virgin Mary and the Early Gothic Portal

If we look into the Chapel of the Virgin Mary, we can see a copy of the famous panel painting, the Vyšší Brod Madonna, painted by Bohuslav Slánský in 1938. The original of this painting is on display in our Gallery of Gothic Art.

Christians worshipped the Mother of God even before the creation of the Cistercian Order, but it was only under the influence of Cistercian spirituality that the breviary hymn of Salve Regina/Hail, Holy Queen became the required conclusion to Compline, the final service of the day delivered every evening by a monk. Another testimony to the Cistercians’ special veneration for Mary is also that the Order has dedicated all of its abbey churches to the Assumption of the Virgin; and Vyšší Brod is no exception.

 

Immediately next to the Chapel of the Virgin Mary, an early Gothic portal leads from the church to what is today the sacristy. The sacristy structure was built upon foundation of the monastery as the first prayer house of the Vyšší Brod Cistercians and so it is the oldest building of the entire abbey. The upper part of the portal, known by architects as the tympanum is especially noteworthy. The relief, framed with plant motifs, depicts the root of a grapevine. From it grow leaves and grapes. A blessing Right Hand of God extends from the clouds. Fox heads feature on either side of the relief. The subject matter for this relief lies in the Old Testament Song of Songs, where we may read the following verses: Catch for us the foxes, the little foxes that ruin the vineyards, our vineyards that are in bloom.

The poetic text inspired teacher of the Church and saintly Cistercian abbot, Bernard of Clairvaux, to write a long series of sermons, copies of which were brought by the first monks to the newly founded Vyšší Brod Monastery. In Bernard’s interpretation, the foxes symbolise heretics threatening the monasteries. But in Bernard’s mind, the foxes also represent a caricature of human malice, impatience and delusion that a monk should preach to others. He sees these predators also as an allegory of the duties that seemingly inevitably pile up on and plague a person.

 

6. The Gothic Gallery

Supreme works of sacral art from the Middle Ages form the core of the famous collections of historical art of Vyšší Brod Abbey. Over the course of the 1990s, the Czech state gradually returned these works of art to the monastery. Today, the Gothic sculptures and panel paintings are displayed in these vaulted rooms which used to be the Chapel of the Guardian Angels. The establishment of the Gallery of Gothic Art was made possible thanks to the co-financing of the Association for Support of Vyšší Brod Monastery.

 

If we go past the sculptures created by the Master of the Sitting Madonna, we come to the relief of the Dormition of the Virgin Mary of Vyšší Brod, which was carved from lime tree wood around the year 1500. The winged altar from the same period was donated to the monastery by the industrialist Vojtěch Lanna from České Budějovice. The smaller altar next to it was decorated with scenes inspired by the Great Passion woodcuts by Albrecht Dürer. In the display cabinet opposite we can see three panels of the Venetian school dating to the end of the 14th century, while the flamboyantly carved frames are neo-Gothic.

The large panel painting, the Crucifixion of Vyšší Brod, probably an early work by the Master of the Třeboň Altar, is particularly highly prized.

The most famous of the existing Madonnas in “Beautiful” or “Soft” style is the Madonna of Vyšší Brod, considered to be a donor painting of the monastery church. As well as figures of saints, we can see a likeness most likely of Simon of Nymburk, who might have commissioned the painting at one of the studios at the Court in Prague. The outlines of adoring angels on the gold background next to the head of the Madonna are a prime example the technique of fine punching.

 

7. Depiction of the monastery and its history

The birds-eye view of the monastery shows that the monastery complex was still in very good condition at the beginning of the 20th century. Monasteries worked as financially independent units. In the large veduta, we can see the monastery manor, the abbey stables, the pharmacy, the brewery, greenhouses, the representative and kitchen gardens, the orangery, the mill and numerous workshops. The most beautiful and largest are sacral buildings, most notably the Church of the Assumption of the Virgin. Life in the Order is based primarily on profound Christian faith. With the help of their spiritual ideals, the Cistercians were economically most successful in agricultural cultivation of the countryside, animal husbandry, water management, but also in construction and metallurgy.

The founding Rosenbergs and other Vítkovci, too, donated great swathes of forest and farmland. During the late Middle Ages, 105 villages and two small towns we also part of the monastery’s estates - Vyšší Brod and Hořice na Šumavě. The monastery became the spiritual focus and cultural, scientific, financial and administrative centre of the entire region.

The site chosen for building the monastery was a rocky promontory where the Menší Vltavice stream flows into the River Vltava. At the time of the foundation of the abbey, a market settlement with its own church already existed nearby. The site of the monastery was known under the German name of Hohenfurth, which means “High Ford”, (“Vyšší Brod” in Czech) because it was a fording point higher up the river. This was the place where merchants’ caravans crossed the river on their way to the Vyšší Brod Pass, on a trail that had connected Bohemia to the Danube Valley since time immemorial.

The fortified monastery held off the Hussites in the 15th century, although they did manage to set fire to the church roof. A greater fire engulfed monastery buildings and the church itself in 1536. The monastery survived even during the turbulent period of the Thirty Years’ War when soldiers and mercenaries raped and pillaged throughout the monastery estates. After the abolition of feudalism in 1848, the monastery was no longer a feudal authority, but an independently managed estate. It was successful in forestry, agriculture and fish farming. The monks also operated as priests in the parishes and were also active in education and scientific research.

 

For the first time in its history, the monastery was abolished under Hitler’s regime in 1941. The Abbot of the time, Tecelin Jaksch, was imprisoned, the monks were ejected and some of them later died on the battle front. P. Engelbert Blöchl was tortured to death at Dachau concentration camp. Then the whole monastery was painted green to camouflage it against potential air raids, because during the war it served as a secret warehouse for almost innumerable artefacts stolen by the Nazis throughout Europe. When the war ended in 1945, the Cistercians returned to their monastery. Soon after, however, the monks of German ethnic origin, who formed the majority of this convent, or society of monks, were deported. Not even the remaining handful of Czech Cistercians held on to the monastery for long. In 1950, the Communist regime banned the activities of male orders in Czechoslovakia. One night, the secret police raided Vyšší Brod monastery and took the monks away to internment camps. The separate buildings of the monastery precinct were then allocated to various organisations such as the Army and the State Collective Farm. Some areas of the monastery were later opened to the public, even though the most significant historical works of art were removed from Vyšší Brod. During the forty years of single party rule, the monastery was mistreated and slowly fell into dilapidation.

After the Velvet Revolution of 1989 which brought this country long-desired freedom, the Cistercians returned to their monastery in Vyšší Brod and, despite all the destruction, engaged upon its painstaking renovation. Today, monks again live, worship and work here according to the Rule of St. Benedict for the good of the Abbey and the entire region, as it had been for all of the preceding centuries. In 2016, the restitution of church property was completed and all properties have now been returned to Vyšší Brod Cistercian Abbey.

 

8. The Picture Gallery - Small Hall

The original monastery museum where we are now standing was built between 1835 and 1838 on the site of former monks’ cells. The neo-Classical halls, with vaulting known as Czech pancakes and Tuscan pillars, were built according to the plans of a master builder from Český Krumlov, Karel Jamber. Exhibits from the Abbey’s extensive collections of historical art were originally stored here in twenty-four different departments. In addition to sculptures and numerous paintings, a room full of physics apparatus and curiosities including a preserved crocodile existed, as well as a collection of weapons, a valuable stamp collection and extensive collections of minerals and butterflies.

As well as the pictures on the walls, you can also view a Baroque chasuble embroidered with silver thread, or perhaps woodcuts from the 18th century. In the large cabinet between the windows, in addition to liturgical garments, we can see a surveying instrument called a theodolite and three portable sun dials; one of these is made of ivory. During the first dissolution of Vyšší Brod Abbey by the Nazis in the Second World War, these objects were, like other the valuables of the monastery, taken away to Upper Austria. In 2009, the Upper Austrian regional government retuned in restitution more than two hundred collection exhibits which had survived the unsettled interim.

We can see historical glass and porcelain in the large cabinet opposite the wall with the windows. The medicine flasks that are the only original artefact remaining from the former monastery pharmacy were generously donated in 2013 by a private collector from the nearby town of Kaplice.

 

To the right of the passage into the Great Hall there hangs a sketch of the representation of the Assumption of the Virgin Mary by Petr Brandl. A single large painting based on this work, measuring almost three metres wide and more than seven metres tall, was created in 1728 for the altar of the Cistercian monastery in Sedlec near Kutná Hora.

 

9. Picture Gallery - Great Hall

Above the entrance hangs the 19th century portrait of Leopold Wackarž, who was the longest serving Abbot of Vyšší Brod. He headed this monastery for almost 45 years and in later life was elected Abbot General of the entire Cistercian Order.

The vast majority of the paintings on display are the work of Baroque painters. With their artistic skill they emphasise the timeless message of biblical, ecclesiastical and historical themes and capture the beauty of Divine Creation – the landscape, the sea, flowers…

The Likeness of a Young Man with a Painter’s Palette hangs on the gable-end wall in the corner by the window looking onto the church tower. This picture was painted by the renowned painter, Jan Kupecký, in about 1702 as one of his early self-portraits executed when he first visited Italy.

The two large, square paintings on either side of the passage from the Small to the Great Hall are the work of the genius, Petr Brandl. He painted Hunter and Three Women before 1720. In the past, this scene was mistakenly thought to be the depiction of the parable from the Gospel of St. Luke, the prodigal son, who squandered his share of his father’s wealth. The other painting by Brandl on the other side captures the scene of the Curing of Blind Tobias.

In the Hall we can see many more paintings, by artists such as Norbert Grund or Jan Kašpar Hirschely.

 

František Xaver Palko painted a series of apostles that hang on the wall next to the entrance to the Library. Brokoff’s Angel with Wings hangs on the other side. Close to this work, we find artefacts closely linked to the history of Vyšší Brod monastery and to the family that founded it, the Rosenbergs. On a canvas from 1685 we can see a depiction of monastery at Vyšší Brod with the town of the same name, parish churches and Čertová Stěna (or the Devil’s Wall in English) being built by little, naked devils. In the lower part of the painting there is reference to the legend of the foundation of the Abbey that tells how Petr Vok of Rosenberg was miraculously saved from drowning in the River Vltava.  

The painting entitled Cistercian Heaven is a mystical celebration of the Cistercian Order. Amongst the portraits of the Rosenberg, the small-format oil on canvas hanging in the corner right by the window stands out from the rest. This is a genuine portrait of Petr Vok of Rosenberg.

 

The statues by the Great Hall’s pillars come from parish churches in villages in the border exclusion zone whose inhabitants were driven out and that were then razed to the ground during the building of the iron curtain.

 

In display cases there are copies of important documents, books, monastery porcelain and other historical artefacts.

You may look into the garth, or cloister garden, through the window on the eastern side of the hall.

 

10. Library Corridor

The Library Corridor was converted to its current form in 1844 under Abbot Valentin Schopper, whose portrait hangs above the door at the end of the corridor. Most of the publications stored here date to the 19th century. It is mostly non-fiction, although on the library shelves you can also find novels by Jules Verne or short stories by Adalbert Stifter. Medallion portraits of the abbots who presided over Vyšší Brod monastery from the 16th to the 19th century hang above the library cabinets.

 

11. The Library - Philosophers’ Hall

The Small Library Hall holds books from almost all scientific fields known in the Baroque period. You can find literature on philosophy, medicine, geography, natural philosophy, mathematics and astronomy.

The large ceiling fresco alludes to scholarship and wisdom, depicting the Judgment of King Solomon according to the biblical story: “The king had to decide a dispute between two women who had each given birth to a son on the same day. But one of these babies died and his mother took the other mother’s newborn son as her own. Solomon ruled that he would cut the baby in half, so that each mother would receive half of the child. At this, the real mother renounced her claim, in order to save her son’s life. The king then saw that this woman was the real mother and returned her the baby.” This is the basis for the saying a “Solomon-like decision”.

 

On the table in the middle of the room there is a scale copy of Müller’s Map of Bohemia from 1720. This detailed cartographical aid shows towns and all settlements consisting of more than three houses.

 

12. The Library - Theological Hall

Theological literature is concentrated in the Large Library Hall. For instance, the large cabinet number one contains an impressive collection of Bibles in more than forty languages. The most sizeable book here is Luther’s translation of the Bible with his own commentary.

 

The ceiling fresco here depicts twelve-year-old Jesus debating with the scholars at the Temple in Jerusalem. The scene was painted by Vyšší Brod monk, Lukáš Vávra, who also painted the fresco we saw in the previous hall. The extravagantly decorated library cabinets were crafted by another Cistercian from Vyšší Brod called Josef Raffer, who also carved the monks’ choir and the confessional box for the Abbey church.

 

The work to create the representative library halls took place between 1753 and 1757 under the supervision of Abbot Quirin whose portrait is displayed in pride of place above the entrance. This scholarly prelate and four-times doctor, Quirin Mickl, was a prominent poet, said to be fluent in twenty languages, wrote seventy academic studies as well as his Encyclopaedia of 35 folio dossiers containing all contemporary profane and theological knowledge. He managed to get hold of all of the important writings of his times. The historical archive of books contains over seventy thousand titles, making it the third largest monastic library in the Czech Republic and the most completely preserved of them all. All of the books here were bound in Vyšší Brod, for Vyšší Brod! The unified style of binding underpins the integral composition of the library which is thought to have one of the most beautiful Rococo style interiors in Central Europe.

The revolutionary benefit that the Cistercians brought was that they always came with a set of prescribed books with them to newly monasteries. For this reason we can also find books in Vyšší Brod library that are much older than the monastery itself. The oldest manuscript in the library dates back to the 8th century and contains part of the Epistle to the Thessalonians. In the Middle Ages, a scribal workshop operated at Vyšší Brod Abbey, although the monastery also bought books or received them as gifts. Two hundred manuscripts on parchment, a thousand on paper and four hundred first editions, all published before 1500, are stored in the vaults today. Part of the priceless collection of Vyšší Brod manuscripts consists of parchments that are gilded and splendidly decorated with miniatures.

 

13. University Theses

Hanging on the walls in this room we can see so-called university theses, decorated notices announcing disputations, or academic debates. Disputations often served as a viva voce where students defended their theses to conclude their university studies. These notices are interesting also for their rich pictorial scenes, many of them crafted by the most illustrious of artists.

The text of the notice below the graphic header contains a solemn announcement in the centre and the actual theses that were the subject of the disputation to the side. At the top the patron of the disputation is listed, followed by its chairman, then the level of the degree defended, and only then the name candidate himself and the disputation date. The graduates then kept these large-format graphic prints as a souvenir, other specimens became collectors’ items.

The university theses that have survived in our monastery date to the 18th century, their patrons being mainly abbots of Vyšší Brod. They are not printed on paper as was usually the case, but on precious silk.  

 

14. The Choir Loft

The large organ in the choir loft was built on the site of an earlier instrument by Leopold Breinbauer from Ottensheim in Upper Austria in 1892. This romantic musical instrument, still with its original mechanical-action windchest, is the most beautiful of its kind in the Czech Republic. The console has two manuals and the 2,052 pipes are divided into 36 ranks. In the mid 19th century, Josef Förster, father of the composer Josef Bohuslav Förster, held the office of choir master of Vyšší Brod.

 

When viewed from the choir loft, the architecture of this Gothic church is even more spectacular. The Cistercians built their monasteries “out of music for music”. They based their approach on harmonic musical intervals and transferred these ratios into construction. In river valleys, far away from the bustle of the towns, Cistercian churches sprang up in honour and for the glory of the Queen of Heaven and Earth. Unlike cathedral builders, Cistercians long resisted ornate features which might disturb the monks in their deep and total meditation, or contemplation. With the exception of a painted cross, originally Cistercian churches did not contain any paintings or statues which might divert attention to frivolous aspects of life. Large bare areas of wall and interior zones ingeniously designed to offer varying intensities of light are typical features of Cistercian architecture, which create an inimitable atmosphere.

 

As a sign of humility, the Cistercians did not build tall church towers, even though their sacral buildings are designed with generous proportions. For instance, renovation of the interior plasterwork of the church in 2012 required more than forty kilometres of scaffolding tubes!

Originally, not even church windows could contain coloured glass. The stained glass that you can see today dates back only to the 1870s and 1880s. The Franz Mayer of Munich and Glasmalereiatelier Neuhauser in Innsbruck collaborated in their manufacture.

The large window in the west gable wall of the church depicts the apparition of the Mother of God in Lourdes in 1858. The stained glass windows in the windows of the south wall portray saints and patrons of the Cistercian Order.

The stained window on the opposite, north wall of the church captures scenes of episodes in the life Bernard of Clairvaux. The saintly Abbot Bernard founded the Cistercian Order and had an unprecedented influence on spiritual, social and also political life in the 12th century, which is sometimes known as the “Bernadine century” for that reason. The so-called “second founder of the Order” was famous for his extraordinary rhetorical skills, brilliant written style, organisational talent, mystic experiences and enthusiastic foundation of new monasteries. When Bernard died in 1153, 343 Cistercian abbeys existed Europe-wide less than 60 years after the foundation of the Order. No other monastic order expanded as fast as the Cistercians.

 

Dear Guests,

With this uplifting view of the noble architecture of the abbey church from the choir loft, the tour comes to an end. Thank you for visiting and for your interest in Vyšší Brod Monastery which is a treasure of the spiritual and cultural heritage of all of us. We wish you all the best on your journey from here and shall be delighted to welcome you to Vyšší Brod again sometime in the future!

 

 


 

 

 

Tour Route II – THE ZÁVIŠ CROSS

 

Welcome

Dear Guests,

We respectfully and heartily welcome you to Vyšší Brod Cistercian Abbey!

 

In 1990, after the fall of the Communist totalitarian regime, monks returned to Vyšší Brod to resume their way of life according to the Rule of St. Benedict and in accordance with canonical tradition. Vyšší Brod is currently the only living male monastery of the Cistercian Order in the Czech Republic.

The monastery in Vyšší Brod was founded by the noble clan of Vítkovci in the mid 13th century not far from the Austrian border in the southernmost part of this country. This national cultural monument is remarkable for the authentic beauty of its medieval architecture. The Abbey of the Assumption of the Virgin boasts the best preserved monastic library in the Czech Republic and our collections of historical art are the most extensive and valuable of any Cistercian monastery in this country. We are delighted to have the chance to tell you something about the past and present of Vyšší Brod Abbey as well as its completely unique treasures from the past linked to European culture and the values of our Christian faith and which miraculously survived here throughout the ups and downs of history. Some of the most precious such items include the Madonna of Vyšší Brod and the legendary Záviš Cross.

 

Your companion throughout the tour will be this audioguide, which was co-financed by the Southern Bohemian Region from the Tourism Support subsidy programme. We would like to ask you to remain within the organised group during the tour of the monastery and follow the instructions of our guides. Please respect the sacral nature of this age-old monastery. Taking photographs and filming of the interiors of the abbey is not permitted!

 

We wish you enlightening cultural and spiritual experiences during this tour!

 

15. The Gothic Cellars

Dear Visitor,

Let us take you to a cross which shines with mystical light! In a few moments you will witness one of the most precious masterpieces of European goldsmithery. Before we get there, let us tell you something about the importance and the history of the Záviš Cross.

 

Video-sequences capture in close-up the craftsmanship of the royal goldsmiths who succeeded in fashioning entire mystical landscapes in miniature on the face of the cross. The front side of the cross is covered with freely rambling filigree made of pure gold, enchased with 51 precious stones and 208 pearls. Of all west European cross reliquaries of its kind and era, no other example can be found with so many precious stones as on the Záviš Cross and what’s more, it is the only cross in pure gold! Even though medieval man was certainly aware of the great financial value of precious materials, he valued gems for the abundant, radiant power that they acquire in the sunlight. All pervading and yet intangible light has been interpreted according to Christ’s words I am the light of the world in theology as an allegory for the resurrected Saviour and an allegory for Divine Good on the Earth. According to tradition, a relic is enshrined in the core of the main crossing – a relic of highest importance – a splinter of the wood from the Holy Cross on which Jesus Christ died. Great powers have been attributed to the wood of the Cross and the land lords would legitimise their power and rule through its possession.

Symbolic “light” emanates from the centrally enthroned relic – that prudent wisdom – spreading out to cover the whole cross with gold filigree. Little grapes ripen, nestled in the leaves and tendrils together with blooming rosettes. In connection with the words of Jesus Christ I am the wine you are the branches, we can see intertwinement of notions concerning the tree of life and also the heavenly garden which only the chosen may enter.

 

On the back of Záviš Cross we find another ten sapphires enchased in grainy low filigree. The ancient enamels with bust portraits of saints whose names are written in Greek on the gold background must have represented a great rarity even at the time when the reliquary was made.

 

Vyšší Brod’s reliquary is a double-arm cross with distinctive lily-shape cross bars. The upper cross bar is a plaque which bore a trilingual inscription Jesus of Nazareth, King of the Jews. The double-arm cross has its origins in the notion of ideal integrity of the True Cross which was supposedly found on Golgotha in Jerusalem by St. Helena.

The Záviš Cross was pronounced a national cultural monument of the Czech Republic in 2010 and is also the most important enamel and filigree artefact in the country.

 

The actual origin of the magnificent cross is swathed in mystery. The golden reliquary of Vyšší Brod was probably made as the coronation cross for the Hungarian ruler Béla IV. His daughter Anna escaped in the middle of power struggles in 1270 to Prague following her daughter Kunigunda of Slavonia, at that time wife of Ottokar II of Bohemia. Anna brought all of the Hungarian crown jewels with her and this way the splendid cross probably got to Bohemia. Ottokar II  of Bohemia died at the Battle on the Marchfield in 1278. Kunigunda then married Záviš of Falkenstein, even though this knight was the head of the rebellious gentry that revolted against Ottokar. Having married into the royal family, Záviš became the tutor to the young crown prince Wenceslaus and Regent of the Czech Kingdom. At the peak of his glory, Záviš gave this exquisite reliquary cross to the Cistercians in order to strengthen his prestige as well as the importance of Abbey of the Vítkovci dynasty, from which he descended, and since that time the cross has borne his name. However, King Wenceslaus II feared the influence of his father-in-law and finally had him executed in 1290 outside Hluboká Castle. Záviš’s body was buried in the chapter hall of Vyšší Brod Monastery. Over the centuries, the Záviš Cross has been pawned, stolen and lost, but in the end it always found its way back to Monastery Vyšší Brod where it has been kept in the utmost reverence to this day.

 

For further information please refer to the information boards. The Záviš Cross booklet may be obtained in monastery shop.

 

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The Rosenbergs and other members of the Vítkovci family founded Vyšší Brod Cistercian Abbey in 1259 as their family monastery. They came here to attend religious services and contemplate in front of Záviš Cross with its sacred relics. Almost all of the Rosenberg rulers and other family members were buried in the family tomb which is located in the Abbey church under the floor of the chancel. In the bottom floor of the Gothic cellars you can see an exhibition with the surprising results of the non-destructive survey of the Rosenberg tomb.

 

16. The Rosenberg Oratory

The original Záviš Cross is exhibited on an above-ground floor of Vyšší Brod Abbey Church, in the so-called Rosenberg Oratory. The Rosenbergs themselves could observe the services of the Cistercians from here. Visitors may enter the oratory in limited numbers through by the spiral staircase inside the Gothic towerlet. We do not recommend entry to persons with restricted mobilty. We are grateful for your understanding that in regard to the unique value of Záviš Cross special security measures apply.

 

Dear guests!

The beautiful reliquary cross called the Záviš Cross – a monument of mystical brilliancy, a symbol of Christian faith, humility and royal majesty – is intentionally displayed in simple, discreet place. The Cistercian monks invite you to this sacred space for silent meditation and spiritual contemplation.

We would like to thank you for your visit and wish you an uplifting experience during your viewing of the original Záviš Cross.

 

The Monastery Precinct (selected exteriors)

 

17. The Abbey Courtyard

In the Visitor Centre, you will find the box office and the monastery shop, along with exhibition areas, conference rooms, the monastery café and toilets. In the past, the building was used by monastery administration; today it serves as a well-known location among tourists and the public.

A fountain stands in the centre of the courtyard with a statue of St. Leopold, patron of the respected Abbot of Vyšší Brod Leopold Wackarž.

To this day, gatherings are held in the courtyard on church holidays and other social events. The superior of the monastery, the abbot, dwelled in the official abbot’s house located in the southern part of the courtyard, first mentioned in annals in 1578. As the writing on the outer wall of the former abbot’s house suggests, inside there is most extensive Postal Museum exhibition in the Czech Republic, teaching us about the history of the postal service and including a collection of historical post carriages, for example.

Behind the grille fence lies the monastery cemetery, where many Vyšší Brod monks have found their last place of rest. In the 20th century, the remains of Abbots Leopold Wackarž and Bruno Pammer were laid to rest in the cemetery chapel of St. Anne with a painted weathervane on the pinnacle if its tower.

One of the Abbey’s oldest structures is the eastern section of the Abbey building: the main and tallest element of the Gothic Abbey church is a pentagonal presbytery, or chancel, where the main altar is situated inside the church. The tall, sleek windows of the presbytery are decorated with traceries, resembling the windows of the famous Sainte Chapelle in Paris or Amiens Cathedral. The presbytery is flanked by a pair of chapels. The outer walls of both outer chapels have a triangular ground plan, something that is not to be found elsewhere in Europe.

A thirty-four-metre-high main tower looms over the Abbey. It was not built until 1860, because originally the Cistercians never built tall towers in their monasteries as a token of humility. The bells hanging in the tower were purchased in the year 2000 thanks to the financial contributions of German-speaking parishioners who were expelled from the Vyšší Brod area in the aftermath of the Second World War.

The circle of historical buildings concentrated around the courtyard is closed on the north side by the so-called Courthouse and the wall of the monastery garden. Quirin Mickl, a well-educated abbot, began the construction of this stunning house and decoration of its interior with wonderful illustrations in 1766. The building was possibly used as a summer refectory, the monks’ dining room, as accommodation for important guests and some of the rooms were used by monastery administration. In 1850, the Abbey turned the entire building over to the District Court, which remained there until the Second World War.

One last point of interest: A plaque commemorating the birth of the local writer of the Bohemian Forest, Francz Isidor Proschko in 1816 hangs above the entrance to the building.

 

18. The Rosenberg Gate

The bastions and defensive walls of Vyšší Brod that formed the original medieval fortifications of the Abbey have survived until this day.

The Rosenberg Gate is the main entrance to the monastery precinct. The gate’s frescoes were renovated in 2015 and are the most extensive example of exterior figural painting in Southern Bohemia. The figure of Our Lady of the Assumption is a whole three metres tall! The Madonna is floating on a crescent moon as she cradles the Baby Jesus in her arms. Depicted standing next to her is St Benedict cloaked in black, according to whose Rule many religious orders have prayed and worked from the sixth century to this day. Cloaked in a white, St. Bernard of Clairvaux is the most important saint of the Cistercian Order.

The entrance to the Abbey is guarded by a Rosenberg rider in full armour. He symbolises the noblesse and significance of the Lords of Rosenberg, the founders of Vyšší Brod, protecting it as their family monastery with the family tomb. We can see the beautiful stone carving of the Rosenberg coat of arms on the gate, showing the red five-petalled rose on a silver field with a helmet and jewel above the shield. The painted coat of arms of Rosenberg ruler William and his fourth wife, Polyxena of Pernštejn, indicate the origin of the painted decorations on the gate’s façade which originated at some point last two decades of the fourteenth century. The knights in their armour are reminiscent of Roman soldiers, which may be interpreted as a reference to the myth of the Rosenbergs’ affiliation with the noble Orsini family from Rome, whose members included three popes and numerous other historical figures.

The author of the gate’s painted decoration may have been court painter Bartholomew Beránek, known as Jelínek.

The renovated gates with its massive door hardware are a beautiful and unique example of Renaissance architecture.

 

Opposite the Rosenberg Gate you will find an information board showing tourist trails which will lead you into the surroundings of Vyšší Brod to the most beautiful tourist destinations in the countryside.

19. In front of the monastery gatehouse

The main scene in the painted adornments on the building with the prominent, tower-like gable is the Crucifixion of Jesus, where the Mother of Jesus and St. John the Evangelist look on despairingly. Similarly to the Rosenberg Gate, we can see the Rosenberg rider, the coats of arms of William of Rosenberg, and his wife Polyxena of Pernštejn, who were the abbey’s noble patrons in the 1580s and 1590s. The two large figures standing on each side of the Crucifixion depict the patron of the Lands of the Bohemian Crown, St. Wenceslas, and the patron of pharmacists, St. Nicolas. This building originally served as the abbot’s house, where the superior of the monastery lived, before the new large residence was built in the courtyard below the church. Later on, the monastery pharmacy actually was located in the building, from the year 1651 to the expulsion of the Cistercians in the 1950s. Once, a very popular product made at the pharmacy, Šumava Balsam said to cure numerous ailments, could be bought here. The building now serves as the monastery gatehouse.

Opposite the gatehouse, a small fire station was set up at the beginning of the 20th century in the small corner building connected to the wall of the former kitchen garden.

The access road from the Rosenberg Gate is lined with buildings, which formed the original monastery manor. Agricultural production was concentrated in the manor, which housed barns and the abbey stables. After the unlawful abolishment of the church by the Communist regime in the year 1950, a workers’ recreational centre was set up here. The monastery’s farm buildings were returned to the Cistercians in 2015, sadly in very bad condition.

The brewery in the west part of the abbey, first mentioned in writing in 1380, is also in dire condition. In Czechoslovakia between the wars, the Vyšší Brod monastery brewery was one of the most modern enterprises of its kind.

The 14th century Gothic mill is a priceless piece of history. Countless trades and crafts were also conducted in the Abbey workshops, such as carpentry, blacksmithery, locksmithery, tailoring and bookbinding. Greenhouses used for pre-growing plants spread across the southeast hillside along with fish hatcheries.

The Cistercians have been trying to save the devastated farm buildings and workshops since they were returned to them and gradually to renovate them so that they can be used for benefit the whole of society.


 
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