Czechs in History – St. John of Nepomuk

 

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Statue of St. John of Nepomuk in Telč

A Small Town Saint

Saint John of Nepomuk, or John Nepomucene as he is sometimes called, is one of the best known patron saints of the Czech lands. There is no shortage of statues and other artwork featuring him on display both within Czech borders and further afield. A visitor to the Czech Republic would have to go to great effort to not encounter a statue or other likeness of this saint while here.

Jan Velflín was born in the 1340s in the small town of Pomuk, later renamed Nepomuk, in the Pilsen region of Bohemia. Little is known of his childhood or adolesence; in the 1380s, he studied canon law in both the Universities of Prague and Padua. He was made a doctor of canon law in 1387.

He was appointed Vicar General of the Prague Archdiocese by Jan of Jenštejn, Archbishop of Prague from 1379 to 1396, in 1393. In the same year, Velflín met his death at the orders of King Wenceslas IV.

He was beatified in 1721 and canonized in 1729 by Pope Benedict XIII.

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Depiction of the saint’s death on display at Zelená hora

On the Wrong Side of the King

Velflín had the misfortune of serving the church at the time of the Papal Schism which lasted from 1378 to 1417. This event saw two distinct lines, Rome and Avignon, vying for papal legitimacy in the church. European rulers, nobility and clerics were forced to back one or the other line.

Velflín and the Archbishop of Prague were loyal to Rome while Wenceslas IV was a supporter of Avignon. This was only the beginning of friction between the king and the archdiocese.

Another point of conflict with the king was centred on the holdings of the very wealthy and influential Benedictine abbey at Kladruby in the Pilsen region. The king wished to possess the abbey’s wealth and land and intended to have the abbey recategorised as a cathedral upon the death of the abbot. To this end, he ordered that no new abbot be nominated when the one in place died.

Against the king’s orders, the archbishop and Velflín convinced the abbey monks to nominate a new abbot. The chosen candidate was confirmed by Velflín. This move angered the king to the point that he had Velflín imprisoned, tortured and eventually killed by drowning.

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This statue at Rajhrad Abbey is a very typical depiction of the saint

A Tale of Two Deaths

The above account of Velflín‘s death is supported by documents of the period which include a formal accusation against the king made by the archbishop of Prague and the new abbot of Kladruby directly to Pope Boniface IX in Rome shortly after Velflín was killed.

Of the two popular accounts of the saint’s death, it is the one taken as factual and closest to the truth.

A more romanticised account dates to 1670 and casts Velflín as the confessor to the king’s second wife, Sofia of Bavaria, and was put to death by the king for refusing to divulge the queen’s confessions to him. This tale casts the king as a very jealous man who suspects his wife of having an affair.

The fact that the second account was published nearly 280 years after Velflín’s death and contained little to substatntiate itself factually, there really is not much at all to lend credence to it.

Both popular accounts do share a common feature in that shortly after Velflín was drowned in the Vltava river, a group of bright lights was seen to float above the spot where his body entered the water.

Owing to this shared aspect of both accounts, the saint’s best known attribute is his halo of stars which symbolise the lights said to have appeared above the Vltava after his death.

Other attributes attached to the saint are the clothing of a priest, a crucifix and sometimes a palm leaf.

In accordance with the 1670 account, some depictions of the saint include an angel with a finger to their lips to represent the sanctity of the confessional.

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The UNESCO listed pilgrimage church dedicated to the saint in Zelená hora

Legacy and Monuments

St. John of Nepomuk is generally taken to be the patron saint of discretion and against slander. His death by drowning has also seen him taken as a saint of water and protector against floods

The first church dedicated to the saint was established in Hradec Králové in 1708. A much more famous pilgrimage church was established in his name at Zelená hora in 1719. the latter of these two churches was inscribed un the UNESCO list of World Heritage Sites in 1994 due to its very unique architecture.

The saint’s tomb can be visited at Prague’s St. Vitus Cathedral.

Outside of the Czech lands, statues and other monuments to the saint can be found in Austria, Germany, Italy, Poland and Lithuania.

He is also the patron saint of three municipalities and one province in the Philippines.

A good source for further reading on the saint can be found through this link:

http://www.msjn.cz/en/

 

 

One of the Czech Republic´s “Few” Flies Again!

On July 21 of 2016, one of the last surviving Czech pilots who served in the ranks of the Royal Air Force during World War II took to the air in a legendary Spitfire fighter for the first time on over 70 years.

Born on February, 25 of 1923 in Brno, General Emil Boček took off on a 25 minute flight from Great Britain´s famous Biggin Hill airfield in a Spitfire fitted with a second seat.

This is video footage of the event from Czech Television:

http://www.ceskatelevize.cz/ct24/1853465-emil-bocek-si-ve-spitfiru-pripomnel-sve-bojove-lety-v-raf

An English language report can be found here:

http://www.radio.cz/en/section/curraffrs/czech-ww-ii-veteran-fulfils-dream-with-spitfire-flight

Rajhrad Abbey – A Literary Reliquary

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The facade of St. Peter and Paul church, a prominent feature of Rajhrad Abbey.

A Biblical Bookcase

Located a short distance from the South Moravian capital, Brno, is the small town of Rajhrad. Here, you will find a Benedictine abbey which dates to the mid 11th century and holds the distinction of being the oldest monastery in Moravia.

While it is unclear whether the abbey began life as a monastery or some other category of church building; it acted in the capacity of a monastery until 1813, when it was promoted to an abbey.

As one would expect with a structure of this age, history has been both cruel and kind to it in turns. It survived, though extensively damaged, a series of attacks and invasions through the 1200s. By contrast, the bulk of the 1700s and 1800s saw extensive redesign and renovation of the structure; some of this redesign occured under the supervision of famed Czech architect, Jan Blažej Santini-Aichel.

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Looking across the abbey courtyard.

Santini-Aichel’s mark is still seen in the abbey to this day through the visible mix of Baroque and Gothic styles, a hallmark of the famed architect.

The abbey’s monastery was abolished in 1950 and the building given to the Czechoslovak army for a period of time while other parts of the structure were put to use for crop storage.

The Benedictine order returned to the abbey in the 1990s, following the fall of Socialism. Since then, constant repairs and restorations have been performed on the structures.

The Museum of Literature, an arm of the Brno Regional Museum, has kept its seat at the abbey since 2005. This collection comprises significant Moravian literary works spanning the 9th to the 20th centuries.

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Display cases hold a small part of the Museum of Literature collection.

Prayer and Print

Keeping in the spirit of the Rule of St. Benedict, which states that monks in monasteries  should spend significant time reading and studying, a well stocked library has been part of the abbey from the very start. The monastery’s collection had grown to appreciable size by the time the first official librarian and archivist were appointed in 1709.

The library grew steadily until the end of the 19th century, when the abbey was forced to sell some of the collection due to financial difficulties.

Upon the abolition of the monastery in 1950, the library and archives came under the care of the State Research Library, later to become the Moravian Library. In the early 1970s, due to structural problems in the building, the library had to be temporarily removed from the abbey premises.

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More examples of old works in the Museum of Literature collection.

In the early 1990s, the library was returned to the care of the abbey and by 2004, after extensive structural stabilisation and restoration work to the library rooms, the books were returned to their places in the abbey.

Since 2005, the library has been in the care of the Brno Regional Museum and has been open to the public via guided tours.

Unfortunately, though understandably, photography of the restored library areas is forbidden. However, there is an atmosphere to be experienced there which can’t be conveyed by mere photographs.

Beyond the incunabula, manuscripts and books which make up the library, the abbey also holds an extensive collection of printed graphic work as well as a collection of maps and atlases in its museum. The abbey museum also contains an array of artifacts from the Benedictines’ activities in the area over the centuries.

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Interior view of the abbey’s church.

Paying a Visit and Learning More

There is a great deal more to the abbey and its history than I’ve written here. If you’re the least bit a fan of old books and libraries, you should most certainly put the abbey on your travel itinerary if you’re passing through the South Moravian region.

Happily, Rajhrad is easily reachable from Brno by rail and the abbey is neither a far nor strenuous walk from the town’s rail station. Alternately, there is a once an hour bus which runs from Rajhrad’s rail station directly to the abbey.

Tours of the abbey are in Czech, though text transcriptions are available in other languages.

Also on the abbey property is a restaurant where you can refresh yourself after touring the attraction.

The following links will provide you with further information about the abbey, it’s history and collections as well as opening hours, tour prices and transportation information:

http://www.rajhrad.cz/oraetlabora/an_full_frameset.htm

http://rajhrad.muzeumbrnenska.cz/en/

http://www.rajhradskyklaster.cz/

A Bit of Cleaning and Editing

I recently took time to do a regular cleaning of the blog, including moving old posts to the menus at the top of the page.

You will find a new item at the top of the page titled “Love Locks”. This is a slightly edited version of a piece I wrote in November of 2015 about the popular but destructive trend of couples placing locks on bridges and other locations around cities worldwide to symbolize their love for each other.

While the trend is not as big an issue in the Czech Republic as it is in many other places, there’s no need for it to become any more popular.

https://beyondprague.wordpress.com/no-love-locks-a-call-for-responsible-tourism/

 

I’ve also edited information and photos in the entry about Czech Easter:

https://beyondprague.wordpress.com/czechs-and-czech-culture/holidays/easter/

 

I’ve added fresh pictures to the entry on Czech wine:

https://beyondprague.wordpress.com/czechs-and-czech-culture/food-drink/czech-wine-older-than-the-country-itself/

 

Additionally, I have updated my book review page on “The Czechs in a Nutshell”:

https://beyondprague.wordpress.com/the-czechs-in-a-nutshell/

 

Visiting the Neighbors – Berlin, Germany

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Looking towards Berlin’s famous television tower from Alexanderplatz.

Berlin in a Blink

We recently took a couple of days in the German capital, outside of the transportation days, we had about 48 hours to poke around and explore. It was my first time to Berlin and I was pleasantly surprised by how much ground one can cover there in two days.

Before I get into the meat of this entry, some more seasoned visitors of Berlin might well ask what I think I can accomplish writing a piece on the city based on only 48 hours there. It’s a fair question to be sure.

Quite simply, I’m writing this piece to reflect an example of what can be done in one of the world’s great cities within a limited time frame. No more and no less.

I’ll be dispensing with the usual historical notes I make about places I write about and get right to the business of seeing the place.

So, let’s go!

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Looking at the lush greenery of Tiergarten park from the Spree river.

Out and About, Bright and Early

Our explorations began at 09:00 on a Monday morning with a trip to the Berliner Fernsehturm, the city’s landmark television tower. From here, one can get a good view around Berlin’s landscape from above. We bought our tickets to this attraction online before our trip and I would recommend that anyone planning to visit it do the same. The queue built quickly and security was tight. Preference is given to advance ticket holders.

After the tower, we took an hour long guided sightseeing cruise on the Spree river, which runs through the centre of the city. The cruise gave us some unique perspectives on historical sights that line the river and saved our legs for the self guided walking tour of the centre to follow in the afternoon.

We started out walking tour in the Lustgarten park on Museum Island, where many of the city’s most famous museums are located. From there, we eventually found ourselves on the Gendarmenmarkt, a square dating to the 18th century with some lovely architecture to take in.

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Gendarmenmarkt

From Gendarmenmarkt, we made our way to Pariser Platz and the iconic Brandenburg Gate which stands there.

Right in the same area as the gate, you’ll find the Reichstag; the German parliament building with its distinctive glass dome on the roof.

While in the area of the Reichstag, we took the opportunity to walk to the bank of the Spree river and take a look at some of the sights we saw from the boat cruise in the morning.

From there, we worked our way back past the gate and in the direction of the Holocaust memorial, occaisionally looking down to see sections of a line of bricks embedded in the road to mark the former course of the Berlin Wall. This line of bricks exists where sections of the wall were pulled down to preserve continuity with those sections that were preserved.

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Where a wall once stood

Our afternoon walking tour ended at Checkpoint Charlie, the famous spot along the Berlin Wall where all things moving east to west and vice versa passed through for approval.

I have to admit that I was not all that impressed with Checkpoint Charlie. There’s no historical context given for it at the site and it’s attended by actors doing a less than convincing job of playing soldiers. For two Euros, one can have their picture taken with the “soldiers”.

It sits on a small island in the middle of a busy street and you have to keep an eye out for cars moving in both directions when you stand on that island.

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The Military Historic Museum at Berlin-Gatow

Going Off Centre

On the second day of our visit, I had Berlin to myself as my girlfriend rested at the hotel saving up energy for a concert she was attending in the evening.

My own personal itinerary included a visit to German military’s aviation museum at the former Berlin-Gatow airfield in the city’s Kladow district.

For the aviation enthusiast, or those with a general interest in military history, this museum is a very worthwhile trip out of the centre. It gives a very full picture of German military aviation history from the First World War up to the present. Beyond the many aircraft on display, there are exhibits on uniform developments, organisational comparisions between the Former East and West Germany as well as partnership between Germany and America for training German fighter pilots in America through the Cold War and beyond.

The Berlin public transportation system really impressed me on my trip out to the museum. The trip took about an hour, but there was very little waiting between connections. Everything was very smooth and efficient.

After spending a few hours at the aviation museum, I returned to the centre for lunch and a short rest. Our hotel was walking distance from the Mauermuseum, a museum dedicated to the Berlin Wall and located close to Checkpoint Charlie.

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A view inside the Mauermuseum

The Mauermuseum is a quite interesting place despite the fact that it is in rather cramped quarters.

Mixed with many photos, text and audio-visual presentations detailing the people and political moves that led to both the rise and fall of the wall, there are exhibits showing the many imaginitive and resourceful devices created by people trying to escape from east to west.

Homebuilt flying machines and modified automobiles share space with artwork inspired by various eras of the wall’s existence.

I’ll Be Returning

Just as I decided to forgo my usual historical notations in this entry, I will also forgo my usual links for further reading. There’s no shortage of information out there on Berlin and with as cosmopolitan is the city is, it’s best that you seek out information about it specialised to your own tastes.

For myself, I will definitely make return trips to Berlin to see other areas of the city.

 

That Social Media Thing…

This is just a quick note for those of the readership who would like to follow Beyond Prague on Facebook or Twitter.

In the sidebar, you can now find a widget for social media applications with icons for both my Facebook and Twitter presences.

While I had a Twitter widget for sometime and my Twitter account hasn’t changed; I’ve revived the connection to Facebook after a long while of dormancy while I figured out how I best wanted to use that function in connection to my blogs.

I’ve cleaned my Facebook pages for my blogs down to pretty much “clean slate” level, so there isn’t much there at the moment. However, please check in there regularly as I will most likely be making use of them for one off pictures, short notes and extend photo galleries of subjects already covered in the blogs.

On Two, Four, Six Wheels and More

This weekend, April 23 and 24, the Brno Technical Museum opened its annex of vintage vehicles for the public to peruse.  While small, it was a very well rounded event showcasing private automobiles, public transportation, military vehicles, emergency services and more.

Exhibitions at the event went much further than the museum’s own collection. A variety of other museums and historical associations from around the country also brought something to show.

Here’s a sampling of what was on view:

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A 1960s era Škoda city bus with a wagon.
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A Praga truck dressed up for a Socialist era May Day parade with a couple of Škoda trucks in the background.
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Part of a line of Škoda cars representing a variety of that brand’s models over the years.
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A trio of fire response trucks based on the Avia A30 design.
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A restored Ještěrka (Lizard) anti-aircraft vehicle from the early 1960s in the military section.
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The distinctive three wheel Velorex arriving in the display area.
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A trio of motorcycles with a lovely red Jawa in the foreground.
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That inimitable, perhaps fortunately so, and unmistakeable symbol of East German automotive prowess: the Trabant!
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This Sachsenring fire engine from the 1960s was another East German exhibit.
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A bit of the old Soviet executive style came in the form of this GAZ Volga from the late 1950s.
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More Soviet wheels were to be seen with this pair of Ladas done up in Socialist era Czechoslovak police markings.
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Not everything on display was old Eastern Bloc hardware. This Triumph from the early 1950s put a nice British twist on things.