If you are familiar with the history of Medieval Europe, then you surely know how much the continent was shaped by religion. It used to be an important part of people’s lives and religious figures held a lot of power. No wonder that a lot of money was spent on construction of sacral buildings such as churches, cathedrals, or monasteries. Churches and cathedrals had to be as beautiful as possible so people would respect (or fear) God and be willing to overcome their mundane suffering to rejoice later in the afterlife. Monasteries, on the other hand, were modest – one could not possibly reject earthly pleasures while surrounded by opulence!
Two South Moravian Monasteries
South Moravia has always been considered the more traditional, more religious, and more Catholic part of the modern-day Czech Republic. Believe it or not, even I was christened and raised as a Catholic, though I actually consider myself a benevolent atheist like most Czechs! Anyway, Moravia being a more religious area also means that there are sacral buildings on every corner. Sometimes these buildings even have similar names. Take, for example, the monasteries Rosa Coeli and Porta Coeli – both are completely different but their similar names often confuse curious tourists.
Let’s start with the Rosa Coeli monastery – the Rose of Heavens or Heavenly Rose. It is located about 25 kilometres southwest of Brno in the village of Dolní Kounice (emphasis on the word “southwest”).
The convent is truly magical albeit probably not in the way you’d expect as it’s actually a roofless convent ruin. You have surely heard about castle ruins – a castle is attacked by an army, completely ravaged and burnt down and becomes a ruin as a result. But what about convents? How can something like that even happen? Well, let’s just say that despite the fact that monasteries are dedicated to God, this one was, in fact, quite an ungodly place.
But first things first. According to the chronicler Jarloch, the monastery was founded in 1181 by a Moravian nobleman Vilém of Pulín and Kounice as penance for damaged property in Austria, where he carried out military incursions. Only two years later, in 1183, nuns from the premonstrate convent in Louňovice. Back then, the famous chronicler Gerlach predicted for the convent to last until the end of times, but he, unfortunately, couldn’t be more wrong. In the summer of 1185, the nuns from the monastery had to flee to Bítov from a looting Bohemian army. Surprisingly, the monastery and church were the only buildings left intact.
According to written sources, during the Hussite wars, the monastery was supposedly burnt down by an army of “mildly crossed” Hussites – infamous for their anti-Catholicism. But this catastrophe – that may or may not have happened – is still not the reason behind its current state as the monastery later recovered.
Things started to go downhill when the provost Martin Göschl started to administer here in Dolní Kounice. He was in charge of the convent, castle, the whole village of Dolní Kounice and even some of the nearby villages as well. At the time, the convent prospered but Göschl became familiar with Lutheranism in Jihlava and spread the ideology later in Dolní Kounice too. In fact, he went so far he married one of the nuns. He apparently set an example to the other nuns who soon started behaving the same “sinful” way as him. This was, of course, a huge scandal and in 1526 he left the monastery to settle in Mikulov. Not that it would help him – eventually, in 1528, he was captured, put to a trial, tortured and imprisoned. He later died in prison – supposedly in Kroměříž. This was also the end of the convent which ceased to exist during the reign of his successor Jan.
The monastery was then left to its own fate and changed owners a couple of times in the next 100 years before the premonstrates of Strahov bought the monastery in 1698. They tried to rebuild it but, unfortunately, it burned to the ground in 1703. After this tragedy, it changed owners again and now it is the property of the state.
There are several dark legends surrounding the monastery – from nuns murdered by local angry butchers to a nun that was walled-up there. However, despite all that, it apparently has a pretty pleasant aura and people enjoy staying in that place.
Just around the corner from the monastery, there is also a castle, so make sure to visit it too!
The other monastery, Porta Coeli, which means “Heaven’s Gate” in Latin, is located in Předklášteří, about 23 kilometres northwest of Brno (emphasis on the word “northwest”).
This Cistercian convent was founded in 1230 by Constance of Hungary – the second Queen consort of Ottokar I of Bohemia.
Since the main part of the monastery was built in the 13th century, the early-Medieval complex of buildings is one of the most valuable architectural jewels of the time that have been preserved intact to this day.
During the Hussite wars, the monastery was ravaged and the Cistercian nuns had to flee to Brno. Later, in the 1540s, it was restored and consecrated again. Unfortunately, another wave of catastrophes hit the monastery during the Thirty Years War and the War of the Austrian Succession. As if this was not bad enough, in 1782 the convent was dissolved for good on the basis of a patent on the abolition of monasteries, issued by Joseph II.
The monastery was restored again in 1901, survived both world wars, communism period and nowadays it is the only still operating female Cistercian convent in the Czech Republic – as of 2019 four nuns are living there. This may not be a high number but it’s something!
Surprisingly, there is also a brewery situated on the premises of the monastery – it was opened in 2019 and named Vorkloster, which is the German name of the Předklášteří village where the monastery is located.
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