Monastery

Monastery tours

Extensive restoration work has been underway in the monastery complex since the summer of 2011. This work has, however, NOT caused tours to be restricted in any way. Construction barriers are only up in part of the complex, and entrance is possible through the courtyard and the park. Hence, there is no need to be discouraged by the evidence of work, and visitors are fully encouraged to view the historic monastery interiors and the park.

History

Along the river Teplá, in the Teplá uplands in western Bohemia not far from Mariánské Lázně, lie the town and the monastery of Teplá. As far back as the start of the 12th century, the site was likely occupied by an early Slavic fortification; in 1385 Teplá was assigned the rights of a town.

Above all else, though, Teplá is famed for its Premonstrate monastery, founded here in 1193 by the Czech nobleman Hroznata, to which he immediately invited members of the order from the Strahov monastery in Prague. Hroznata was the descendent of a leading noble family, and held the position of commander of the border-defenders in the Teplá and Chod regions. The story of the monastery’s founding is linked to the Third Crusade, ordered by Holy Roman Emperor Henry VI. In March of 1188, Hroznata vowed to take part in the crusade; however, in April 1191 he and other noblemen were relieved of their participation by a papal edict. In return, he promised to found a monastery.

At the turn of the century, Hroznata entered the monastery as a member of the order, assuming the monastic robe directly from the hands of Pope Innocent III. As the monastery founder, he continued to hold the post of administrator of the monastery’s properties. During one of his inspection trips along the estate borders, he was seized by robber-knights, who demanded a high ransom for his release. Hroznata, though, did not allow the abbot to pay for him, and he died in captivity on 14 July 1217. The longstanding respect for Hroznata was reinforced by his beatification on 16 September 1897; in the Czech church calendar, the ‘Feast of the Blessed Hroznata’ is still celebrated on 14 July. In September 2004, the process started for his canonisation.

In 1232, the monastery church was ceremonially consecrated by the bishop of Prague, with the first mass intended by Czech king Václav (Wenceslas) I.

The flourishing monastery was decimated by the plague in 1380, and after 1381 the region was increasingly settled by colonists from Germany. During the Hussite wars, the monastery was saved from pillaging, and thanks to the skilful policies of Abbot Sigismund Hausmann (1458 – 1506) experienced a period of prosperity.

The situation worsened for the monastery after the start of the Reformation, but many of its abbots were able to weather these difficulties well. Significant damage, though, was wreaked on the monastery during the Thirty Years’ War. After the Second Defenestration of Prague, the monastery was briefly the refuge for the defenestration’s victims Chancellor Slavata and Archbishop Jan Lohelius; later, the forces of the ‘Winter King’ sacked the monastery for a full 17 days.

In both 1641 and 1648, Swedish soldiers raided the monastery; in 1659, the buildings of the convent and the prelature were burned to the ground. Their current appearance is the result of the Baroque reconstruction under the guidance of Abbot Raimund Wilfert II (1688 – 1722).

As the Counter-Reformation took force after the Austrian victory at the Battle of White Mountain, the Premonstrates began once again to spread the Catholic faith throughout the West Bohemian parishes that belonged to the monastery. During the 18th century, the Austro-Prussian wars brought further suffering and damage, yet thanks to the efforts of Abbot Hieronymus Ambrose (1741 – 1767) the monastery continued to prosper nonetheless. It won renown as a centre of arts and sciences; its library expanded greatly and the monks added a collection of minerals and a ‘cabinet’ of physics.

Abbot Christoph Pfrogner (1801 – 1812), a former professor of church history and rector of the Prague university, did the most to make the monastery a place where a wide range of scientific fields flourished. In 1804, the monastery assumed supervision of the lyceum in Plzeň; in addition, Pfrogner commissioned the first spa constructed at the mineral springs in the current town of Mariánské Lázně. However, the true fame of the spa is the work of his successor, Abbot Karl Reitenberger (1812 – 1827), who was the actual founder of the town. It was Reitenberger who charged the monastery physician, Dr. Jan Josef Nehr, with investigation of the mineral springs and financed construction of the town itself.

Under Abbot Clements, the monastery witnessed much new construction: in 1888, it received a pharmacy and new stables, a newly built gristmill and brewery, and the monastery even became the site of a post and telegraph office. Abbot Gilbert Helmer (1900 – 1944) ordered the construction of the Neo-Baroque wing of the library and museum; during his tenure, the opening of the rail line between Karlovy Vary and Mariánské Lázně linked the monastery to the outside world.

After the end of World War II, the German members of the order were expelled in April 1946 to Bavaria, where they served as priests to parishes where other Sudeten German expellees had been settled. Administration of the Teplá monastery was assigned to the chief Premonstrate monastery of Strahov; the new prior was Father  Heřman Josef Tyl and Teplá was declared an independent Czech canonric.

In 1950, two years after the Communist seizure of power, the monastery – like all the others in Czechoslovakia – was closed, and served for the next 28 years as a barracks for the Czechoslovak Army. Only the church and the library were open to the public, and this only after 1958. Once the army left, the buildings were left to decay. Only in 1990 was the monastery, seriously damaged by decades of neglect, returned to the Premonstrate order.

Among the most important personalities of the Teplá monastery in the 20th century was Father Heřman Josef Tyl (1914 – 1993), who founded a Czech monastic community after the expulsion of the German monks and served briefly as prior. Having survived the Auschwitz and Buchenwald concentration camps as a political prisoner during the Nazi occupation, he devoted his full strength to the formation of the community, to the renewal of spiritual life and the monastery’s war-damaged estates, and no less the re-settlement of the region following the expulsion of the Germans. He prevented the state confiscation of the monastery as the property of ‘traitors’ and ensured that German monks were released from prison and allowed to settle in Germany.

The Communist regime that seized power in February 1948 soon declared open hostilities against the church and monastic orders. The monastery’s property was nationalised and Heřman Josef Tyl, along with the other monks, arrested. Prior Tyl spent many further years in prison, this time in Communist labour camps. In 1988, he was secretly elected as abbot of the monastery by the remainder of the community, still meeting in secret.

In December 1989, Abbot Heřman Josef Tyl celebrated his first mass in his own monastery, thus starting the new stage of the life of the Premonstrates in Teplá.

At present, the Teplá community has 18 members, and administers parishes across western Bohemia. Currently, the order is faced with a difficult task – reconstruction of the entire complex, necessary for the monastery again to fulfil its mission. In addition to regular church services, the monastery plays host to concerts and exhibitions. Throughout the year, tours are offered of the accessible sections.

The Monastery Church

The abbot’s church was constructed in 1193-1232 as a Romanesque-Gothic three-nave church, 62.25 m long and 15.6 m high.

Consecrated to the Annunciation of the Lord, it was ceremonially consecrated by the bishop of Prague, Jan II on 20 June 1232 with King Václav I and emissaries of the Holy Roman Emperor in attendance. The church exterior is a valuable example of the transition between Romanesque and Gothic styles, and is the oldest of its type in the entire nation.

At the turn of the 17th and 18th centuries, it underwent Baroque modifications, primarily altering the interior decoration. The main altar is the work of stonemason Josef Lauermann and sculptor Ignatz Platzer from 1750; the alter painting, ‘The Annunciation’, is the work of Petr Jan Molitor. Likewise, the second ‘crucifix’ altar, situated at the centre of the main nave, is the result of the cooperation of Lauermann and Platzer.

Ignác Platzer also created for the monastery church the group of large wooden statues of various saints (located on brackets around the main nave) and the four teachers of the church (the statues in the canonical loft), as well as many other small decorative statues of cupids.

In the northern nave, the Chapel of Hroznata has an altar of white marble bearing a reliquary with the remains of the monastery’s founder, the Blessed Hroznata, situated here after his beatification (1897) in 1898. (The original burial place of Hroznata after his death in 1217 is indicated with an inscribed stone in the church floor in front of the main altar. On the same site is Hroznata’s original sarcophagus.) Completing the ornamentation of the chapel are two portraits of Hroznata. On the oil painting on the right chapel wall he is shown as a noble and layman sided by the two monasteries he founded in his lifetime; on the ceiling fresco, he is portrayed in the white robe of the Premonstrates, rising to heaven after his death. Like the frescoes above the chapel entrance depicting scenes from Hroznata’s life, these images are the work of Elijah Dollhopf.

Among the treasures of the monastery not on display are the Hroznata basin (from Limoges c. 1200), the ‘Hroznata crosier’ from 1756 and a chalice from the same year, commissioned by Abbot Hieronymus Ambros. In the museum exhibition of the monastery, the public may view a selection from the monastery’s collections, including paintings, sculptures, small carvings, porcelain, objects of wrought tin, ceremonial textiles and honours conferred on the abbots from various rulers, as testaments to their high social prestige.

The prelature and convent

The Baroque rebuilding of the monastery, which took place in 1690 – 1722 under Abbot Raimund Wilfert II, involved most of the monastery complex. Modifications affected not only the church interior, but the roofs of its towers and its windows, along with the newly added wing of the prelature and convent.

Part of the prelature is the summer refectory, the walls of which are adorned with rich trompe-l’oeil architectonic fresco work, supplemented on the eastern wall by the painting of the Last Supper by Maurus Fuchs of Tirschenreuth, dating from 1816. The ceiling frescoes depict the ‘Conversion of St. Paul’, an allegory of Faith and an allegory of the teachings of the Catholic Church.

Situated in the northern wall is a pulpit of pink facing marble, the work of J. Hennevogel.

In the ground floor of the convent is the chapter hall – originally the winter refectory – with wooden panelling by woodcarver Ferdinand Stuflesser from 1914. The frescos on the ceiling, with its rich stucco ornamentation, were painted by Anton Waller in 1913. They depict the twelve apostles and the nine major saints of the Premonstrate order; the two largest images are the Virgin Mary and the procession that brought the remains of St. Norbert from Magdeburg to Prague in 1627. In the upper floor of the convent is the ‘Blue Hall’, originally furnished in Empire style. In fact part of the prelature, and attached to this building itself, it received its name from the light-blue colour of its walls. The ceiling frescos are also the work of Maurus Fuchs.

Only a few fragments remain of the hall’s original furnishings.

Other Baroque structures are the building of the forestry administration with the main entrance gate and the granary in the courtyard. Baroque modifications also affected the monastery garden and park, though these are now much less in evidence.

Most notable here are several small architectonic details: the fountain and sculpture of the Crucifixion in the courtyard, and the fountain inside the original French garden on the northeast side of the church.

The monastery library

The north wing of the main building of the monastery, the section containing the library and museum, was built under Abbot Gilbert Helmer in 1902 – 1910, to the plans of architect Josef Schaffer of Mariánské Lázně. The main hall of the library is 24 m long, 12 m wide and 15.5 m high. The ceiling frescos, painted by Professor Karl Krattner of the Prague Academy, depict the celebration of the holy altar, the four teachers of the church and the four evangelists.

The second largest such institution in the Czech Republic, the monastery library is a rich treasure for scholars with over 100,000 historic volumes, including 1149 manuscripts and 45 medieval codices. As the Premonstrate order is well aware of its cultural and scholarly tradition, the library is open to outside researchers. Two of its most famous holdings are major German liturgical texts: the ‘Poenitentionale’ with its prayer in Old German written c. 830 and the ‘Codex Teplensis’, the first translation of the New Testament into German dating from before 1400. Other important items are the ‘Life of Brother Hroznata’ (1259), i.e. the legend of the monastery’s founder, or the prayer book of King Ladislav the Posthumous (1453) and the group of seven liturgical codices of Abbot Sigismund from 1460 and 1491.

Also in the library are 540 first editions and over 750 incunabula. Thanks to the monastery administration, scholarly bibliographies have been published of the library’s most ancient holdings, which in terms of printed matter from before 1800 number around 30 000 volumes in total. The library’s holdings are important both in terms of bibliology (particularly several unique Gothic, Renaissance and Baroque types of binding), history of the Church, the order and the region, as well as geography or balneology, e.g. the history of the town of Mariánské Lázně

The monastery park

The many changes in the monastery garden were brought about through the structural evolution of the monastery. Up until the end of the 16th century, the gardens were largely utilitarian, formed of large plots for herbs and vegetables. The greatest change occurred after the construction of the Baroque section of the monastery in the 17th century. According to an engraving from 1735, the garden was at that time divided into a publicly accessible area, with floral plots and a later greenhouse, and a section for the monks enclosed by a high wall. Adjoining the southern side was a small garden for the abbot. Both of these ‘Paradise Courts’ were ornamentally landscaped, with a central fountain. On the southern side of the convent was the herb-garden. The gardens retained this form until 1903, when the complex was enlarged with the new wing of the library and museum, along with several utilitarian outbuildings. The Baroque stone wall around the garden was demolished, the old plantings removed and a new greenhouse and gardener’s cottage added to a much larger garden, with a pond along the southern wall towards the river Teplá and around it a capacious landscaped park.

The remnants of the Baroque garden were included into the new conception. Currently, in tandem with the reconstruction of the buildings, work is underway on the park itself. Its current form is the result of the gradual expansion and alteration of the cloister gardens and orchard inside the medieval fortifications of the monastery. The greatest change to the park was implemented at the start of the 20th century; it has been accessible to the public since 1946 through the services of the then prior, Heřman Josef Tyl. With the addition of a pond and a path lined with ancient trees and a series of Stations of the Cross, he created a park for both spiritual and physical relaxation.

The monastery cemetery

About 20 minutes’ walk northeast from the monastery is the former village cemetery of the settlement Klášter Teplá. When, at the end of the 18th century, Emperor Josef II forbid the practice of burials in churchyards at the centre of villages, the Premonstrate monks of Teplá had the cemetery expanded to include the remains of monks buried in the original monastery cemetery (from the start of the monastery’s existence, burials took place in the church, later in the Chapel of SS. Wenceslas and Michael on the northern side of the church and later in their own cemetery, closely adjoining the church on the site of the present library wing). The lower section of the cemetery continued to serve the village, with the upper section assumed by the monastery. At the centre of the cemetery, a large cast-iron cross was added on a stone base. Towards the end of the 19th century, Abbot Alfred Clementso ordered the construction of a cemetery chapel with a tomb for the abbots. The chapel was consecrated in early June of 1900; shortly afterwards, Abbot Clementso suddenly died and was the first to be buried in the chapel crypt. In 1906, the crypt ceremonially received the remains of Abbot Reitenberger, the founder of Mariánské Lázně, who died in 1860 in exile in Wilten, and in early March 1944 Gilbert Helmer was the last abbot to be buried there. On either sides of the entrance gate, along the wall, tombs were built for other important abbots and canons, among them Chrisostom Pfrogner (the rector of the Prague University), Adolf Kopmann (an important theologian and biblical scholar, and professor at the University of Vienna), or Alois David (a mathematician and astronomer, also rector of the Prague University and director of the Clementinium Observatory). These artistically and historically valuable tombs, and the small graves of the other monks, ornamented with simple crosses, no longer exist. The last Premonstrate monk buried in this cemetery was Leo Moláček in 1952. After the abolition of the Teplá monastery’s parish, lay burials ceased at the cemetery as well; during the 1950s it was frequently attacked by vandals and damaged by the construction of collective-farm buildings nearby. The gravestones were stolen piecemeal, often for use on other graves, while the cast-iron crosses were taken for scrap. By the end of the 1950s, as a result, it was decided that all the grave-markers would be removed and the cemetery landscaped as a park with flower-bushes; in the centre would be an obelisk listing the names of the monks buried here; however, all that occurred of this plan was the first stage – the removal of the gravestones. Later, the graves themselves were damaged, and after a robbery of the abbots’ crypt in the chapel (during which the robbers scattered the bones of Abbot Reitenberger and stole jewellery from the coffin of Abbot Clemontso), the crypt was walled up. (The only abbot spared the depredations of the thieves was Abbot Helmer, whose embalmed remains were so well-preserved by the microclimate of the crypt that his appearance most likely scared the criminals away). Today, all that remains in the cemetery are a few graves and several damaged tombstones, and an empty chapel. Nonetheless, the cemetery has a beautiful view of the monastery and the natural surroundings.