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Religious Objects in Český Krumlov

Bohuslav Coufal, church of St. Vitus in Český Krumlov, watercolor In the past, there were several religious institutions in Český Krumlov that notably influenced the town's spiritual, social and artistic life. The spiritual center of the urban unit was, since the 14th century, St. Vitus Church in Český Krumlov where all the clergy of the parish resided. The church represented not only a place for divine office and religious ceremonies but also a place for gathering and communication of the local residents.

A necessary part of a medieval town was, besides parish churches, monasteries of mendicant friars, usually situated at the edge of the town's built-up area close to the fortifications. The members of these monastic orders tended to devote themselves to teaching religion among large sections of the population. That is why in 1350 the Minorite Monastery and the Clare Nun Convent were founded by the Rosenbergs in Český Krumlov. Both the orders had their own residential buildings; they only shared the Body of Christ Monastery Church. The Minorite Monastery in Český Krumlov became the place of the yearly magnificent Festival of Relics Showing in Český Krumlov , which was launched by the Rosenbergs in an imitation of Emperor Charles IV. The presence of both the monasteries notably influenced the town's plastic arts culture, as they were important recipients of artistic objects.

Church of St. Jošt in Český Krumlov - castle in the background, rafts on the Vltava in the foreground, historical photo, foto: Wolf Charitable activities, in the Middle Ages totally included into the sphere of the Church's authority, were concentrated at St. Elizabeth's Hospital and the hospital belonging to St. Jošt Church in Český Krumlov, both founded in the course of the 14th century. Charitable activities in the name of Christian mercy were also provided by the beguines whose monastic house was situated close the Minorite Monastery. The parochial church, the monasteries and the hospital churches became an important component of the urban area of Český Krumlov and they notably influenced its appearance.

Even during the period of Hussite Wars, the local religious institutions continued to exist due to the fact that Ulrich II. von Rosenberg (1403 - 1462) was at the head of the catholic-orientated aristocracy. This is why churches and monasteries in Český Krumlov were not destroyed, as was the case in other places in Bohemia. On the contrary, many ecclesiastical dignitaries, noblemen and artists took refuge here; they contributed to the cultural continuity of Český Krumlov with the pre-Hussite royal Prague. Artistic creation was never interrupted here, in fact it culminated in the second half of the 15th century and at the beginning of the 16th century, when under the influence of the late Gothic style, some building arrangements of the Minorite Monastery and partially of St. Vitus Church were carried out, and the Kaplanka (Horní No. 159) was constructed.

In the 16th century, a new ecclesiastical institution influencing the religious life of the whole town and its surroundings entered onto the scene in Český Krumlov. It was the Jesuit College, founded in 1586 by Wilhelm von Rosenberg (1534 - 1592). Its architecturally imposing building was situated near St. Vitus Church and the parsonage (Horní No. 154). By this construction, a very spectacular building complex was created on an elevated spot overlooking the Vltava River. A garden situated at the opposite side of the Vltava River belonged to the College; nearby, there was St. Martin Chapel in Český Krumlov, founded in Horní no.  159 - Kaplanka, in background church of St. Vitus and town residents, historical photo 1585 as a graveyard chapel (History of Graveyards in Český Krumlov). Even if Český Krumlov was mostly Catholic, some Protestants lived there as well; they used St. Jošt Church for their offices. After the departure of Peter Wok von Rosenberg to Třeboň, the new owner of the dominion of Český Krumlov, Emperor Rudolf II. von Habsburg, donated the temple to the local Jesuits; this act was of course an attempt to further the strength of the Catholic position.

The Baroque era brought an increased interest in religion, which was linked with the spiritual climate of the 17th and early 18th centuries. In the context of the progressive recatholicization after the battle of White Mountain, the Church gained a privileged position in the whole country. An expression of the growing prestige of religious institutions was the building of new sacral facilities or a rebuilding of the existing ones. In Český Krumlov, these constructions were realized under support of the Eggenbergs and later also the Schwarzenbergs who had their castle residence in the town and were connected by numerous links with the churches and monasteries. The Baroque plastic arts culture in the town, unlike the Gothic, did not exceed any level of standard creativity with its quality. Before the middle of the 17th century, the Jesuits began to construct a Seminar belonging to their order's College (Horní No. 152). Baroque modifications affected the Minorite Monastery, St. Martin Chapel, partially St. Vitus Church, and also the parsonages then called the Prelatura (Horní No. 155), as the deans of Český Krumlov acquired the honorary title of Prelates. This prestigious title expressed the important position of Český Krumlov in the ecclesiastical administration. The Baroque represented also a golden age of pilgrimages to holy places that were manifestations of the extreme Baroque religiosity (Places of Pilgrimage in the Český Krumlov Region). In 1710, an attractive pilgrimage chapel was founded - Chapel on the Mountain of the Cross in Český Krumlov, consecrated to the Holy Cross and to the Virgin Mary of our Sorrows. The chapel, founded on an elevated spot overlooking the town, even nowadays offers an important dominating view.

Český Krumlov, complex of the one-time church buildings on the right shore of the Vltava River - church of St. Vitus, Prelate building, Jesuit seminary, areal photo, foto: Lubor Mrázek

Emperor Joseph's reforms in the last third of the 18th century brought a serious intervention into the life of religious institutions in Český Krumlov. In the course of these reforms, the Clare Nun Convent, St. Jošt Church and the pilgrimage chapel on the Mountain of the Cross were abolished. The objects were transformed for secular use which often caused the deterioration of their artistic value. The Church was slowly deprived of its privileged social position through progressive secularization, and the state with its utilitarian interests came into prominence.

In the course of the 19th century and in the first half of the 20th century, there were no building activities of importance orientated towards ecclesiastical structures, with the exception of the construction of the Synagogue in Český Krumlov, initiated by the local Jewish community.

Český Krumlov with the dominating towers of St. Vitus, the castle, and former synagogue, foto: Lubor Mrázek

At present, only some of the above mentioned buildings are in ecclesiastical use. The others have a secular purpose. In the past forty years, during the period of communism, many of the ecclesiastical buildings were seriously devastated; today, they are being gradually reconstructed.

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