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Teplá - Premonstratensian Monastery 

 History and the Present

The town of Teplá (literally meaning "Warm") and the Teplá Monastery can be found on the Teplá River in Tepelská vrchovina (Teplá Highlands) near Mariánské Lázně in western Bohemia. A Slavic fortified settlement had probably existed on the site already in the early 12th century and the settlement of Teplá received town rights in 1385.

Teplá Monastery Teplá Monastery Teplá Monastery

Nonetheless, it was namely the Premonstratensian Monastery (also denoted as the Norbertine Abbey of Tepl) that put the town of Teplá on the map. It was founded in 1193 by Bohemian nobleman Hroznata who shortly after invited the Premonstratensian monks from the Strahov Monastery in Prague. Hroznata was born of noble parents and he was the commander of the frontiersmen in the Teplá and Chod regions. The story of the foundation of the monastery is associated with the Third Crusade initiated by Henry VI. Hroznata decided to take part in the crusade in March 1188. He and other noblemen were dispensed from their promise by the Pope in April 1191, in return for which Hroznata committed himself to found a monastery.

At the turn of the century, Hroznata entered the Teplá Canon and joined the Order of the Prémontré (also known as the Canons Regular of Prémontré, the Premonstratensian, the Norbertines or White Canons). He received the white habit from the hands of Pope Innocent III himself. As the founder of the monastery, he retained his position of the administrator of the abbey estate. During one of his inspection journeys along the borders of the demesne, he was taken prisoner by knight-robbers who demanded ransom for his release. Hroznata, however, did not allow the abbot to pay the ransom and he died in prison on July 14, 1217. The traditional respect towards Hroznata was augmented by his beatification on September 16, 1897. The festive day commemorating Blessed Hroznata is traditionally celebrated on the 14th of July. The process of the canonization of Blessed Hroznata has commenced in September 2004.

In 1232, the abbey church was consecrated by the Bishop of Prague. The first mass was celebrated in the presence of King Václav I (also denoted as Wenceslaus I of Bohemia). The thriving monastery was depopulated by the plague in 1380 and German colonists began settling in the area from 1381. In the course of the Hussite Wars, the monastery was spared from plundering and it experienced its golden times due to the policies promoted by Abbot Sigmund Hausmann (1458 - 1506).

Hard times began for the monastery with the period of Reformation, nonetheless, a number of its abbots succeeded in overcoming many obstacles. Major damages were inflicted by the Thirty Years War. After the Second Prague Defenestration, Chancellor Slavata and Archbishop Jan Lohelius who managed to escape found temporary refuge at the monastery. Armies of the "Winter King" (Friedrich V, Elector Palatine) ravaged the monastery for 17 days. Subsequently, it was despoiled by the Swedes between 1641 and 1648. The convent and prelature buildings were burnt to ashes in 1659 and their present-day appearance is the result of a Baroque reconstruction conducted by Abbot Raimund II Wilfert (1688 - 1722).

During the period of Counter-Reformation that followed the Battle of White Mountain, the Premonstratensian brethren once again ventured into spreading Catholic religion in the western Bohemian parishes belonging to the Teplá Canon. The war between Austria and Prussia in the 18th century brought further damage and misery, nevertheless, it was a time of prosperity for the monastery, largely due to the diligent management of Abbot Hieronymus Ambrose (1741 - 1767). The Teplá Monastery was a centre of art and science, its book stocks were growing, and a new collection of minerals and a physics room were added.

Under Abbot Kristoph Pfrogner (1801 - 1812), a former professor of church history and rector of the Charles University in Prague, the monastery became a place where a various fields of science were blossoming. In 1804, it took over a grammar school in Plzeň (Pilsen). In addition, Abbot Pfrogner initiated the building of first baths at the springs of the present-day spa town of Mariánské Lázně (Marienbad). Nevertheless, the spa town gained world repute in the times of Abbot Karl Reitenberger (1812 - 1827) who is the founder of Mariánské Lázně. It was particularly Abbot Karl Reitenberger who encharged the abbey physician, Dr. Jan Josef Nehr, with conducting a research of the Marienbad springs and who later funded the construction of the newly founded town.

The Teplá Monastery underwent numerous renovations under Abbot Clementso. In 1888, a pharmacy, stables, a mill, and a brewery were built and a post office and a telegraph office were opened at the monastery. Abbot Gilbert Helmer (1900 - 1944) built the Neo-Baroque wing of the library and the museum. The commissioning of a railway line running between Karlovy Vary and Mariánské Lázně connected the monastery with the world.

In April 1946, German members of the Premonstratensian Order were displaced to Bavaria where they engaged in religious service as priests at parishes to which further German displacees were coming. The Strahov Canon assigned an administrator to Teplá, priest Heřman Josef Tyl was appointed as Prior, and the Teplá Monastery became an independent Czech Canon.

In 1950, the monastery shared the fate of other monasteries and convents in Czechoslovakia: it was closed down, and its buildings served as barracks for the Czechoslovak People's Army. Only the church and the library were open to tourist excursions from 1958. After the army had abandoned the monastery, its buildings were exposed to further dilapidation. In 1990, the monastery was returned to the Premonstratensian Order in a desolate condition caused by the many years of neglect.

One of the most reputed personages of the Teplá Monastery of the 20th century undoubtedly is priest Heřman Josef Tyl (1914 - 1993). Following the displacement of the German brethren, he founded a Czech community in Teplá and became the Prior of the monastery. As a liberated political prisoner who survived the concentration camps in Auschwitz (Oswiecim) and Buchenwald, he concentrated his endeavour on creating a new community, reviving spiritual life and the housekeeping of the monastery destroyed by the war, as well as on re-populating the region after the displacement of its German inhabitants. He succeeded in preventing the confiscation of the monastery as the property of traitors and he achieved the release of fellow German brethren from prison and their transport to Germany.

February 1948 unleashed a war led by the Communist Regime against churches and religious orders. All assets belonging to the monastery were nationalised and Heřman Josef Tyl was arrested along with fellow Premonstratensians. Prior Tyl served many years in prison, this time however, in a communist concentration camp. In 1988, the underground religious community secretly elected him Abbot of the Teplá Canon.

In December 1989, Abbot Heřman Josef Tyl served the first mass in his monastery, whereby he opened a new chapter of the life of the Premonstratensian brethren in Teplá.

The present-day Teplá Canon has 18 members and it manages numerous parishes across western Bohemia. The order is currently facing a great challenge – the reconstruction of the abbey complex, which is essential for the monastery to be able to fulfil its mission. In addition to regular services, the monastery also serves as the venue of concerts and exhibitions. In addition, it offers excursions of the monastery premises accessible to the public almost throughout the year.

 Abbey Church

The abbey church was built in the course of years from 1193 to 1232 as a Romanesque and Gothic three-aisled hall church 62.25 metres long and 15.6 metres high. It is dedicated to the Annunciation of the Lord and it was consecrated by the Bishop of Prague, Jan II, on June 20, 1232. The consecration ceremony took place in the presence of King Václav I. and Emperor's envoys. The exterior of the church is a valuable example of the transition of Romanesque into Gothic style and it is the oldest of its kind in our territory.

Teplá Monastery Teplá Monastery Teplá Monastery

At the turn of the 17th and 18th century, the church was subject to Baroque alterations, which mainly involved its interior decoration. The main altar was made by marble-mason Josef Lauermann and sculptor Ignác Platzer in 1750, the altar painting portraying the Annunciation of the Lord is the work of Petr Jan Molitor. The second altar, which is known as the Cross Altar and situated in the centre of the main aisle, is once again the joint work of Josef Lauermann and Ignác Platzer.

Ignác Platzer also created a set of larger wooden statutes of saints (installed on consoles around the main aisle), four Doctors of the Church (installed in the canonry choir), as well as number of small decorative statuettes of angels for the abbey church. The reliquary of Blessed Hroznata stands on an altar made of white marble in the Chapel of Hroznata located in the north aisle of the church. The reliquary was moved there in 1898 following Hroznata's beatification (1897). (The original site of Hroznata's burial after his death in 1217 is marked by a stone with an engraved sign embedded in the paving of the church in front of the main altar. Hroznata's sarcophagus remains standing in its original place.)

The chapel is decorated with two portraits of Blessed Hroznata. The oil painting on the right side of the chapel portrays Hroznata as a mundane prince and the monastery and convent founded by him during his life. A fresco on the ceiling visualizes Hroznata in a white habit as he enters heaven after his martyr death. These as well as the frescos above the chapel entry rendering scenes from Hroznata's life are the work of Eliáš Dollhopf.

The masterpieces that remain hidden to the public include Hroznata's Dish (made in Limoges around the year 1200), Hroznata's Pedum (an abbatial crozier) from the year 1756, and a chalice made in the same year upon the order of Abbot Hieronymus Ambros. The abbey museum exposition presents a selection of the monastery collections, including paintings, statues, minor sculptures, porcelain, various tin items, sacral textiles (paraments), and numerous decorations awarded to the abbots by sovereigns that bespeak of their high social prestige.

Prelature and Convent

The Baroque reconstruction of the monastery completed between 1690 and 1722 under Abbot Raimund II Wilfert affected the majority of the monastery grounds. The church interiors were renovated, as well as its tower roofs and windows, and a new wing of the prelature and the convent were built.

A summer refectory is a part of the prelature, the walls of which are richly decorated with illusive architectonic painting, which is complemented with a painting of the Last Supper created by Maurus Fuchs of Tirschenreuth in 1816. The ceiling fresco depicts the Conversion of Saint Paul – an allegory of faith and of the teachings of the Catholic Church. The pulpit situated at the north wall was made of pink stucco marble by J. Hennevogel.

The Canonry Hall – the original winter refectory – may be found on the ground floor of the convent. The wooden panelling is the work of woodcarver Ferdinand Stuflesser and it was created in 1914. The ceiling frescoes with abundant stucco decorations were painted by Anton Waller in 1913. The frescoes depict the Twelve Apostles and the nine primary saints revered by the Order of the Canons Regular of Prémontré. The two largest frescoes portray Virgin Mary and a festive procession carrying the relics of Saint Norbert from Magdeburg to Prague in 1627. The Blue Hall, a ceremonial hall originally furnished in Empire style, is situated on the first floor of the convent. It is a part of the prelature, with which it is directly connected. The hall received its name after its walls painted in light blue colour. The ceiling frescoes are also the work of Maurus Fuchs.

Very little has been preserved of the original interior furnishings of the hall. Only fragments have survived to our time. The building of the forest administration, the abbey main entrance gate and the granary in the courtyard were built in Baroque style. Baroque alterations also affected the abbey gardens and the park, however, they are hardly recognizable today. Moreover, several minor architectural elements were added, such as the fountain with the group of statues depicting the Cavalry in the courtyard and the fountain in the former French garden northeast of the abbey church.

 Abbey Library

The north wing of the main monastery building housing the library and the museum was built under Abbot Gilbert Helmer in the years 1902 and 1910 according to the design of Marienbad architect Josef Schaffer. The long main library hall is 12 metres wide and quite high. The ceiling frescoes painted by the professor at the Prague Academy of Fine Arts, Karel Kratner, present a celebration of the Eucharist, four Doctors of the Church and four Evangelists.

The abbey library is the second largest library of its kind in the Czech Republic and with its more than 100,000 volumes, of which 1,149 are manuscripts (45 medieval codices), it represents a rich repository of knowledge for scholars. The library is accessible to professional researchers as the Premonstratensians respect their cultural and scientific traditions. We may find two German manuscripts of great significance, i.e. the Poenitentionale containing and a prayer in Old German written around the year 830 A.D. and the Codex Teplensis, the first translation of the New Testament into German written before the year 1400. Other valuable books include Vita fratris Hroznatae (The Life of Brother Hroznata from 1259) containing the legend of the founder of Teplá, a prayer book (1453) of King Ladislav Pohrobek (also denoted as Ladislaus the Posthumous), and a set of seven liturgical codices of Abbot Sigmund from the years 1460 and 1491.

In addition, 540 incunabula and over 750 palaeotypes may be found in the library. The diligently managed monastery has published scientific lists of these earliest book collections. About 30,000 volumes are books printed before the 1800’s. The library book collections are significant in terms of bibliography (some of the Gothic, Renaissance and Baroque bindings are especially valuable), the history of the Church and religious orders, regional history, national history and geography, or balneology, e.g. in relation to the history of Mariánské Lázně.

 Abbey Park

The abbey gardens changed hand in hand with the building development of the monastery. Until the end of the 16th century, the gardens had been largely used for growing herbs and vegetables. This changed with the construction of the Baroque part of the monastery in the 17th century. The appearance of the monastery complex is shown in an engraving dating to 1735. The gardens were divided into a part accessible to the public with a garden-husbandry where a glasshouse was later built, and a part enclosed by a high a wall that belonged to the reclusion. A small abbatial garden adjoined the south side of the building. Both paradise courts were distinguished by ornamental arrangement with a central fountain.

An herb garden was situated on the south side of the convent. This garden layout had survived until 1903 when the monastery complex was enlarged by the construction of the new library and museum wing and numerous outbuildings. The Baroque stone wall around the reclusion garden was torn down, the old garden-husbandry disappeared and a new glasshouse with a gardener's house was built in the enlarged garden. A pond was founded on the south side of the monastery by the Teplá River and surrounded by a vast natural landscape park.

The remains of the Baroque gardens were integrated into the new concept. At present, landscape works are underway in the abbey park along with the overall reconstruction of the monastery grounds. The current appearance of the park is the result of the gradual enlargement and conversion of the reclusion garden and orchard amidst the medieval monastery walls. A fundamental transformation of the park was carried out in the early 20th century. The park has been accessible to the public since 1946 thanks to the efforts of the contemporary Prior, Heřman Josef Tyl. The foundation of a water body with a path lined with aging trees and the Way of the Cross have contributed to the creation of a park serving for both mental and physical relaxation.

 Abbey Cemetery

It is approximately a 20 minutes' walk to the former cemetery of the municipality and the monastery of Teplá, which is located northwest of the monastery grounds. When Emperor Josef II prohibited burials near churches located in the centre of villages in the end of the 18th century, the Premonstratensians had the cemetery extended and adapted and they moved the relics of brethren buried in the original abbey cemetery. Since the foundation of the monastery, the deceased were buried in the abbey church, subsequently in the Chapel of St. Wenceslas and Michael in the northern section of the church, and later in the cemetery adjoining the church, which was located on the site of the present-day library building.

The lower half of the cemetery continued to serve as a municipal cemetery and its upper part as the new cemetery for the monastery. A large cast iron cross on a stone base was erected in the middle of the cemetery. In the late 19th century, Abbot Alfred Clementso initiated the building of a chapel with an abbatial crypt at the front of the cemetery. The chapel was consecrated in early June 1900. Soon afterwards, Abbot Clementso suddenly died and he was the first abbot to be buried in the crypt beyond the chapel. The relics of Abbot Reitenberger, the founder of Mariánské Lázně who died in exile in Wilten in 1860, were ceremoniously buried in the crypt in 1906. Abbot Gilbert Helmer was the last abbot buried in the crypt in early March 1944.

The tombs of significant abbots and canons of the Teplá Monastery were built on both sides of the entrance gate. Among them: Chrisostomus Pfrogner, the rector of Charles University in Prague, Adolf Kopmann, an acknowledged theologian and biblical scholar and professor at the University in Vienna, or Alois David, a mathematician and astronomer, rector of Charles University and Director of the Klementinum Observatory. The artistically and historically valuable tombs, as well as the graves of other brethren decorated with simple crosses do not exist any more.

The last Premonstratensian buried in the cemetery was Leo Moláček in 1952. Burials of civilians ceased with the dissolution of the parish of the Teplá Monastery. In the 1950’s, the cemetery was often devastated by vandals and the local agricultural co-operative constructing farm buildings in its vicinity. The tombstones were often stolen by stone-cutters and served for new tombstones. The cast iron crosses ended in scrap collection centres.

A decision was therefore made at the turn of the 1950’s and 1960’s to remove the tombstones and replace them with flowerbeds and park paths and to erect an obelisk in the middle of the cemetery with the names of all buried monks. The plan, however, was never completed and only its first part – i.e. the removal of the tombstones – was executed.

The tombs were later subject to complete devastation and the crypt in the abbatial chapel was bricked up after thieves had broken in (casting about the bones of Abbot Reitenberger and stealing jewellery from the coffin of Abbot Clementso). (Only the relics of Abbot Helmer were spared of the raging vandals because his embalmed body was in such a well-preserved state due to the climate in the crypt that his appearance probably scared the criminals away.) Only a part of the graves, damaged remnants of graves, and an empty chapel may be found on the cemetery today. The site of the cemetery, nonetheless, offers a marvellous view of the monastery and the surrounding countryside.

Interesting tidbit: Legend of Blessed Hroznata

Links:

http://www.klastertepla.cz
http://www.tepla.cz/turistika/klaster.htm
http://www.pruvodce.com/hrady_zamky_pamatky/detaily.php3?idn=123
http://www.zamky-hrady.cz/5/tepla.htm