St. George Monastery (Prague)

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St. George's Monastery at Prague Castle
Entrance to the St. George's Basilica

The former monastery of St. George (Czech Klášter svatého Jiří ) with the associated basilica is located in Prague , in the eastern part of the Prague Castle near St. Vitus Cathedral . The church was built before 921 as the third oldest church in Bohemia . The Benedictine Abbey founded in 976 was the first monastery in the country. In the Middle Ages, the religious house was closely linked to the ruling Přemyslid dynasty , from whose ranks many abbesses came. The abbey and its scriptorium experienced its heyday as a cultural center under Abbess Kunigunde at the beginning of the 14th century. After it was destroyed in the Hussite Wars , the monastery existed until 1782.

Early days

Creation of the basilica

View from the choir screen into the choir and the apse of the basilica

Duke Vratislav I began building the first basilica on the site of the later monastery . When he died in 921, the church was finished but not yet consecrated. Only his son Wenzel completed the project. He had his grandmother Ludmilla buried here in 925 ; on this occasion the church was consecrated. The basilica held a prominent position at the time of the beginning Christianization of Bohemia. The priestly college located here was the ecclesiastical center of the country until the foundation of the Prague diocese .

The collegiate continued even after the monastery was founded. His duties included pastoral care in the monastery and the celebration of services for the nuns and other believers, with a focus on funeral masses. The community continued to exert a great influence not only in the monastery but also in high church circles.

Origin of the monastery

The first abbess Mlada

Around the years 973–976, Mlada , daughter of Duke Boleslav I , made a diplomatic trip to Rome , where she received papal permission to found a diocese and a Benedictine monastery in Bohemia. She took the religious name Mary and brought a group of consecrated virgins from Rome. Upon her return, Mlada was consecrated as the monastery's first abbess.

The year 976 is considered the year the monastery was founded. As far as the monastery property is concerned, it must be assumed that it had numerous goods at its disposal from the very beginning, even if there is no more detailed information about their number or size. The question of why the oldest monastery in Bohemia was a women's convent and who belonged to the first group to come to Prague from Rome remains unanswered.

After 976 the first monastery building was erected on the north side of the basilica and the church from then on served as a monastery church. The original three-aisled building was supplemented by a west choir , tribunes for the nuns and a crypt . In the beginning, the monastery was also a burial place of the Přemyslids . Only later were members of the ruling dynasty buried in St. Vitus Cathedral.

From the beginning, the Georgskloster was regarded as a prince foundation. The prince assumed the right to monitor and protect the monastery and the convent. This protection brought the abbey on the one hand a prominent position among the Bohemian monasteries, on the other hand it could also mean a certain form of restriction and an obstacle on the way to complete independence. Women of the Přemyslid family often held the office of headmistress, often at the cost of the forced abdication of the original official - for example, in 1302 Abbess Sophie resigned in favor of Kunigunde . The transfer from another order also occurred. Agnes, daughter of King Vladislav II , entered the office of abbess directly from the Premonstratensian monastery Doksany . Despite this connection with the ruling house, the abbesses of the Georgskloster were responsible administrators of the church, the monastery, the convent and all associated property.

11th and 12th centuries

Monastery tower

Little information is available for the history of the monastery from the 11th century. In the second half of the century, the convent sought to canonize Princess Ludmilla, who had been buried here since 925 and whose cult grew ever stronger. The monastery was a center of this tradition and many believers made pilgrimages here.

During the siege of Prague Castle in 1142, the monastery buildings and the church were badly damaged by fire and the sisters had to flee. They probably found refuge in the church of John the Baptist below Petřín . The damage was repaired in 1145–1151 under Abbess Bertha, who is dubbed the second monastery founder ( Secunda fundatrix ) because of the scope of the construction work . During her tenure, a large part of the damaged monastery buildings was probably repaired, the church got the two tall white towers that characterize the current silhouette of the monastery, and other monastery buildings were erected, for example the long dormitory . The large wall paintings, which have only survived in fragments, probably also date from this period.

In 1151 the nuns made embroidered vestments on behalf of Bishop Jindřich Zdík , which were given as a gift to Pope Eugene III. were intended. The high level of the monastery at the end of the 12th century also testifies to the Easter games , in which - an innovation - the women's roles were not played by men in disguise, but by the abbess and the sisters. The male roles were played by priests, deacons and sub-deacons.

High Middle Ages

Abbess Agnes

Abbess Agnes

Abbess Agnes is known as the new founder ( restauratrix ) of the monastery. The daughter of King Vladislav II presided over the monastery between 1200 and 1228 and was responsible for many minor structural changes. She had an arcade extension built, a corridor that apparently led from the convent to the basilica and was part of a communication system that connected the St. Vitus Basilica, St. George's Basilica and the one-nave Romanesque church, their remains are under the pavement of the third courtyard of Prague Castle. Its purpose has not yet been clarified. Perhaps it was intended to enable the nuns to take part in the service in St. Vitus Cathedral or, conversely, it was used by members of the ruling family as a way to private prayer in the monastery basilica, the burial place of their ancestors. The chapel of St. Ludmilla and a tympanum depicting the enthroned Madonna with the baby Jesus in her lap were also built under Abbess Agnes . Four figures kneel at her feet; one of them is the abbess herself.

Creation of the scriptorium

In the 13th century the scriptorium of the Georgskloster was built. Its origin is probably in the year 1294. At this time the production of manuscripts can already be proven, with some manuscripts and smaller literary works apparently dating back to the second half of the 12th century. Abbess at the time was Sophie. When she took over the office is unknown, only the year of her abdication in favor of Kunigunde is certain, ie the year 1302. She was of Czech origin and probably also brought Czech scribes with her to the monastery. This made it possible to translate the most common prayer texts into Czech.

For example, the translation of psalms and perhaps the creation, in any case, the writing of the so-called Kunigunden prayer, also known under the title Vítaj králi všemohúcí , as well as the expansion of the Easter celebrations testify to the intellectual rise of the monastery during her tenure . Kunigunde joined Sophie's activity and thanks to her resources she expanded the scriptorium considerably.

Abbess Kunigunde

Illumination from the Kunigunden Passional

The term of office of Abbess Kunigunde is considered to be the most important epoch in the history of the monastery . She took over the office after Sophie's abdication in 1302 and kept it until her death on November 26, 1321. Kunigunde, daughter of King Přemysl Otakar II and Kunigunde von Halitsch , was born around 1265. In 1277, her father let her enter the Poor Clare Monastery of St. Francis in Prague, later known as Anne's Monastery , probably to avoid the promise he had made to Rudolf I the year before . After that Kunigunde was to be engaged to Rudolf's son Hartmann . Her spiritual destiny was changed by her brother, King Wenceslaus II , in 1291. He decided to marry her to Boleslav II of Mazovia, his ally in the battle for the Polish crown. The marriage had two children, a son and a daughter. Kunigunde was obviously not happy in this connection, and so she returned to the Prague court at the end of the 13th century. On July 22, 1302, she took the oath and a little later she was ordained abbess.

The most important work of the scriptorium is a richly illuminated manuscript containing the so-called Kunigunden Passional. The scriptorium produced most of the manuscripts during this period. The liturgy stabilized and Sophie, and later even more Kunigunde, created favorable conditions for book production. In addition to common forms of breviary and antiphonary , the manuscripts also include various texts on religious topics, with a focus on mysticism and the cult of Mary . The influence of the Přemyslid scriptorium Kunigundes was noticeable throughout the 14th century. Other manuscripts from this period have been preserved that were created in the vicinity of the monastery.

Kunigunde also had a number of certificates and privileges issued for the monastery, which strengthened its material growth and legal position. In addition, her fondness for precious goldsmithing probably led her to purchase a large number of richly decorated works of art for the monastery, two of which were reliquaries adorned with gold and precious stones later on in the monastery treasury of Strahov . Kunigunde's successor, Sophia von Pětichvosty, had a different orientation. During the time of their work in the years 1328-1345, further repairs and structural changes in the monastery were made.

Charles IV

The exceptional position of the monastery also strengthened Emperor Charles IV , who wanted to continue the Přemyslid tradition. He enshrined the abbess's rights in the Golden Bull . He granted her the title of princess and the right to accompany the future queen at the coronation . He also promoted the cult of Saint Ludmilla. This is evidenced by numerous donations to the monastery, including the silver herm of the saint, which is now in the exhibition of the National Gallery in the Annenkloster. During this time, the abbess also exercised jurisdiction over the monastery property. This included income from renting houses, court fees, and other fees.

Abbess Elisabeth completed the conversion of the Ludmilla Chapel to its current Gothic form between 1364 and 1378. The chapel altar was consecrated in 1371 by Archbishop Jan Očko z Vlašimi .

Around 1350 another Benedictine monastery in Prague was founded, the Monastery of the Holy Spirit. A direct influence of the Georgskloster on the newly created foundation can be assumed, even if there is no evidence in the contemporary sources. Mainly bourgeois daughters entered the second Prague monastery. After the Hussite Wars it was handed over to the Reform Party, since then it gradually fell into disrepair and in the second half of the 16th century the St. George's Convention took over the administration. This happened probably at the request of the abbess Judith Eibenstolar z Eibenstolu, who headed the Georgskloster in the years 1567–1600. The archive and the rich library of the Holy Spirit Monastery, where there was a school of book painting and writing, also came to the Georgskloster.

Late Middle Ages and Modern Times

Hussite Wars

Kunigunde of Kolowrat

Before the Hussite Wars , the monastery was one of the richest institutions in Bohemia. It was an independent political and economic center with extensive real estate. The Hussite Wars marked a decisive turning point in its history, because the monastery was devastated, the convent had to flee and the monastery property was sold after Abbess Kunigunde von Kolowrat (1386-1401) refused to sign the Basel compacts .

In the 16th century, the royal court in particular tried to renew the monastery. One of the most important monuments of this era is the Renaissance portal from around 1515. It is located above the south entrance of the basilica and represents St. George fighting the dragon. In 1541 the monastery was seriously damaged by fire and most of the buildings were permanently destroyed. After lengthy repairs that gave the monastery its striking Renaissance appearance today, part of it was used as an armory .


Tympanum with a relief of St. George

There were further major renovations in the years 1608–1612, when Abbess Sophie von Helfenburg set up a large choir for the nuns in the western part of the nave . During her tenure, the monastery library was revised and most of the old texts were given a new baroque binding. The text and the painting were often affected. The bindings from this period gave most of the surviving manuscripts their current appearance.

After 1650 the armory was returned to the convent and seven years later the basic early baroque renovation of the monastery began, which lasted until 1680 with interruption. It was ended under Abbess Anna Mechtildis Schönwiesin von Eckstein, who presided over the monastery from 1671 to 1691 and who also campaigned for the expansion of the monastery area and the repair of the monastery towers and the west portal.

The only complete account of the history of the monastery dates from the first half of the 18th century. It was commissioned by the abbess Helena Pieroni da Gagliano to be written by the humanist scholar Johann Florian Hammerschmidt in 1715. The chapel of St. John Nepomuk from 1717–1722, whose construction is attributed to Franz Maximilian Kaňka , stands out among many minor alterations in the 18th century .


The history of the monastery ended on March 7, 1782, when the imperial decree was issued to repeal it. The decree aroused public indignation, the citizens of Prague demanded the renewal of the convent, but the buildings were transferred to the property of the military, barracks were set up inside and the right of the abbess to crown the Bohemian queen went to the headmistress of the nearby noble ladies' pen above. It was not until the second half of the 19th century that interest in the monastery and its history grew and the buildings were gradually reconstructed. They currently house one of the National Gallery's collections . The monastery and the basilica are open to the public.

Individual evidence

  1. A. Merhautova-Livorová: The St. George's Basilica at Prague Castle. Odeon, Prague 1972, p. 8
  2. A. Merhautova-Livorová: The St. George's Basilica at Prague Castle. Odeon, Prague 1972, p. 18
  3. A. Merhautova-Livorová: The St. George's Basilica at Prague Castle. Odeon, Prague 1972, pp. 27-31
  4. A. Merhautova-Livorová: The St. George's Basilica at Prague Castle. Odeon, Prague 1972, p. 40


  • Anežka Merhautová: Bazilika sv. Jiří na Pražském hradě. Academia, Praha 1966, ( Umělecké památky Pražského Hradu 2), (German: Anežka Merhautová Livorová: The St. George's Basilica in Prague Castle . Odeon, Praha 1972).
  • Pavel Vlček and others: Umělecké památky Prahy. Díl 4: Pražský Hrad a Hradčany . Academia, Praha 2000, ISBN 80-200-0832-2 , pp. 226-232.

Web links

Commons : Kloster St. Georg  - Collection of images, videos and audio files

Coordinates: 50 ° 5 ′ 28.3 ″  N , 14 ° 24 ′ 9 ″  E