The foundation of the Monastery of Vyšší Brod

Fünfblattrige Rose der RosenbergerThe monastery of Vyšší Brod was founded in 1259 by Petr Vok of Rožmberk, of the House of Vítek / Witigon, so powerful and famous in the early history of Bohemia. The castle and little town of Rožmberk are situated a few kilometres down the Vltava from Vyšší Brod. The real incentive for founding the monastery remains, as is common with many old monasteries, cloaked in the darkness of the past. An legend has it that Petr Vok, who was Marshal of the entire Kingdom of Bohemia, rode to Vyšší Brod, where he wanted to say his prayer at a chapel situated in the site of the present-day St. Ann’s Church (later the monastery cemetery). To reach it he had to cross the Vltava, for there was a ford nearby, as is obvious from the name Hohenfurth, which translates into English as "the high ford". Because the river was swollen, Petr Vok got into a quandary and promised that he would build a monastery in the place of the little church if he escaped death. There is, however, no historical evidence behind this legend. A later wall painting depicting this event stands on the epistle side of the presbytery in the Abbey Church, while a corresponding painting on the opposite side of the presbytery shows the foundation of Vyšší Brod and the founder transferring the new monastery to the first monks, who came from Wilhering Abbey on the Danube, near Linz. A very old, undated document reports that Petr Vok of Rožmberk wanted to found a monastery and give it to the Cistercian Order for the sake of his and his relatives’ spiritual welfare. Therefore he turned to the Abbot General of the Cistercian Order with the request to inhabit the newly established monastery with monks from Wilhering. Wilhering itself was populated by monks from the Abbey of Rein in 1146. This line of descent then goes from Rein to Ebrach to Morimond, which is the fourth daughter monastery of Citeaux.

Lanna Altar mit dem WeihnachtsmotivAccording to a document dated 23rd May, 1259, Bishop John III of Prague confirmed the donation made by Vok of Rožmberk, together with his patronage right over the churches of Rosenthal / Rožmitál and Priethal / Přídolí. According to a document dated the 1st June of the same year, he granted the first church of the monastery the benediction while confirming all property, incomes and rights granted to the monastery by Vok of Rožmberk. Therefore, the 1st of June 1259 has long been accepted as the foundation day of the Monastery of Vyšší Brod. This document of the 1st of June 1259 also mentions Vyšší Brod as a settlement with its own church, which existed at that time probably as a border garrison on the route from Linz on the Danube through Haselgraben, across the pass of Vyšší Brod as far as the Vltava ford and into the interior of the country. The monastery obtained further donations from the noble family that founded it. It was the remote location in the vast border forests of Bohemia that protected and spared Vyšší Brod many a military battle whereas several other monasteries were destroyed, especially in the 15th century during the Hussite Wars. Whether and to what extent the Monastery of Vyšší Brod suffered because of the Hussite Wars remains unclear to this day. Contemporary documents are unclear or contradictory. According to Janauschek (a 19th century historian of the Order), the monastery was spared by the Hussites as the only Cistercian monastery in Bohemia. Nor does the monastery tradition know anything of a Hussite attack. However, Hussites seem to have advanced as far as the town of Vyšší Brod and burnt down the unfortified settlement. The monastery was protected by its fortification wall with towers, which are preserved as they were then to this day. The Hussites probably made an attempt to set the monastery on fire. However, they only managed to set fire to the roofs, in particular that of the monastery church. In times of grave danger, the monastic community found asylum behind the firm walls of the town of Český Krumlov. Serious damage was inflicted upon the monastery property and some patronage churches, some of which were destroyed and had to be reconstructed in the latter half of the 15th century.

Zawischkreuz (Reliquiar)According to the land register of 1530, the domain of Vyšší Brod at that time included two market towns (Vyšší Brod and Hořice) and owned serfs in 108 villages. The number of serfs amounted to 900, most of whom lived in the vicinity of Vyšší Brod as far as Český Krumlov und the surroundings of České Budějovice. It had moderate property, especially in comparison with the royal monastery of Zlatá Koruna, which had, in its heyday, land amounting to over 800 square kilometres, i.e. more than many a miniature German principality. When Protestantism spread widely in Bohemia in the latter half of the 16th century, it found fairly few adherents among the Vyšší Brod's serfs. Nevertheless, the consequence of the decreasing religious life was a shortage of pastoral clergy, so that we hear for the first time in the late 16th century that a monk went out to serve as a parish priest.  Prior to that time pastoral service had been provided by secular clergy. This shortage of priests became so common that in the course of time the exception became the rule and gradually, especially during the Thirty Years’ War, all patronage parishes had to be staffed permanently bz monk-priests, a development that was also common elsewhere.

© Cisterciácké opatství Vyšší Brod, Klášter 137, 38273 Vyšší Brod, Czech Republic
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