Ancient legends have been passed down to us that shed light on the dawn of Czech history as exemplified by the fates of the four most worshiped national patron saints. The first of these is St Ludmila, a widow of Prince Bořivoj, the first ruler of the Přemyslid dynasty. Baptized by St Methodius in Moravia, the noble couple founded a church, presumably the first to be built in Bohemia, in their fortified settlement at Levý Hradec. In 885 they had another church built, this time in their new, more conveniently located seat called Praha. Princess Ludmila (died in 921), and, somewhat later, her grandson St Wenceslas (died in 935) were murdered as a consequence of the battle for political power in the early stages of the Czech state. St Adalbert (died in 997), the second bishop of Prague and the founder of the Benedictine monastery in Prague-Břevnov, the first monastery to be established in Bohemia, also died a martyr’s death while on a mission abroad. The last of the chief Czech patrons saints, St Procopius, a priest, hermit and the founder of the Sázava monastery, once the focal point of Slavic liturgy, died in 1053.

central bohemia
Starting point: Kutná Hora
In the Middle Ages, this historical location, founded in the late 13th century in the vicinity of local silver mines, on the estate of a Cistercian monastery, was the second most important town in the Kingdom of Bohemia after Prague. The famous Prague groschen, a convertible currency then greatly popular throughout Europe, used to be minted here. The town boasts an unbelievably large collection of historical monuments of all kinds and artistic styles, which has won it a place on the UNESCO list of world cultural heritage. Pride of place among these relics is taken by the late Gothic Church of St Barbara, which stands out for its unique architecture and magnificent interior decoration, the adjacent Jesuit college, the Gothic Church of St James with its characteristic tower, and last but not least by the Baroque convent of the Ursuline order, now home to permanent exhibitions dedicated to arts and crafts and the history of toys.

Sedlec - a cemetery charnel house
A cemetery church consecrated to All Saints stands in Kutná Hora-Sedlec, adjacent to a former Cistercian monastery with a spectacular church, the work of Giovanni Santini. The church boasts a rare ossuary embellished with skulls and bones of victims of wars and outbreaks of plague.

Sázava monastery
Sázava is associated with the hermit Procopius, the founder and also the first abbot of the local famous Benedictine monastery, the focal point of Slavic liturgy and Old Church Slavonic literature back in the 11th century. Holy masses in the Old Church Slavonic language are still conducted every Sunday morning in the local Church of St Procopius. Tours of the monastery, later converted into a chateau (only remnats of the original buildings have survived to this day), are conducted during the summer season.

Stará Boleslav
This small town is generally associated with St Wenceslas, who died a martyr’s death here. Legend has it that Wenceslas was killed on the order of his own brother while entering the local church. The masonry of the original house of prayer has survived in the present Church of St Wenceslas, which reportedly marks the very centre of Europe. Adjacent to the church stands St Clement’s Church, a small 11th-century structure featuring rare Romanesque murals. It is believed that when his death took place St Wenceslas was carrying a golden Marian relief, a replica of which, the so-called palladium (a symbol of protection and safeguarding) of the Czech Lands, is currently stored in a pilgrimage church located on the main square in Stará Boleslav. A large celebration is held here on the last Sunday in September, on the Day of St Wenceslas.

SPIRITUAL ENCOUNTERS Ten routes exploring the most notable ecclesiastical monuments in the Czech Republic
Text, Photo © 2003 TITANIC Publishers, Plzeňská 222, 150 00 Praha 5, tel. +420 257211257,
Published for the Czech Tourist Authority.