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Moscow, Moskva, Russia
December 17, 2011
From journal Defense and guard fortress
October 21, 2004
Church of Our Lady retains many of its original wall frescos, including triptych by Mikuláš Wurmser showing Chaz receiving relics from a young King Charles IV of France and placing them in the holy rood reliquary, as well as the main series showing the apocalypse replete with four horsemen and a seven-headed dragon. The final scenes have been lost so we will never no if it ends well. The carved wooden statue on the main altar is from the workshop of Royal architect Peter Parler and is based on Chaz’s queen Anna Svidnicka. Hidden in the southern wall is St. Catherine’s Chapel. The heads of frescos of provincial saints peak out from behind the encrustation of semi-precious stones covering the walls. The simple altar bares a fresco of Chaz and his wife kneeling before the Madonna and child, with the infant Jesus bending down to bestow holy authority upon the emperor, or possibly to be sick; it’s difficult to tell with babies.
A wooden footbridge leads to the foot of Great Tower from where a staircase, decorated with frescos of Czech patrons St. Wenceslas and St. Ludmilla showing scenes from their lives; although at no point is Wenceslas shown gathering winter fuel, heads up into the heart of the compound. Entering Holy Rood Chapel truly feels like reaching heaven, as the gilded ceiling glows like a golden sky with Venetian glass stars twinkling upon high, and the walls are encrusted with semi-precious stones seem to give off a warming heat, while the eyes of 130 of history’s most holy men and women gaze down upon you with benevolence. The awe-inspiring interior was designed as a setting for the imperial crown jewels with the panel paintings by Master Theoderic lining the walls as celestial guardians. Some even have small draws for relics to give their spiritual presence a physical dimension. The paintings are in strict hierarchies according to the liturgy of all saints with Jesus surmounting the altar and below a triptych of Madonna with Child, St. Wenceslas and St. Palatius by Tommas de Madena. Flanking these are portraits of the 12 apostles, including one of Matthew looking uncertain how to use a book while a small angel checks he’s washed behind his ears. Other walls feature martyrs, popes, holy widows, bishops, knights, and holy rulers. St. Wenceslas appears yet again, looking slightly older, on the western wall, identifiable by the gold shield with white eagle. This is a wonderful conclusion to the tour and does fell like you have reached the end of some metaphysical pilgrimage.
The metaphysical pilgrimage costs 300/100Kč, must be booked in advance on +420 274 008 154, and is conducted in Czech with no English text available. Good luck!
From journal Karlštejn: Castles & Caves in the Czech Karst
October 20, 2004
Our pilgrimage begins in Courtier’s Hall, where a scale model and a couple of maps show the state of the castle, the kingdom, and the empire during Chaz’s reign. Vassal’s Hall, lined with cabinets in which the castle knights stored their weapons, bears an uncanny resemblance to a boy’s changing-room. As well as guarding the castle, the awesome responsibilities of these knights included ringing the chapel bell, opening and closing the main gate and sweeping out the courtyard, for which they received a free estate. This may be slightly better than current minimum wage but failure to fulfill duties would result in decapitation, a disciplinary tactic discontinued by Czech employers since joining the EU. Chaz requested a piece of the St. Nicholas’s finger from the Franciscan monastery in Prague. When it was cut, blood flowed until the pieces were put back together, whereupon they miraculously joined. To prove their story, the monks produced the finger looking as if it had never been cut. Apparently buying this story, Chaz dedicated a small chapel in this room to the saint.
Upstairs are Chaz’s Royal Apartments. The Hall of Forebears is lined with portraits of his ancestors, from uncle Václav (Wenceslas) III (r.1305-06) and grandfather Václav (Wenceslas) II (r.1278-1305), stretching back into myth with Libuše, Krok, and Cech, continuing in Banqueting Hall with portraits of previous Holy Roman Emperors. The Audience Hall is the best preserved of the interiors replete with polychrome wooden panelling of the time, while the neighbouring Royal Bedchamber is hung with copied period textiles, and Deanery is decorated in 17th-century style.
Now relatively bare, the remaining artifacts on display in the < b>Treasury include such curiosities as a gothic bell and candle, fragments of the armour worn by Sv. Václav (St. Wenceslas), and the head of the dragon slain by St. George. While I don’t wish to put down the heroic deeds of this great knight, it does look suspiciously like a crocodile to me. Next door is Jewel House where you can see a copy of St. Wenceslas Crown, the original of which was once stored here and is itself a reliquary, when Chaz had it made he placed inside a thorn from the Crown of Christ. At the end of the tour, you can pay a visit to Červenka, the old dungeon on the ground floor of the tower houses some models showing the original appearance of the interiors visited on the tour.
Be warned that the notice board deviously lists the prices for the expensive foreign language tours in numerals and the 150/70Kč Czech tours (with English text) in words.
A small display on the ground floor of the Western Wing shows the development of the castle from its original 1230 early gothic form with the circular Great Tower and surrounding walls through the construction works of various kings.
On the ground-floor of the Southern Wing, you will find the dungeons where a small selection of torture instruments gives an idea of the hospitality received by former guests, such as Bishop Jan Augusta of the United Brothers and failed alchemist Edward Kelley. Upstairs is, somewhat incongruously, the Castle Chapel, the wonderfully preserved 1490 interior dates by Hanuš Špiss includes carved statues of the apostles (one man down at the time of my visit) and pew decorations of evil (which apparently looks like a cross between a turkey and a goose) bowing before God, as well as the winged altar of the Virgin Mary. This is augmented by an extraordinary exhibition of gothic iconography.
The Great Tower is the oldest part of the castle and houses an exhibition on hunting, recalling one of the castle’s earliest functions as a lodge for the king. The collection includes a selection of 18th- and 19th-century hunting weapons and a 16thcentury crossbow. Below is a medieval Oubliette, where condemned prisoners were left to die. The Queen’s Wing was carefully restored in the late 19th century by the Fürstenberg family, and although they never took up residence, they did transfer a great number of their belongings here, some of the more curious of which include the collection of historical sleighs and the processional guild pendants that they put on display in the tower as one of Central Europe’s first castle museums. Most of the objects remained when the castle was sold to the state in 1929 and still forms the basis of the museum’s collection.
Only a couple of hours from Prague, and yet relatively unvisited, this magnificently preserved castle in its spectacular forest setting is well worth a visit.