“Open the Garden of Paradise. The Benedictines in the Heart of Europe 800-1300”


The National Gallery in Prague, in conjunction with the National Library of the Czech Republic, the National Museum, Prague Castle Administration and the Metropolitan Chapter of St. Vitus Cathedral in Prague,


will hold a major international exhibition to run from late 2014 to early 2015, entitled


“Open the Garden of Paradise.

The Benedictines in the Heart of Europe 800-1300”


Waldstein Riding School and Clementinum Gallery

November 7, 2014 – March 15, 2015


            The exhibition will display more than 250 items from the fields of architecture, sculpture, book illumination and above all goldsmithing and other types of decorative arts, to be loaned by prominent museums and church institutions from six countries of Central Europe and Switzerland. The exhibitions curators are Prof. Vít Vlnas and Dr. Jan Klípa of the National Gallery in Prague. Fifteen other specialists are engaged in the preparations of the exhibition and the books to accompany the event, mostly from the Centre for Medieval Studies attached to the Institute of Philosophy of the Academy of Sciences of the Czech Republic, under the guidance of Prof. Petr Sommer, and the Catholic Theological Faculty of Charles University, under the leadership of Prof. Jiří Kuthan. On the international level, specialized collaboration is being provided by Reiss-Engelhorn-Museum in Mannheim, Museum Vonderau in Fulda, Benediktinerstift St. Paul in Lavanttal, Central European University in Budapest and the University of Wroclaw.


Visitors to the exhibition “Open the Garden of Paradise. The Benedictines in the Heart of Europe 800-1300” exhibition will have the opportunity to acquaint themselves with a broad range of artefacts attesting to the spiritual and material culture cultivated in Benedictine monasteries during the Early and High Middle Ages. “The creation and formation of medieval state entities in Central Europe around the turn of the first and second millennium A.D. is a fascinating theme in itself. Moreover, this process is linked with the conflict between Paganism and Christianity and the victorious onset of the new, universal faith. The monks and nuns of the Order of St. Benedict were important bearers of Christian culture, a monastic order that not only left a major civilizational achievement for posterity, but also produced a wealth of artwork that was a source of inspiration to generations to come,” states Prof. Vít Vlnas on the exhibition’s concept. In times of unrest, it is good to return to ones roots and be reminded of them. Thus it was that the concept for this exhibition was also born, he adds. Special emphasis will be given to the role played by the Order of St. Benedict in the process of Christianizing the Central European nations, the adoption of Ancient and early Christian Mediterranean culture, and the inception and reinforcement of states and statehood in Central Europe. Significant personalities of the Benedictine Order in Central Europe will be introduced separately, as well as the Order’s key centres that mediated the cultural exchange between Western and Southern Europe and the newly Christianized Slavonic and Magyar territories.


            The exhibition will be divided into sections arranged to evoke the ideal layout of a Benedictine monastery, as we know it from the famous plan preserved at the Abbey of St. Gall in Switzerland. The exhibition will take visitors through a Benedictine church with a choir and a crypt, then a cloister, prelature and the chapter hall. They will also be shown the private and technical areas of a monastery, such as the refectory, dormitory and infirmary. The objects on view will be linked with the functions of the given premises and their operation. The selection of artworks on loan will also reflect the spreading of the Benedictine Order to the region of Central Europe, starting with its generation of founders, followed by the development of important Benedictine centres, and ending with the period from the late 13th to early 14th centuries, when the Benedictine Order’s predominant position among the newly-emerging monastic orders weakened. The exhibition concept’s third thematic section will focus on the presentation of the wealth of Romanesque art. The maximum possible number of exhibitable objects from the territories of the early medieval states of Bohemia, Poland and Hungary will be presented within the context of superb artworks from Germany, Austria and Switzerland. Art models and forms were frequently transmitted through the close contacts between Benedictine monasteries in Central Europe and their mother and sister communities in Western Europe.


            The works of greatest value on display will include the Vyšehrad Codex, the most famous illuminated manuscript of the Romanesque era in Bohemia. Presented by the National Library, the original will be on public view for the very first time in modern history. A group of manuscripts dating from the early 11th century that appear to have been illuminated in the scriptorium of the Břevnov Benedictine monastery will be shown together with the Codex. An entirely unique ensemble is represented by artefacts linked with St. George’s Basilica and Convent at Prague Castle, the first convent of Benedictine nuns in the Bohemian lands and the oldest one in Bohemia. Examples of stonemasonry will be on view (a tympanum featuring the Enthroned Madonna), goldsmiths’ work (St. George’s arm reliquary, St. Ludmila’s reliquary herm, the crosier of the abbess of St. George’s convent) and, notably, examples of the art of book illumination – first and foremost, the celebrated Passional of Abbess Kunigunde – a set of five spiritual texts created at the behest of Kunigunde of the Premyslid dynasty in the first quarter of the 14th century. Loans from abroad to be exhibited in Prague for the very first time will include the reliquary cross of Adelheide, Queen Consort of Hungary, donated by her to St. Blasius Monastery in Bavaria around 1080 (and now housed in St. Paul’s Abbey in Lavanttal). On loan from the same monastery, two superb, lavishly embroidered Romanesque chasubles will be shown at the exhibition, as well as numerous precious items from St. Peter’s Abbey in Salzburg. An object of extreme value, the reliquary cross from the Zwiefalten Abbey will be displayed in the proximity of a similar cross from the Lobkowicz Collections at Nelahozeves.

            For the most part, the exhibition’s realization and special preparations are supported from the NAKI (National Cultural Identity) programme of the Ministry of Culture of the Czech Republic. The transport of the loaned objects and the insurance connected with it are financially the most demanding. The second highest expense entails the manufacture and installation of the exhibition display equipment which, in relation to such valuable material on view, must include closed and safely secured showcases, each with its own individual climate control and lighting. “Currently, arrangements with lenders are underway and the several-year-long specialized work is at its peak, during which the exhibition’s basic concept, scenario and exhibit proposal have been established and developed,” observes Jan Klípa, the exhibition’s other curator. “The results of this project will be presented in the form of publications that will complement the exhibition. Besides a comprehensive scholarly monograph, with contributions by  many colleagues from abroad, a scientific catalogue will be published to accompany the exhibition. The publications must be prepared for the exhibition’s opening so that visitors and interested people may acquire all information necessary on the given subject matter.”


            The exhibition to be mounted at the National Library’s Clementinum Gallery will explore the output of the Břevnov monastery’s scriptorium from the late 10th and early 11th centuries, in the form of a unique collection of manuscripts from the circle of Vratislav II’s Coronation Evangeliary, called the Vyšehrad Codex, which has never been presented together before.


            A broad range of supplementary educational and lecture programmes for visitors of all ages are currently under preparation for both exhibitions. A special website www.vystava-benediktini.cz has been created that provides information on the “Open the Garden of Paradise. The Benedictines in the Heart of Europe 800-1300” exhibition.


            The National Museum is now working on an exhibition entitled “Fabrica et Funeralia” for that occasion to be presented at the National Museum’s Lapidarium. The display will consist of artefacts created in the workshops of Benedictine monasteries, primarily exhibits from the Ostrov monastery near Davle. The selection will comprise jewellery, decorative metalwork, tombstones, precious statuary and architectural sculpture.


            The Order of St. Benedict (Ordo Sancti Benedicti in Latin, OSB) is the oldest existing monastic order of Western Christianity. The Order is governed by the Rule of Saint Benedict of Nursia – a book of precepts written in the early 6th century for the monastic community of Monte Cassino. Saint Benedict of Nursia (Benedictus Nursias), who lived in the late 5th and early 6th centuries, disagreed with the idea that monks and hermits should live in seclusion, as this did not benefit the Christian community. He gathered around him monks of similar leanings, founded the de facto first Benedictine monastery in Monte Cassino and wrote the book of precepts on monastic life, entitled Regula Benedicti – The Rule of Saint Benedict. This gave the Czech name to the monks who abide by the rules of monastic life. The Rule of Saint Benedict gradually spread throughout Europe. In the 10th century, the Rule arrived in Bohemia and in the 11th century in Moravia. Its text has had a major impact on the history, culture and spirituality of Western Christianity. The Order’s motto is “Ora et labora” (“Pray and work”).




Press release of November 11, 2013


Contact for journalists:

Eva Kolerusová, Public Relations Department, phone: +420 222 321 459, mobile: +420 724 501 535


e-mail: kolerusova@ngprague.cz

Waldstein Riding School
Valdštejnská 3, Prague 1
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