Eliška Rejčka — Queen of Bohemia and Poland

The monastery in Staré Brno was founded in 1323 by the Czech and Polish queen widow Eliška Rejček. The monastery of the Cistercian order became a place for contemplation and later also a refuge for the sick. The hospital and church originally belonged to the monastery.

Cistercian sisters lived here for almost five centuries until 1782, when their monastery was abolished as part of the Josephine reforms. In the grounds of the abbey is the Basilica of the Assumption of the Virgin Mary, built in the Silesian Gothic style from characteristic red bricks.

Queen Richenza, better known by her Czech name Eliška/Alžběta Rejčka, was the daughter of the Swedish princess Ryksa and the Polish king Přemysl II. of Wielkopolska and became his heir. Although her life was surrounded by numerous deaths of those closest to her, she was (not only for her time) a very influential and important woman. She was born in 1288, her mother dies at an early age and her father is murdered at the age of eight. She then spent her childhood in a Cistercian monastery near Poznan and was to be married to Ota Brandiborský, to whom she was betrothed. However, Ota Brandenburg dies before the wedding and Richenza is still very young (12 years old) married to the Czech king Wenceslas II. After the coronation, she will receive a new name – Eliška/Alžběta. She gives birth to Václav’s daughter Anežka, the future princess of Javorska and Lviv.

Wenceslas II however, he dies a few days after the birth of his daughter Anežka in June 1305, and Eliška becomes a widow for the first time. The Czech throne falls to Wenceslas III, but he too is murdered not long after. Soon after the death of the Czech king, Eliška was married to Rudolf of Habsburg, who sat on the vacated Bohemian throne. However, Rudolf (nicknamed “Kaše”) unexpectedly dies during the siege of Horažďovice, probably of dysentery, and bequeaths 20 thousand silver hryvnias to his beloved wife, now a widow for the second time. As a two-time royal widow, Eliška receives a huge fortune at the age of nineteen, which is supposed to ensure her dignified existence. Thanks to this, she becomes a relatively independent woman and, in the context of Czech history, a very influential person.

She never remarried. She became the partner of Jindřich from Lipá and first lived in the “Kingdom of Hradec Králové” – Hradec Králové. She then moved to Brno – where she obtained the right of patronage to the former Gothic chapel of St. Wenceslas on today’s Dominikánská náměstí. Unfortunately, the chapel was demolished and never rebuilt.

In 1323, she founded a monastery of Cistercian nuns in Brno. She gifted the Cistercians with rare illuminated liturgical manuscripts. The collection of these manuscripts represents the highest creation of book painting of its time. In the manuscripts, she was often portrayed in a humble role with prayerful gestures. She therefore supported the nuns’ life not only financially, but also spiritually. After the death of Henry of Lipa, she had him buried in the Basilica of the Virgin Mary, which she founded. She then completely turned her life over to God alone. She went on a pilgrimage to the Rhineland, from where she brought back precious relics that she dedicated to the Cistercian nuns.

She died on October 18, 1335 and is buried at the crossing of the ships in the Old Brno basilica. Her eternal resting place is marked by the letter E with a royal crown. The Cistercian nuns continued to live and devote themselves to a contemplative life of prayer and work in the monastery for several centuries to come. The monastery was ravaged several times during that time, but was always gradually restored. In the 18th century, the Cistercian monastery was based on the decree of Emperor Joseph II. definitely cancelled. The Cistercians could live on in civil life, or enter a nearby Elizabethan convent. Their property was put into a religious fund. It is known that part of this Josephine reform was also the general destruction and recycling of works of art – it is said in Old Brno that the golden crown of Rejčka, which the Cistercian nuns kept here, was also melted down.

In 1783, the Old Brno monastery became the home of the Augustinians. The Augustinians received the defunct monastery of the Cistercian nuns as a replacement for their original monastery building near St. Tomáš on Moravské náměstí, which was taken away from them as part of the Josephine reforms. The Augustinian order was not abolished then, because it was an order of teachers and scientists. The most famous Augustinian abbot was Gregor Johann Mendel, who, thanks to his long-term research, not only laid the foundations of the scientific field of genetics, but also of meteorology. In addition, he was also a beekeeper and devoted himself to astronomy.

The Augustinians worked here until 1950, when the communist regime stopped their activities. Religious men and women were then interned in internment monasteries, then also in uranium mines and other places, where they experienced such torture that often ended in their tragic death. After that, the Starobrněn monastery served various purposes. There were, for example, university dormitories, later the seat of the geography institute, a carpentry workshop and, in the Garden of Eden, garages for military cars. In 1990, the monastery was returned to the Augustinians, and thanks to this there is now a lively community of Augustinians.

Illumination from the Rajhrad Psalter — Benedictine Library in Rajhrad
R 355, fol. 8v, 59v, 188r; licence CC Commons 4.0