Convent of St Agnes – Prague

Today’s excursion was to the convent of St. Agnes. It was started in the 1230’s, and the grounds contained a monastery as well.

Agnes of Bohemia was a princess, which meant she basically was just chattel to be married off by her father in order to build alliances. Agnes was slated to be married three different times, but for reasons I am not clear on, none of those ever happened. Finally, when she was 20, her father died and her brother, Wenceslaus I, became king. They got along and he knew she really didn’t want to be married, nor did he really want her to leave, so he let her stay home and start convents and monasteries. Which she did a lot of. Ironically, it was her efforts along those lines that raised her country in the eyes of Rome and the world, as much as any standard politicking or alliances by marriage.

She took her life into her own hands, something that was pretty rare for a woman in those days. She provided shelter for the homeless, and took care of the sick. She started the Poor Clares, an order of nuns associated with the Franciscans. She was universally revered, and finally made a saint, in November of 1989–just before the Velvet Revolution and the departure of the communists. Consequently, she is associated in many people’s minds with Czech freedom.

The convent is now part of the National Gallery, and is home to a really good Medieval art collection. I like Medieval art, the colors, the decorativeness, and the visible growth of artists’ abilities to draw, create perspective, etc. And some of the art is simply charming. A lot of later religious art got to be very formal, so I appreciate the simplicity of the Medieval pieces.

The convent has been added to over the years, and has been used for everything from hospitals to apartments to storage. There are lots of styles of ribs, windows, stonework, and ceilings which were uncovered when the building was renovated in the 1980’s–under the communists. Nowdays, it is a museum for the Medieval collection, and a concert venue.

We had a very knowledgeable guide named Petra, who clearly loves her subject and was glad to have a receptive group to share that love with.

The ceiling ribs in the various extensions of the building help to determine the building date, since the rib style changed as they learned more. The trefoil design, representing the Trinity, is evident throughout the convent.

A wooden ceiling, well-preserved. Concerts are presented in the room these days, and I imagine the combination of the stone walls, wooden ceiling and modern wooden floor make for great sound.

The ribs in the cloister. I love cloisters, those big walkways surrounding a garden. Very peaceful.

Below is the ceiling in the old kitchen. The hole is the old smoke hole, now filled in with a light.

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