Krnov-Kostelec, kostel sv. Benedikta / OTEVŘENÉ CHRÁMY, Kostelec Back



Medieval wall paintings in St. Benedict’s church in Krnov – Kostelec
This originally single-nave Romanesque church, built presumably in the second half of the 13th century, has a square-shaped presbytery and on the eastern side, an apse, in which we may find uncovered medieval wall paintings. After the reconstruction of the church in 1760, it is used as the sacristy. According to D. Prix, the presbytery, as well as the whole church in its original form, were constructed around 1240. He attributed the earlier reconstruction to the town council after 1400. He also estimated that one of the arch fields of the presbytery originated around 1470. The restoration team under the leadership of Mrs. R. Balcarová contributed between 2000-2007 to the uncovering of the paintings, which were stripped of the newer layers of plaster, fortified and rehabilitated into their original Romanesque and Gothic appearance.
In the semicircular apse we may see the great collection of Romanesque paintings, Majestas Domini (Christ on a throne in a mandorla) with the evangelist symbols. Under the mandorla we have two strips: in the upper narrower one, the painter depicted saints from the waist up with banners, while in the lower wider strip, he incorporated scenes from Christ’s youth. The cycle begins with the scene of the Annunciation of Virgin Mary, who is holding a spindle and weaving thread on it, in order to weave a veil for the temple. In the Visitation of Virgin Mary, the mother of Jesus meets St. Elizabeth, who is pregnant with St. John the Baptist. Next to the Visitation, we may see the remainder of the Birth of Christ, in which two angels descend, holding a thurible. Both Virgin Mary and Joseph can be only made out from the outline. In the Worship of the Three Wise Men, the angels will catch our eye, as they bring a crown down to Virgin Mary who is holding baby Jesus on her lap. The approaching Wise Men were clad in richly adorned clothes and all have an aureole. The cycle is closed off by the Massacre of the Innocents, in which the throning King Herod orders two of his minions to kill all the infants under the age of two. On the strip we see an old inscription REX ERODES. In the upper strip, archangel Gabriel turns to Virgin Mary as to the MATER D(O))M(I)N(I). Above the Worship of the Three Wise Men, the painter added the waist-up figures of the Wise Men. They are followed by female saints, a popular depiction in the day. Finally, we see St. Anthony the Pilgrim on the strip – ANTO(IU)S. The decoration of the apse could have been influenced by any monk who was entrusted with service in the Monastery of Cistercian sisters in Tišnov and to whom the Krnov district belonged in 1240. It was later given back to the Czech kings. We know that queen Constanze of Hungary, the wife of Přemysl Otakar I, founded the monastery in Tišnov to serve as her last resting place. The paintings may be dated back to the second half of the 13th century.
The paintings uncovered on the northern wall of the square field of the presbytery depict the Legend of St. Benedict. The legend starts at the top and devolves chronologically, beginning with St. Benedict being sent by his parents to school in Rome. St. Benedict did not like it there and departed with his nanny. His first miracle follows in the next depiction, where St. Benedict fixed a broken sieve, which his nanny had dropped on the floor. St. Benedict is clad in white garment and has an aureole above his head. In the second strip we see St. Benedict living in seclusion in a cave near Subiaca and where friar Romanus used to bring him food in a basket. In the following scene, Christ appears in front of a priest to ask him to take some food from his table and bring it to Benedict, who wasn’t aware it was Easter at the time. St. Benedict and the priest then dined together to celebrate the Resurrection of Christ. In a following life episode, St. Benedict flings himself into thorny bushes in order to put a fair lady out of his mind. He then meets several monks, who beg him to become the abbot of the Vicovaro monastery. We see St. Benedict in Benedictine attire reading out to the monks. In the third strip, St. Benedict abandons the Vicovaro monastery and on his way, brings back to life a dried-out water spring and blesses the water. Later, St. Benedict founded twelve monasteries. One of the monks, St. Florentius sent St. Benedict poisoned bread, which was then stolen by a rook. Afterwards, monk Florentius sent seven young nude women into the monastery garden to dance in front of St. Benedict and the monks. In the fourth strip, we see the death of Florentius, after God cast a lightning bolt as punishment on the balcony where Florentius stood. In the following depiction, St. Benedict is driving demons out of the side of a mountain, where he founded the Monte Casino monastery. The strip is concluded by St. Benedict with his sister, St. Scholastica.
On the southern wall, on the opposite side of the entrance to the presbytery, the painter situated the Acts of Mercy (Moralities) and the Deadly Sins. In the upper strip, we see Feeding the hungry and Giving water to the thirsty. On the second strip, we have Clothing the naked, Taking in travelers and Visiting the imprisoned. The third strip continues with Visiting the sick and Arranging a funeral for the dead. To the right, the painter incorporated the first of the Deadly sins. Two people are riding a horse into the mouth of the Leviathan: a man with a falcon on his arm and a woman holding a mirror – the symbol of Pride. In each sin depiction, a little demon is present on a red background, waiting for the souls of the sinners. Next we have a married couple sitting on a dog holding a bone in his mouth, probably symbolizing Envy. On the right of the window, there is a man with a sword in his chest with a woman who had killed her child – Wrath. The following couple is riding a fox with a goose in its mouth, both holding vessels with food and beverage – they represent Gluttony, or, “Fresser”.
The paintings on the northern and southern walls of the presbytery were executed by a well-schooled painter, whose painting style with thick colors brings to mind wooden altars of the second half of the 15th century. D. Prix assumes the commissioner of the paintings to be either the Přemysl-family duke Nicholas V of Opava and Ratiboř, who assumed the throne in 1437 (†1452) or Wencelsas III, who ruled between 1453-1456.
On the eastern side of the square-shaped presbytery over the triumphal arch stands the Coronation of Virgin Mary by God the Father and Christ, or, the Holy Trinity and on the western wall, the Transfiguration of Jesus (Matthew, 17, 1-9) with Moses and Elijah and the apostles, St. Jacob, St. John and St. Peter, whom Jesus took along up to Mount Tabor. The field of the vault is decorated with the symbols of the four Evangelists, as well as the figures of the Fathers of Church – St. Gregory, St. Augustine, St. Ambrose and St. Jerome. The painting originated around 1470. The inner strip of the triumphal arch is embellished with the waist-up figure of Virgin Mary with Child Jesus and a tendril enveloping them.
The Coat of Arms Gallery, adjacent to the presbytery, was analyzed by K. Müller. Going from east to west, we see the coat of arms of Petr Gereb of Wingarten, the regent of the Krnov district under king Matthias Corvinus – a red shield with a golden crown and a crowned lion. To the right stands the coat of arms of the town of Krnov – three hunting bugles and three stars in a field. On the decorative shapes of the vault wall resides the coat of arms of the Czech Kingdom – a silver lion on a red field. The one to the right is that of the Hungarian Kingdom – a shield divided by horizontal stripes, alternating white and red. On the right side of the northern wall we can see the coat of arms of Rudolph of Rüdesheim, the bishop of Wrocław – at the top of a green field, an eight-point star above a white (silver) rosette. To the left then, the coat of arms of the Diocese of Wrocław – silver lilies on a red shield. On the right side of the southern wall perches the emblem of Silesia – a black female eagle with a silver crescent on a golden field. On the western wall we see the symbol of the Painters’ Guild – three small silver shields on a red background, while to the right of it, we may behold the coat of arms of the Roman Empire - a two-headed, black female eagle in a golden field. D. Prix assumes that the commissioner of this work was John IV Sr. of Opava and Ratiboř, who ruled in Krnov between 1461-1474. However, we cannot rule out Petr Gereb of Wingarten, active in this area in the 1470s. The conceptual idea for what the paintings should contain always came from an educated local clergyman, active in the parish church around the half of the 14th, century, in the mid-15th century and in the 1470s. An educated clergyman refers to any monastic of the Minorite monastery or the Johannite commandery in Krnov.
The unique collection of restored wall paintings in St. Benedict’s church in Krnov remains unparalleled in Czech Silesia. The church was fully restored and its interior made accessible in 2012 thanks to a grant from the European Union’s Regional Operational Fund, the Moravskoslezsko program.

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