ST. BENEDICT’S MOTTO, “ORA ET LABORA,” IS ALIVE AND WELL IN BREVNOV
On Thursday July 26, my second full day in Prague, I was privileged to visit the Benedictine monastery of Brevnov on the outskirts of Prague with my new friends from the bishops’ conference, along with our guide, Benedictine Father Ales.
Brevnov, the first monastery on Bohemian land, was founded in 993 (!) by Duke Boleslav and by Prague’s second archbishop, St. Adalbert. It kept its Romanesque features until the the mid-13th century and was one of the most significant institutions of the land, eventually becoming a “parent” monastery to others.
Over the centuries, with political vicisstudes, conflicts and economic downturns, the monastery struggled and its members, even for brief periods, had to leave for other convents. There were years when the priests returned, years of rebuilding and prosperity that alternated with years of struggle and hardships.
The brewery – the brewers, the malt, some tasting, the hops –
Much of what you see today at Brevnov, the many buildings used for the hotel, the restaurant, and the brewery and the many rooms available for academic groups and for pilgrims and retreats date from the 17th century.
The earliest foundations –
From the 1950s under the communists to the 1990 return of buildings to the Benedictines, the main convent was the seat of the State Secret Police! This happened in many instances for Church property in the communist years – sometimes total destruction, sometimes partial devastation and more often ecclesiastical buildings were confiscated to use for prisons, hospitals or offices of communist officials.
The grounds –
This is all important to know when we look at the post-communist years, from 1990 on, when parishes, monasteries, convents, dioceses with their buildings and offices – all had to do enormous rebuilding, both material and spiritual.
Rooms and halls open to groups for study, retreats, etc.
Father Ales, in addition to spending hours with us and explaining every nook and cranny of Brevnov as well as the spiritual and material rebuilding, gave me a small booklet on the history of this monastery. I was still grappling with the fact I was spending the day at a living, breathing, working monastery that was 1,025 years old!
The booklet noted that, among the vicissitudes of history, “certain forms of monastic life have changed throughout the centuries. The monks had to react to the changes in society in which their convents belonged and where they were active. There is, however, one significant constant: the day of the monks is now, as it was a thousand years ago and in compliance with the Rule of St. Benedict, divided between prayer (public liturgy, ie, the Mass and the Divine Office, as well as private prayer) and work.”
The church of St. Margaret –
Today, in addition to the St. Adalbert hotel, the great restaurant and the brewery and a small publishing house, the monastery is a fully functioning parish of St. Margaret.
I immensely enjoyed my visit to this Benedictine monastery and so wished that I could have just registered at the hotel to spend a few days in the calm and peace of this abbey and the Czech countryside.
Here we are, over a post prandial coffee, reflecting on our memorable visit to Brevnov monastery –
I focus on monasteries, the ones that I visited in the Czech Republic, because, in case you did not know it, staying at a monastery in most European nations is an eminently doable possibility for travellers. Your mind will whirl with ideas if you start an Internet search on this possibility!
But start here, near Prague, at Brevnov monastery!