Czech Republic, Brno:
Black Madonna of Brno
In Old-Brno, in the church of the Augustinian monastery just outside the old city gates, on Mendel Place (Mendlovo Námęstí), attributed to Luke but probably painted in the second half of the 13th century, 82x47 cm, oil on canvas.
Photo: Jiri Krejci
The Pearl of Moravia is yet another icon said to have been painted by Luke and brought to Constantinople by Empress Helen in the 4th century A.D. Eight centuries later Vladislav, the Duke of Bohemia, obtained it and kept it in his treasury in the castle of Prague. In 1356 Emperor Karl IV, King of Bohemia and Emperor of the Holy Roman Empire, gave this painting to the newly founded Augustinian monastery in the city of Brno. Soon pilgrims came from near and far because of the sacredness of this image and its reputation for miraculous powers.
In August 1645, during the Thirty Year War, the Swedish army was poised to occupy Brno. The town's women gathered in the Church of St. Thomas, took the holy image off the altar and carried it in prayerful procession throughout the city. It seems that the Queen of Heaven heard them and granted protection, for the city was saved from the enemy.(*1)
In 1727 the Augustinian abbey began talks with the Vatican concerning the coronation and major festivities in honor of the Black Madonna of Brno. After years of persisting in their negotiations, permission was granted. But even before the final authorization was received the monks got busy. A German goldsmith was commissioned to craft crowns for mother and child and an elaborate silver altar with matching candelabras and all the paraphernalia one would use during high masses and processions. Two triumphal arches were erected near the abbey and another elsewhere in the city. On the great day of the coronation in 1736 the whole town was lit up in a festive manner and a great procession held. Commemorative holy cards of the Black Madonna were passed out. Painted copies of the Pearl of Moravia were given to pilgrims to take back to their village churches.(*2)
Barely four decades later, Emperor Josef II ascended the throne. His agenda was to establish religious tolerance of all the creeds in his empire. To accomplish this he had to reduce the power of the Catholic Church, which meant closing or destroying many of its churches, monasteries, and convents. The original Augustinian monastery with its Thomas Church was closed and converted into government administration buildings. The church now houses a museum. But the Augustinians were lucky, because the Cistercian nuns in their convent on the other side of town were kicked out and the monks were allowed to move in there, together with their treasured icon in its silver altar.
Nowadays, the Augustinian abbey, housed in the former Cistercian convent,
also accommodates the Mendel Museum. This is because Johann Gregor Mendel
(1822-1884), the founder of gene research, was one of the Augustinian
monks in Brno. All his research was done in the monastery's garden, where
he even erected a meteorological station to study weather forecast. -
Maybe this priest-scientist was a late fruit of Emperor Josef II's ideal
of religious tolerance.
This travel altar of King Robert of Anjou, also known as Robert the Wise (1277 –1343), is a highly political piece of art. At the time of its creation, the houses of Anjou and of Aragon were fighting over Sicily and Naples. Robert sought to unite the two houses by marriages and around the figure of the Sicilian Black Madonna of Tindari, of whom this one is supposed to be a gothic representation. (Though she looks nothing like the original.)The saints surrounding her are canonized members of the two royal houses plus Sts. Francis and Claire, the founders of the orders two of the royal saints belonged to.