Rajhrad is quite well known in Brno as it lies just to the south of the city and it has a very nice old monastery that was neglected by the communists (used as a weapons warehouse) and is now slowly being restored. Part of the monastery is now used exactly as it was intended – as a Benedictine monastery next to the church of St. Peter and St. Paul. Another part houses a museum and library where, many years ago, I saw a copy of the Devil’s Bible, or Codex Gigas on display. Yet another part is still being renovated and preserved while some parts may even now be small homes.
Rajhrad translates to my poor Czech as ‘Paradise Castle’ and my Czech daughter agreed however, research suggests a better translation may be Eden’s Castle. The origins of the name though hold deeper mystery and perhaps comes from ‘rajati’ or ‘sacred dance’ and ‘hrad’ meaning sacrificial place originally. Thus, the name really speaks to Rajhrad’s pre-christian past. That pre-christian past goes a long way back to the stone age it seems but I am fascinated by its status as a Slavic settlement from around 500 or so. Other translations such as that by PJ Safarik suggests it meant a walled settlement at a place of cult. During the 800’s, Rajhrad was indeed a walled settlement of some importance in the Princedom of Great Moravia. That it was a place of worship in those days is obvious due to the find of a status of Svarog, the Slavic Sun god (now in the museum apparently) and archeological evidence of a small christian chapel.
After 863, christianity started to spread through the Slavic lands of the region by Sts. Constantine and Methodius, but the locals held on to their pagan traditions and gods for much longer it seems to me with only the aristocracy really being overtly christianized. As Great Moravia declined so did the settlement, which was always marshy leaving just a small monastery there and the local population moved to a nearby area that was drier and more secure while protecting the small monastery.
The founding of the monastery is up for debate as there are some fake documents dating to the 13th Century that complicate things. However, it was meant to be founded in 1045 by Duke Bretislav I and was therefore the first monastery in Moravia. Bretislav donated a swathe of local land as well on which the monks and locals could live.
The Tartar invasion of 1241-2 meant devastation for the monastery and it was again ruined in 1253 as a Hungarian-Kumar force swept the region (The Kumar’s also link with the Templar romanesque church in Reznovice – also a St, Peter and St. Paul!). More disasters followed in 1278 as a result of the battle of Marchfield and by the troops of Rudolph Hapsburg who marched through the region such that by 1281, the monastery was in ruins and lived in by Gerhard of Obrany who was forced to vacate by Vaclav II. From that point forward, it had a rather continuous existence and was even the burial place of one George James Ogilvy born in Angus, Scotland in 1605. He was in fact the commander of the forces at Špilbirk Castle here in Brno (which is just above me as a write…). In 1645, he held his fortress against the Swedes for 16-weeks and for his bravery he was promoted to colonel and gained the status of a free lord. His annual grant was 1,500 gold, which allowed him to buy a mill in Želešice with adjoining houses. He remained in Brno until his death on June 7, 1661 was buried in Rajhrad.
The current monastery though is the one that was rebuilt starting in 1691. The foundation stone was eventually laid in 1722. The only part that is really intact now is the church and it is a beautiful. It also has a real atmosphere…. Anyone interested in the current church can find a lot of information at this website. And just check out the occult symbolism in the image of Mary on the front of the church.