The Story of the Trinitarian Monastery in Zašová

If we are looking for an answer to the question of why the second and today the only preserved Trinitarian monastery in the Czech Republic after Prague was built in Zašová, we can say that it happened thanks to a combination of three favourable circumstances

  • zašová's tradition as an important pilgrimage site,
  • the piety of the Žerotín family, owners of the local estate,
  • the enthusiasm of the Vraneček brothers.

And we will begin our story with this pair of brothers

The Vraneček siblings

Downstream from Zašová on the Bečva River lay the town of Krásno (now part of Valašské Meziříčí). Here, in 1676, the first-born son Václav was born into the family of a master weaver in Krásno. On the threshold of adulthood he decided to enter the Trinitarian monastery in Ilava near Trenčín. Jan Bartoloměj, three years younger than him, took over the weaving trade, but only until 1707, when his distant relative František Karel Wágner became the parish priest of Rožnov and offered him a teaching post in Zašová. Jan Bartoloměj accepts the offer and moves with his young family to the empty rectory of the old wooden church in Šašov

At the time when Vranečka took up his rectorial ministry in Zašová, the village had long been without a local clergy and fell under the parish of Rožnov. Despite some decline, Zašová still enjoyed a reputation as a place of pilgrimage. The object of pious veneration here was - in the words of Jan Bartoloměj Vranečka - "the miraculous image of the Virgin Mary kept in the little church of Ššová since ancient times"

The love image of Our Lady of Zašov

Both the parish priest of Rožnov, Wagner, and the rector Vranečka were among the ardent admirers of Our Lady of Zašov and both tried to find out where this image and the veneration for it had their origin. In 1710, parish priest Wagner invited an unnamed, experienced painter to Zašová, who estimated the age of the painting at three hundred years. Another expert, the historian Jan Jiří Středovský, does not comment on the age of the painting, but identifies the emblem on the shield of the figure of the knight kneeling at the feet of the Madonna as the coat of arms of the Silesian noble family of Sobek of Kornice

Rector Vranečka starts an investigation among local survivors and writes down everything interesting in his chronicle. The result of his inquiries, however, is that no one knows and no one knows, even indirectly from the stories of their parents, any other answer than that the painting has been there since ancient times

About the painting itself: it is a panel painting painted in tempera on wood. The painting, measuring 122 x 66 cm, now takes the form of a short-armed cross. It was probably modified into this shape in 1726 to fit the new magnificent frame, which was given to the painting by Count František Antonín Rottal of Holešov, the builder of the Church of St. Hostýn

Contemporary experts point the approximate time of the painting's creation to 1450. It is clear from archival documents that the painting was an object of devotional veneration at least as early as the second half of the 17th century, but where and why it appeared in Zašová is not known

The Zašov legend

In the absence of historical sources about the origin of the pilgrimage site of Zašová, we have to be satisfied with the legend. Its story is simple: a Christian knight, pursued by his enemies (according to some versions, Turks or Tatars), got lost in the deep forests. For three days and nights he wandered in vain, until, tired to death, he clasped his hands and begged the Virgin Mary for help. Then, in a faint, he saw the Virgin and Child in her arms, handing him the ornamental cord leading from the clasp of her mantle. In his dream, the knight took hold of it with confidence and went where Our Lady led him. When he awoke in the morning, he found himself in an unfamiliar landscape at the edge of the forest, within sight of the first dwellings. He was saved. Out of gratitude, he then had a chapel built on the spot and a picture of the Madonna painted in it as he had seen her in his dream

Later, people identified this story with a natural site called Stračka, where a spring of water springs from a rocky hillside

The fact that the image of Our Lady of Zašov enjoyed the pious veneration not only of the common people, but also of the nobility, was evidenced by various votive offerings, mainly in the form of silver objects, which, according to the custom of the time, decorated the surroundings of the venerated image. Another interesting proof of the importance attached to the otherwise simple little church is that in 1679 the wedding of the only daughter of the owner of the estate, Bernard Ferdinand of Žerotín, took place here

This brings us to another of the important factors listed in the introduction that contributed to the establishment of the local Trinitarian monastery. This is the piety and founding activity of the then owners of the estate

The pious Žerotín family

We have already mentioned the wedding of the daughter of the owner of the estate. The devotion and Marian reverence of his wife, Countess Frantiska Eleonora, has been preserved in the form of a Marian column on the square in Valašské Meziříčí. Mrs. Františka Eleonora was born a Podstatská and, as we will later learn, a prominent member of this family related to the Žerotiny family, namely Rudolf Magnus Podstatský of Prusinovice, the lord of Lešná, would in the future have a significant share in the foundation of the monastery in Šechov

It is obvious that the piety of the then owners of the estate and their trust in the help of the Virgin Mary, who was worshipped in an extraordinary way in the little church in Ššov, was sincere. The most significant proof of this was given by the next owner of the estate, Karel Jindřich of Žerotín, who served as a colonel in the imperial army. At some peril, he made a promise that if he was heard, he would build a new worthy shrine to the image of Our Lady of Zašov, which actually happened in 1714

An unconventional way of founding a church

At that time, the aforementioned Jan Bartoloměj Vranečka had already been the rector of Zašová for seven years, and he became not only a witness but also an important actor in the ceremony of the foundation of the new church, as he later recorded in his chronicle: "In the year 1714, in the month of Augusta, the first stone for the new church in Zašová was laid by me, Jan Bartoloměj Vranečka and my son Baltazar."

Vranečka was at first reluctant to take on such a task, especially when it turned out that according to the custom of the time, a gold coin was to be embedded in the foundations. Vranečka did not have a coin that he could sacrifice by bricking it into the foundations, but he remembered that he had received a Roman medal from his brother, the Trinitarian monk Václav, with a picture of the founders of the Trinitarian Order on one side and the Virgin Mary on the other. Later this story will be understood as a kind of foreshadowing of the events to come..

The construction of the church took 11 long years. We can leave Zašová for a while to talk about the Trinitarian order

The Trinitarians, who they are and where they came from

The order was founded to organise fund-raising campaigns to secure the redemption of Christian captives and slaves. In the wake of the Muslim conquest of the Holy Land, large numbers of Christians fell into captivity. Similarly, many people were taken into slavery during the raids of Muslim pirates on the southern coasts of Europe, and although some wealthy families occasionally managed to ransom their relatives from captivity, there was no systematic organization of the rescue of the captives, and the poor in particular were completely without hope of deliverance. This changed only thanks to the Trinitarian Order, which sent its members as so-called redemptors to the slave markets, especially in the Maghreb region. (OBR 08) The freed were first cared for in a kind of convalescent homes, the so-called houses of mercy, built in some Trinitarian monasteries. One-third of all the funds raised by the Order were earmarked for the actual redemption of the captives, the other third was used for the care of the redeemed and other needy, and the final third was used to provide for the Order's own needs

The founders of the Trinitarian Order

St. John of Matha was born on 23 June 1160 to noble parents in Provence, France. His father wanted his son to learn fencing, riding and other skills worthy of a young aristocrat. But John had other ideals, and became a priest

At his primitive mass, he had a vision of Christ on a throne, holding a bound white man by the forearm with his right hand, carrying a blue and red cross, and holding an equally bound black man with his left hand. Years later, he had a mosaic based on this vision created over the portal of the Trinitarian hospital at his monastery in Rome. The work, completed in 1210, is still admirably preserved today

In the centuries that followed, another artistic representation of John's vision became established: the angel with the red and blue cross on his chest gestures with his crossed arms, suggesting an exchange between two bound men (a white man and a black man) kneeling at his feet. According to the traditional interpretation, the white man is considered a Christian and the dark-skinned man a Moor, a Muslim

St. Felix of Valois was born on April 9, 1127 into a counting family. He was the great-grandson of King Henry of France. (From his surname "of Valois" we recognize that he came from the same family as Charles IV's first wife, Blanche of Valois.) Felix decided to leave his birthright (the title of count) to his younger brother, became a priest, and lived a simple life as a hermit. It was this hermit Felix, who enjoyed a reputation as a wise and holy man, who was visited by John of Matha to help him clarify the meaning and significance of the vision

The meaning of the name "Trinitarians"

In Felix's company, John came to the realization that his task was to found an order that would specialize in rescuing Christians from Muslim captivity. He drew up the rules of the order and, together with Felix, then a seventy-year-old hermit, set out to meet Pope Innocent III. He accepted the two priests, approved the new monastic order on 17 December 1198, and decided that it should be called Ordo Sanctissimae Trinitatis redemptionis captivorum, or: the Order of the Holy Trinity for the Redemption of Captives (abbreviated Trinitarians, from the word "trinity")

The first mission to the slave markets

The first trip to the slave market in Morocco was made by the two founders of the new order together, bringing 186 rescued Christians to Europe. They were greeted by crowds in Paris to the sound of bells. John of Matha made the second journey alone, rescuing 120 captives. On the way, however, he was beaten by the Muslims and was found half-dead in the street of Tunis by the Christians. The whole expedition had to resist the attacks even after embarkation, but even with a damaged ship and torn sails they managed to reach the old port of Ostia near Rome

John of Matha died in Rome in the monastery of the church of San Tommaso in Formis on 17 December 1213, exactly 15 years after the foundation of his order. He was now 53 years old

Felix of Valois became the superior of the first Trinitarian monastery, which was founded near their former hermitage at a place called Cerfroid, (FIGURE: 13) where once in their hermitage life they had seen a white stag with a red and blue cross in its antlers, which at that time strengthened their determination to found a new monastic order. St Felix died on 12 January 1212 at the age of 85

How to identify the Trinitarians

Attributes. Similarly, St. Felix's attributes may be shackles, or even a crown at his feet, as a sign of the nobility he has renounced. He is also depicted with a crutch, which he was entitled to wear as abbot of the monastery, or with a stag with a cross between its antlers. Trinitarians wore a white habit with a red and blue cross on the scapular (a long strip of cloth in the middle with a hole for the head) and a dark cloak

The order was seen as necessary and the results were obvious: thousands of Christians restored to their families. This provided the Trinitarians with general support, which manifested itself not only financially but also in the influx of new members. At the time of the death of their founder (after only 15 years), the Trinitarians already had 35 religious houses. By the 15th century, the Order had reached its peak with some 880 convents throughout Europe. A gradual decline followed, caused by external influences but also by internal causes. Efforts to revive the Order and return to its original ideals are emerging

Who were the "barefooters"?

In his native France, attempts to reform the Order were brought to an end by the turmoil of revolution and war. In Spain, on the other hand, the reform movement was successful. Because of their asceticism, the reformed Trinitarians went barefoot, hence they were popularly known as "barefooters". It is interesting to note that the ascetic barefoot Trinitarian faction was more successful and grew in numbers, while the communities of unreformed Trinitarians eventually died out for lack of youth. The Trinitarians were beginning a new presence in Hungary, as this area of Europe was under direct threat from the Turks and in contact with the Ottoman Empire

By the 18th century, the Order was publishing lists of ransomed prisoners in print, and the number of those rescued since the Order's founding is already numbered in the hundreds of thousands. Among the most famous of those rescued is surely the later famous writer Miguel de Cervantes Saavedra, who, after five years in slavery and four failed attempts to escape, was ransomed in Algeria on 19 September 1580 by two Trinitarians for 500 escudos

Prague has overtaken Zašová

The founder of the new church in Ššová, Karel Jindřich of Žerotín, did not live to see the completion of the building; his commitment was taken over by his brother and heir to the estate, František Ludvík. He also agreed that a new monastery of the Trinitarian order should be built alongside the new church. However, this decision did not come of its own accord. It was preceded by many years of hard negotiation and, as we would say today, lobbying

As we already know, Václav, the brother of the rector of Šiauliai, Jan Bartoloměj Vranečka, entered the Trinitarian monastery in Ilava in the Upper Hungary as a young man. At that time there was no Trinitarian monastery in Bohemia or Moravia. Václav was not a priest, he worked as a brother or, as it was then called, a frater in the order. He took his monastic vows at the age of 19 in 1695 and used the monastic name Václav from St. Anthony. He served alternately in Ilava and Pressburg; only when the Trinitarian monastery in Prague was founded after 1705 was he sent there. As he had no priestly duties, he was entrusted with the collections. (See FIG. 18 for the Trinitarian sculpture by F. M. Brokoff on Charles Bridge. Václav Vranečka certainly knew it well.)

Insistence crowned with success

Brother Václav, however, did not only collect funds on his travels, but also looked for ways and means to achieve the establishment of a Trinitarian monastery in his native Moravia. Several attempts were made over the years, but all of them failed for one reason or another. Until one day he confided his plan to his brother Jan Bartholomew in Zašová. From that time on, the two brothers did not rest until the monastery in Zasova was standing. In doing so, Wenceslas made skilful use of some of his influential contacts. Nevertheless, there were many obstacles to overcome, and they also encountered resistance from the Emperor, who even expressed his disapproval of the monastery in Zashova in the form that he would impose an eternal silence on the matter - that is, that he did not want to hear another word about it... The persistence of the two brothers and others involved, however, bordered on insolence

Of course, the mere enthusiasm of two simple people would not have been enough if their idea had not also been supported by people of higher rank, especially Rudolf Magnus Podstatsky of Prusinovice, a free lord of Lešná, (OBR 19) who also held important positions - he was a bishop's councillor and a presiding judge of the mannish court. It was thanks to Mr Podstatský that the founding charter of the monastery of Ššov was signed with the owner of the estate, František Ludvík of Žerotín, on 22 October 1722

Eventually, the Emperor also gave in

The consent to the new monastery was finally given by Emperor Charles VI, which was only possible thanks to the diplomatic skills of the Olomouc canon and provost of the Brno chapter, Jan Matthias Count of Thurn and Vellesassin

Emperor Charles VI stipulated that there should be no more than 13 monks in the monastery in Ššov, all of them must speak the Moravian language and they should not hold their collections there. The main reason why the emperor finally agreed to the establishment of the monastery was probably that there were still many secret Protestants in this remote submontane region and the Trinitarians were to contribute to the successful completion of the recatholization efforts

On 4 October 1725 the foundation stone of the new monastery was laid. However, even earlier - on 5 July 1725 - the Olomouc canon Jan Matěj of Thun and Vallsasina blessed the newly completed church, to which the love image of Our Lady of Zašov was then solemnly transferred from the old church and handed over to the care of the Trinitarians. The first wing of the monastery was completed in 1728 and until then the Trinitarians lived in the building of the local manor

The monastery and its flourishing

The Trinitarians worked in Zašová primarily in the direction and for the purpose for which they were allowed to build their monastery in Zašová. They helped with the pastoral activities on the local and Leszno estate. The Zašová Trinitarians were a blessing for the local population, they raised the material, spiritual and cultural level of the village life, and spread the fame of the pilgrimage site

A significant event was the bishop's consecration of the church on 29 July 1742. Jakub Arnošt of Liechtenstein-Kastelkorn was the consecrator. (He is known from history as the one who crowned Maria Theresa as Queen of Bohemia on 12 May 1743). The Trinitarians continuously repaired and improved the church; especially they added a new vestry with a crypt underground. The most important construction work was the erection of a pair of towers and the new façade of the church in 1768

Necropolis of the common and the noble

Here the deceased monks were buried in the crypt under the vestry. Similarly, important benefactors of the monastery and the church were buried directly in the church. (FIG. 23) First of all, in 1733 Count František Ludvík of Žerotín, in 1740 the free lord Rudolf Podstatský, who, although he died in Olomouc, wished to be buried in Zašová and in Trinitarian vestments, as well as the knight Václav Halama of Starý Jičín and others

In 1734, Friar Václav Vranečka died at the age of 58, without whom the monastery in Šašov would probably never have been founded. The funeral of his brother, the rector and chronicler Jan Bartoloměj took place here 9 years later. In the meantime, his son became a priest, a Trinitarian with the religious name Rudolf. He wrote in his father's chronicle

On 12 January 1743 he was buried in the great church in Zašová. All the people wept at the funeral, my father was 64 years old

When two people do the same thing, it's not the same thing

Emperor Joseph II reduced the number of monasteries and there were many reasons for this. In the case of the Trinitarians in particular, he was concerned that they were taking money out of the country in connection with their activities. Therefore, as early as May 1781, he banned the buying of slaves, which formally made the Trinitarian order redundant. Subsequently, on 21 November 1783 he abolished the Trinitarian monasteries throughout the monarchy by decree, and on the morning of Monday 5 December the abolitionist commissioner Count Karl Vincenc of Salm-Neuburg arrived in Zašová

Almost 200 years later, this imperial suppression of the monasteries would be invoked by the defenders of the so-called "Action K", when on the night of 13-14 April 1950, on the decision of the communist regime, the monasteries of all male religious orders were raided by the police, the monasteries were plundered and the religious were taken to internment camps..

Under the Emperor, however, everything happened in a more civilised way: the monks were informed in advance of the forthcoming dissolution of the monastery and were given a choice: they could join a monastery of another order, remain in the ministry under the local bishop or retire. Since they will no longer have any other income, they will all receive a daily pension of 40 kreutzers, and since they are no longer allowed to wear their religious habit, each will receive a one-time contribution of 100 gold pieces to purchase a civil habit

The most eloquent testimony to life in the monastery is provided by the record of its dissolution

According to the list, there were 11 priests and 2 parish priests in the monastery, exactly 13 persons, as once established. All of the priests decided to continue their ministry as so-called diocesan priests, while the two older fraters left to live with their relatives. The superior (so-called minister) of the monastery at that time was P. Anastasius, with the lay name of František Jelínek. According to the commissary, he was a young and capable man who had studied at foreign universities and, before his election as superior of the monastery of Šiauliai, had held the office of lecturer in theology in Vienna. According to the commissioner, he could have been a professor at the university because of his extraordinary knowledge. After the dissolution of the monastery, he would become the first parish priest of the restored independent parish of Ššov

What is surprising at first sight is the large number of paintings and prints. The library contained a total of 2,000 books, and another 500 books were kept by the individual monks in their rooms. Also noteworthy is the listing of several instruments to investigate physical and atmospheric phenomena and the listing of musical instruments in the choir. The rest of the inventory of the individual monks' rooms was very simple. The monastery farm housed, among other things, a pair of horses and six cattle

An interesting pearl is the mention of the monastery cellar, where the commissary recorded 77 and a half buckets of wine, but as noted, mostly of the worst quality, only about 10 buckets were said to be somewhat better. The inventory also includes an older billiard table

In the words of František Šigut, who wrote the earliest comprehensive treatise on the pilgrimage site in Šiauliai: 'Where once there were pious prayers and chants, it was now quiet. Where once white monks with blue-red crosses on their scapulars hurried with silent steps to the choir, spiders now spin their webs of oblivion..."

The fate of the monastery grounds after the dissolution of the monastery

Dissolved monasteries were often used by the army as barracks (the fate of the Prague Trinitarian monastery) or by the state for other similar purposes. The Zašov monastery was to be sold, but it took 11 years to find a buyer. Only a smaller part of the eastern wing was converted into a parsonage and the rest was used by the local school, which subsequently occupied the building for the next 100 years

After the sale, the rest of the monastery buildings (north and west wings) and land were in private hands and used for business. For example, there was a linen bleaching and yarn dyeing factory. There were also workshops for weaving carpets, the basis of Rudolf Schlattauer's later famous tapestry manufactory. The building also housed the apartments of the owner and tenants (e.g. the writer Metoděj Jahn lived here)

Another disaster for the church and the former monastery was a devastating fire, which affected especially the roofs and towers. It happened one June night in 1871, when the then shingled church roof caught fire from a fire in a house a little further away..

Nuns instead of monks

The year 1900 became an important milestone in the history of the former monastery, when a substantial part of the former monastery was bought by the charitable Society of St. Joseph of Vítkovice to relocate its orphanage from the unhealthy environment of the industrial town. The era of St. Joseph's Institute in Šiauliai begins. The orphans were first cared for by the Sisters of the Third Order of St. Francis and in 1920 their work was taken over by members of the Congregation of the School Sisters of Notre Dame. After 120 years, religious life has partially returned to the convent

In 1911-1913, the institute built a lofty private girls' school for its inmates. In 1937, after the death of the founder of the orphanage, Bishop Jan Stavel (1938), the entire institution and its real estate were handed over to the Congregation of the School Sisters by the decision of the Society of St. Joseph. The sisters soon expanded their services to include a retirement home and a kindergarten. During the difficult times of World War II, they even increased the capacity of the old convent buildings by adding another floor. After 1948, for political reasons, the activities of the nuns in Zašová were radically reduced and the state took over the institute, but the convent grounds continued to be used mainly for social services in the following decades

The monastery in the hands of the public

In 2014, as a result of the process of the so-called transformation of social services, the buildings of the former monastery ceased to be used. The municipality of Zašová applied for the vacant properties and subsequently acquired them with the consent of the Zlín Region. A project for the revitalisation of the whole building has been prepared. The monastery will be used for culture, education and the promotion of pilgrimage tourism.