Cities / Towns Visited: 29
Counties Visited: 11
Steps Taken Today: 12,943
Steps Taken Around the World: 1,143,138
Our short stay in Brno was almost at a close, but before we left for our next destination, we had a little more adventuring to do in this small but fascinating city. Our first stop for the day, and carrying on from yesterday’s foray into death, was the Capuchin Monastery. What it the drawcard you ask? Well, Capuchin monks have a tradition of ‘burying’ their brothers by laying them on the bare earth in the cellars beneath their monasteries (until it was outlawed for hygiene reasons at the end of the 18th century), which are designed in such a way that the temperature, humidity, topsoil composition, and airflow are consistent with the conditions needed to naturally mummify the bodies. They believed coffins to be a luxury, and thus after usage they would lay their brothers to rest, and keep the coffin for the next funeral. In short, there are mummified bodies (don’t think wrapped in bandages, because we’re talking plain to see mummified body, with nothing but the scraps of clothing that have survived covering any part of them).
As we purchased our tickets and grabbed the information booklet, we passed under the marble plaque that says ‘Tu fui, ego eris’, meaning ‘We were you, you will be us’. As you enter the first room, you are faced with two glass coffins; you see along with the monks, a number of members of the general population who had given money to the monastery and thus become patrons of the establishment have also requested to be ‘buried’ in this way, however their bodies are placed in coffins with glass panels, or at least glass tops. The case that stands prominently in the centre of the room belongs to Franz Baron van Trenck, one of the prisoners who survived their stint in Spilberk’s prison, then went on to spend the remainder of his life with the Capuchin monks. To the left, against the wall there also stands an alter holding a glass case, in which sits what looks like a carefully placed porcelain like mannequin; the truth is, however, that within the mannequin is the mummified remains of a lady named Clementiane. It is a touching, if somewhat macabre, memorial to a life.
In the next room are presented a series of murals based on famous paintings, completed by a local artist at the request on the monastery. They depict the personification of death in most of them, as you would expect, either skeletal or scythe wielding; however the last one shows the scene of the resurrection of Lazarus by Jesus. With these images in mind, we passed into the next corridor. Along the left side, and in the following room, stand a series of coffins, housing the remains of a number of the aforementioned patrons of the religious institution. Quite are few of them are groups of family members who both wished to donate, but to be ‘buried’ together, as was often customary in the past. Unlike the barefooted and robed monks, these were clad in somewhat better clothing (its all rags now however, but there are still scraps left clinging to the figures, and one gentleman still had long boots in good condition), although all of those interred here are modestly dressed; as this type of ‘burial’ was considered to be a way to show your humbleness in the face of god.
The last chamber holds the remains of the monks themselves, laid simply in rows on the dirt floor, with nothing but a small brick as a pillow in their eternal slumber. Although a somewhat graphic depiction of our demise once life has abandoned us, there is something quietly peaceful about seeing these men of the cloth, resting without all of the pomp and ceremony we so often feel necessary to remember those who pass. In the end we all crumble to dust and no amount of silk lined coffins and fancy clothes is going to offer comfort to you or your family when you cease to be.
After one last moment of still reflection, we made our exit. From here, we kept with the theme of religion and made our way to St. Peter and Paul’s Cathedral. The outside was yet another beautiful representative of the gothic style of architecture so favoured for churches across Europe, with towering spires and intricate stone details. The interior was similarly stunning, although with it being a place of worship, photos were restricted. The true purpose of our visit though was to climb the towers, in order to better see the beauty of the historic town from above. After quietly slipping past behind a service happening in one of the smaller chapels, we crept up the spiral staircase (stopping briefly at one of the landings to view some of the golden treasures of the church) until we were delivered to the small balcony which pokes out under the dial of one of the two matching clocks which adorn the spires. For the second day in a row we were startled by the tremendous clanging of the massive bells at the clock rung out for midday. There is a wooden walkway between the two towers, just below the roof of the church, across which you can pass to have a view out over the other side of the city. The panorama of red tiled rooves, with the scattered spires of the other town churches, was reminiscent of a fairytale.
Spiralling back down to earth, we quickly swung past the town hall and got directions to our next attraction from the visitor centre. Popping into a less than obvious building we purchased tickets; we were heading underground into the labyrinth of tunnels below the town’s historic market square. As the guide spoke Czech to the local visitors we followed, listening to our audioguides. You are only shown around a small portion of the three kilometres which snake below the buildings above, but they are filled with a selection of displays. For the most part it was used for food and wine storage (wine was also made down there), as its subterranean position meant that it holds a constant cool temperature; it was even used to store ice from the winter, for use year round, as well as offering storage space for travelling merchants. There was a display showing the towns old pillory, and a cage where they used to place ‘fools’ as punishment (read fools as anyone with a mental disability or mental illness); although despite how it looks, the underground tunnels were never used as a prison. One of the rooms houses a display of alchemy and scientific equipment, where the audioguide tells of a number of scientific researchers and alchemists from Brno in the middle ages. There is a small exhibit showing the different methods of lighting used throughout the centuries, and finally you end up in a replica of an underground tavern, which was decked out with all the trappings of a medieval drinking establishment. The entire tour takes around 45 minutes, but with all of twists and turns, when you resurface from your six meter depth, it would only take you around 45 seconds to get back to the entrance building.
Finally it was time to go and fetch our bags for our onward journey, but we wanted just one more chimney cake before heading off. This time we just bought the traditional cakes, sans ice cream; one rolled in cinnamon sugar, and one rolled in coconut sugar. With this sweet goodbye we hopped on our train and were away. We arrived, and after our usual retrieval of groceries from the supermarket, and homecooked meal in the hostel kitchen (which was made incredibly painful by the fact they had no cooks knives so I had to cut everything with a butter knife, and if you had two pots and the oven on it flicked the switch as the wiring was pretty dodgy), we headed to bed.
As I basked in our successful visit to Brno, and wagered if given the opportunity I would most certainly return to this slice of chimney cake flavoured fairytale heaven, I mentally reviewed my day. So what poetic truth came to light? I guess I pondered most on the Capuchin monks. There was something satisfying about seeing these men of the cloth taking their vow of poverty seriously, and insisting on this most humble of burials. In a world where most of what you see in the media about the church involves an excess of untaxed money (too often being used to sway politicians), and a patriarchal hierarchy with enormously ornate churches absolutely drenched in gold and expensive fabrics, but still asking their ‘sheep’ for more money, it was refreshing to see holy men practicing what they preach. I don’t follow Christianity but I know enough about it to know that Jesus’ message wasn’t about money grabbing and extravagant living, it was about being humble and compassionate; it was about giving more than you receive. I hope so very much that these men, who lived as Jesus lived, in meagre conditions, giving all they had for the benefit of others, rest in the most peaceful slumber. Their souls have no reason to stir in tormented unrest, they are not bound down by riches, and the sins that most often come with great power and wealth.