Church of St Gabriel (Kostel sv. Gabriela)
Although the construction of this two-aisled basilica in neo-Romanesque style was completed in 1891, it was not fully decorated until 1917. This monastery church, which served the Benedictine nuns until 1919, when they were forced to leave for Austria, is unique for its interior decoration carried out by Benedictine monks in the style of the Beuron Art School.
REGULAR ROMAN CATHOLIC MASSES:
- Su 11.15 (except July, August)
Guided tours (also in German) Ms Monica Šebová (tel. 244 463 675)
In the rear tract of the Kinský Garden, there is a less known monastery with a church of St. Gabriel, which was established and financed by Countess Gabriela Sweerts-Šporková. She decided to establish the first seat of the Benedictine nuns from the Beuron congregation in Prague. She donated substantial financial means for the construction and the decoration of the future Monastery of the Annunciation to Virgin Mary, but she died before the construction started. The monastery was consecrated in the name of her baptism patron Archangel Gabriel. The foundation stone to the construction of the monastery was laid down and sanctified by Archbishop František Schönborn in 1888. The construction and the decorations were carried out by the members of the Order of the Beuron Benedictines. They were persecuted in Bismarck’s Germany, and so they came to Prague based on an invitation from Cardinal Bedřich Schwarzenberg to settle in the Emauzy Monastery. The Smíchov Monastery was designed in pseudo-Romanic style by the Benedictine friars from Belgium, Abbot Hildebrand Hemptinne and Priest Gislain Béthune. The church is 26 m long and 13 m wide and consists of two aisles, of which the main one is higher with a wooden ceiling, and the side one is lower and it is arched. The church has a mighty quadrangular three-storied tower that is 43 m high with a pyramidal roof and a beautiful richly decorated portal in the main entrance. There are statues of St. Benedict and St. Scholastica above the portal and the temple’s patron Archangel Gabriel is yet above them. The temple aisle is open without ceiling directly into the truss similarly to the old Christian basilicas. The ancient impression is further stressed by high-settled windows. The church was consecrated by Cardinal Count Schönborn in 1891, and in 1899 the first Benedictine nuns came here from the ancient Nonnberg Abbey in Salzburg.
Not just the architectural design, but also the artistic decorations represent a unique representation of the Beuron style of the Benedictine monks, who were known for excellence in many fields: their very festive liturgies were very famous, for example, with the Gregorian chorales being sung; they were also important explorers, namely in historical and philosophical sciences, yet they gained greatest perfection in graphic arts. The decoration of the monastery was entrusted upon painter, sculptor and architect Peter Deziderius Lenz, who is the founder of the Beuron School of Arts. He had the closest colleague in Jakob Würger. Lenz found inspiration in ancient Greek and Egyptian arts, and he was also influence by old-Christian and Byzantine arts. His wall paintings show signs of symbolism and decorativism. The Beuron style was quite individual, different from all the others. The church and the monastery are decorated with wall paintings with figures of saints, Biblical scenes and illustrated legends of St. Benedict with rich ornaments and many Latin quotations. Above the chancel, there is Lenz’s great painting of Piety - Madonna on a throne, holding baby Christ with two winged angels on the sides. The Prague Archbishop, Cardinal Schönborn, ordered this nonconventional painting to be removed. Luckily, the nuns only covered it and did not destroy it. In front of the altar, there are two white marble above-size sculptures by Lenz, representing St. Gabriel and the Mother of God. Lenz’s second painting can be found in the chancel behind the main altar. Mother of God - Madonna with baby Jesus on her lap in a circle surrounded by an indigo-blue square with stars, being the illusion of a night sky. In the aisle, there are also paintings of Lenz’s student, Father Jan Verkade, which depict St. Václav, St. Ludmila and St. Vojtěch. There is also a fresco of Jesus Christ Pantocreator with an inscription Ego sum - qui sem (I am who I am). The paintings cover the church walls continuously from the floor all the way to the truss. There are also many other remarkable details in the decorations, continuously worked upon until 1917, which make this object an example of the Beuron artistic style.