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THE ROTUNDA OF ST CATHERINE

The Chapel of St Catherine in Česká Třebová is the oldest building in the town and the only Romanesque rotunda in Eastern Bohemia still in existence. Its origin remains shrouded in mystery, because there are no satisfactory answers to the questions of when, why, or by whom it was built. Residents of the town associate its origin with miracles. Legend has it that St Catherine appeared on the chapel site with her apron full of stones to show that she wished a chapel to be built there for her. The people did not comply with her instructions and began building the chapel elsewhere. But their work kept failing there; what they managed to build during the day was demolished during the night. Finally, they had no choice but to build the chapel on the site selected by St Catherine.

According to another legend, the chapel was originally intended to stand in the nearby village of Skuhrov. People began to gather the necessary building materials there, particularly stone and wood. But God performed a miracle and moved all the materials to the hill above Česká Třebová and therefore the chapel was built there instead.

Historians connect the chapel construction to the founding of the town sometime in the early 13th century. The rotunda may have functioned as the private chapel of an unknown aristocratic locator, i.e. a person charged with founding Česká Třebová. It was only later that the chapel began to serve the residents of the newly established town. The first written mention of it is found in a document written in Latin and issued by the bailiff Lipolt in 1335.

The originally Romanesque building has been repaired and rebuilt many times over the centuries. Its Gothic modifications, specifically the stone door frame around the west entrance to the nave and the asymmetric cross vault in the apse of the rotunda, date back to the 14th century. There are highly stylized human faces on the consoles of the two ribs. According to legend, one of the faces belongs to the chapel donor and the other to its builder.

The rotunda was repaired sometime around 1556. The Renaissance sgraffito decoration on the outside plaster of the building dates back to this time period.

Another documented repair was made in 1746. At that time, wooden narthexes were added on both the south and the west entrances, also serving as storage rooms for burial devices and tools. The surrounding cemetery was then used to bury the dead from Česká Třebová and a number of the municipalities attached to the parish. Because the cemetery did not have sufficient capacity, an ossuary was added to the rotunda in the same year for storing bones from old and cancelled graves. The ossuary was entered from the newly constructed sacristy located above it.

Less than a hundred years later, in 1840, both already dilapidated narthexes were torn down; the one in front of the main entrance was replaced by a brick narthex built in the Classicist style. The ossuary was also cancelled, and only the sacristy remained.

In 1905, the town built a new cemetery, and the existing one in the neighbourhood of the rotunda was cancelled as useless. The building then lost its function as a cemetery chapel, which it had fulfilled for centuries. Unnecessary and unused, it started to fall into disrepair. In 1916, it had to be closed completely due to its bad condition. Fortunately, the town officials were aware of the historical and architectural significance of the building and exerted efforts to preserve it. The efforts were stalled by the outbreak of World War I. Further negotiations on the reconstruction could take place only after the war was over.

In 1920, repair works on the building finally began. The dilapidated sacristy from 1746 came first. When it was torn down, the ossuary dating back to the same year was uncovered. When removing the external plaster, masons uncovered the ornamental sgraffiti just under the principal moulding of the nave, and about 1.5 meters lower on the apse. It can be concluded from this that the apse was lower than the nave at the time of the sgraffiti’s origin and the additional apse masonry was added later. The sgraffiti had framed the original windows, which had been located in a different place. The holes for the new windows were probably made during the adaptation in 1746. It also turned out that the original floor was about half a meter lower. The findings of springing stones confirmed that the flat ceiling nave had once been vaulted. The decision to alter the interior was taken just before the end of repairs. The choir loft from 1874, decorated with a number of pictures (most likely by Karel Jankele, Sr., the painter of nativity scenes from Česká Třebová), was shortened so that more light could reach the space.

The last large-scale reconstruction took place here from the late 1990s till 2002.

It included the restoration of the choir loft spandrel and, in particular, of the altar that dominates the entire interior. The centre of the altar features a late Gothic sculpture of the patron of the chapel – St Catherine of Alexandria. Neither its creator nor origin is known; it is reported to date back to the 1500s. According to hagiography, St Catherine was born a princess who plighted her troth to God and therefore refused Emperor Maxentius. She was scourged and imprisoned. The girl was condemned to death on a spiked breaking wheel, however the wheel was cut in two. The emperor had Catherine beheaded by a sword. Catherine holds this attribute in her hand. In her left hand, she holds a book, a symbol of knowledge. Legend has it that she led fifty pagan philosophers to the Christian faith. Catherine was a favourite female saint of Emperor Charles IV and is the patron saint of Charles University.

As with the creator of the statue of St Catherine, we do not know the artists who made the other parts of the altar. It is slightly newer; it originated in the late 17th century and was created specifically for the statue of St Catherine. There are more sculptures of saints here:

St Roch, a rich young man from Montpellier who gave his fortune to the poor and nursed people suffering from the plague on his pilgrimage to Rome. He himself got infected; according to legend, an angel looked after him, while a faithful dog brought him bread.

St Sebastian, a Roman captain of the bodyguards of Emperor Diocletian; he used to help his imprisoned Christian fellow-believers. He died a martyr’s death. He was tied to a tree and the other soldiers made a target of his body.

St Rose of Lima, a nun of the Third Order of St Dominic; she led a strictly repentant life to achieve conciliation for the cruelties that Spanish conquerors committed on native people. Due to her fondness for the flowers that she grew and sold to make a living for herself and her parents, she became the patron saint of gardeners.

St Rosalia, daughter of a nobleman, plighted her troth to God and led the life of a hermit. It is said that when her remains were transferred to Palermo, the plague epidemic stopped there; therefore this saint is considered to be the protector against plague.

A cross with the body of Christ is placed atop the altar; there are statues of Our Lady of Sorrows and St John the Evangelist, the Apostle whom Christ entrusted with taking care of his mother before he died. The altar was not made by one carver; its parts originated in various time periods. Nevertheless it is very charming as a whole.

Since the end of the reconstruction in 2002, the chapel has served its sacred purpose: church services, weddings, baptisms, and other religious ceremonies are held here. The repair of the Baroque organ, completed in 2006, enabled the use of the intimate space of the sanctuary as a concert hall.

The ‘Jabkancová Pilgrimage Festival’ has become a stable tradition of Česká Třebová. This takes place every year in November, before the feast of St Catherine, near the premises of the Chapel of St Catherine.

The administrator of the Rotunda of St Catherine is:
Roman Catholic Parish-Deanery in Česká Třebová
Klácelova 1
560 02 Česká Třebová
Tel.: 731 626 171
E-mail: kancelar@farnostct.cz
Web: http://www.farnostct.cz

Dean (Parish administrator): Mgr. Miloš Kolovratník

Monuments open to the public

TOUR OF THE ROTUNDA OF ST CATHERINE

Visitors to the Chapel of St Catherine – the only rotunda still in existence in the Pardubice region – are informed about the constructional and historical development of the building and the legends associated with the site. They will also learn about the many interesting findings of recent research. Of course, visitors can take this opportunity to explore the well-preserved furniture, particularly the choir loft with its pictures of saints, the Baroque organ, and the Baroque altar. The altar naturally dominates the intimate space, with the Late Gothic statue of St Catherine of Alexandria, the patron saint of the chapel, at its centre. In addition to the chapel itself, visitors can also see the bell tower and spend some reflective moments in the cemetery that once surrounded the rotunda.

The tour of the chapel takes about 30 minutes

Opening hours:
July and August, daily except Mondays, 9:00 a.m. - 12:00 noon and 1. p.m. - 5 p.m.,
other days by appointment by calling +420 465 534 516
(Municipal Museum of Česká Třebová)

Admission fees: Adults CZK 30, Reduced CZK 20, Family CZK 50

map

PUBLICATIONS FOR SALE

TEAM OF AUTHORS: Českotřebovská farnost v historii /The Česká Třebová Parish in History/
Česká Třebová 2004, 264 pp. & CD. CZK 250

Kesselgruberová, L. - Voleská, J
Rotunda sv. Kateřiny /The Rotunda of St Catherine/, Česká Třebová 2008, 10 pp., CZK 20

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