Monday, February 20, 2012

Czech Republic : The Jewish Quarter and St Procopius' Basilica in Trebic (2003)

The ensemble of the Jewish Quarter, the old Jewish cemetery and the Basilica of St Procopius in Trebíc are reminders of the co-existence of Jewish and Christian cultures from the Middle Ages to the 20th century. The Jewish Quarter bears outstanding testimony to the different aspects of the life of this community. St Procopius Basilica, built as part of the Benedictine monastery in the early 13th century, is a remarkable example of the influence of Western European architectural heritage in this region.

A Benedictine Monastery was founded in a strategic position at the crossing of Jihlava River, in 1101. Its existence stimulated the establishment of a market, which brought traders and amongst them also Jews. This was the beginning of a structural development of the monastery together with the settlement, called ‘Podklasteri' (lit. beneath the monastery) in its immediate vicinity, and the town of Trebic itself on the other side of the river.
The Jewish Quarter was sited in the focal point of the commercially expanding settlement, close to the monastery and the ford across the river. Not having any defences, it went through the same fate as the rest of the town, and had to suffer of many attacks and destructions, such as those in the 15th century by the Hungarian king. In favourable years, the site developed and prospered allowing the necessary facilities to be built. In the 16th century, orders were issued to expel the Jews but these were not carried out. As a whole the authorities were here much more tolerant than elsewhere in Europe. In earlier years, the Jews were involved in money lending, but also working in some crafts: tanning, bead firing, glove making, and soap making. From the 17th century on, they were mainly involved in trade and such crafts. There were further destructive events in the subsequent centuries, including fires and frequent floods - in areas close to the river.
From the beginning, the Jewish Quarter had its own self-government with an elected magistrate and two councillors. In 1849, it had its own administration led by a mayor, and it was called Zamosti (lit. over the bridge). In the 1920s, the area was merged with the town of Trebic, and the population started being mixed. In 1890, there were nearly 1,500 Jews in this area, but in the 1930s only 300 were of Jewish faith. All Jewish residents were deported during the Second World War, and none are left at present. The houses are now owned by people of non- Jewish faith.
The Benedictine monastery , established in the early 12th century was richly endowed, and an important centre of ecclesiastical life and economic development. The first monastic church was rebuilt during the reign of King Wenceslas I (1230-53), being ready in the 1250s. After some damage in 1468, the church was repaired at the end of the century. During the first half of the 16th century, the monastery was rebuilt as a castle, and fully renovated in baroque style in 1666-84. There were various minor changes also in the basilica, which was then restored by a well-known Czech architect, Frantisek Maxmilian Kanka. The works began in 1726, and restoration of the nave was concluded in 1733. Externally several windows were widened and buttresses added, the south-west tower was rebuilt, and a new west front with two towers was constructed in the style of gothicising baroque. While avoiding any radical ‘restorations', the church was subject to some restoration in the 1920s and 1930s. The southern chapel, which had been destroyed, was rebuilt in the 1950s.

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