A wealthy nobleman tried to break up a romance by having his daughter become a nun
The rich should marry the rich, and the poor should marry the poor. That idea was long held to be true, especially among the upper classes.
The daughter of a wealthy nobleman fell in love with a poor man, some say he was a poor knight and others a simple commoner. But they agree he was from a lower social class and had a heart of gold. That metaphor did not please the strict and abusive father who wanted some sort of wealth that was more tangible.
The father told the daughter to break off the romance, but she carried on in secret.
Determined to have his way, the father brought the daughter to the Convent of St. Agnes in Prague’s Old Town and turned her over to become a nun as punishment for her defiance.
Back then, this was a common practice, as with rare exceptions the only options for women were marriage or the religious life, or working in a bordello.
The defiant daughter persisted, though, and continued to see her penniless lover under the cover of night whenever a tryst could be arranged.
But the darkness of night does not cover everything. The rich and proud father still did not trust his daughter and had one of the other nuns keep a sharp eye on her, and he had the lover followed as well. From his informants it became clear the daughter intended to leave the convent, renounce her holy orders, and run away with her lover to some distant land where they could be married with no questions asked.
The strict father boiled with rage at the continued defiance. He waited in the shadows for the couple to meet. The daughter came out of one of the convent windows, with her few possessions wrapped in a piece of cloth. The lover was waiting, with his few possessions as well as they planned to leave Prague before sunrise.
The father, livid with rage, pounced on the poor lover first and ran a sword right through him before anyone could tell what as happening. He yelled at the dying man, saying he would cut out his heart of gold and leave for the wild animals in the nearby river, if even they would be bothered to eat such a worthless thing.
The daughter ran to her lover and tried to embrace him, but it was too late. He was dead. His eyes looked out at her but could no longer see.
“Father, what have you done? If he is dead I no longer want to live,” she said.
“That is easily arranged,” said the father, plunging his sword into her as well. He continued to talk, even though there was nobody left to listen. Even with his daughter and her lover dead, the father continued with his controlling ways.
“You have brought shame on our family that will never be forgotten. I curse your soul to have no peace and no rest for as long as there is a convent on this spot,” he said. He spoke in his rage quite a while, recounting her defiance and how much he was disappointed in her.
He left, and even though the facts of the case were clear, he was never punished as it was a family matter and he had powerful friends to hush the affair up.
An elderly nun from the convent found the dead pair in the morning. The daughter was buried in the convent cemetery. What happened to the young man is unknown, but likely he went to a pauper’s grave.
But that is not the end of the tale. The father’s curse took effect and the young nun began to haunt the convent. She had such a good nature that she could not be an evil ghost, though. She began to help young lovers, a cause dear to her heart.
And she has stayed on at the convent even though it has long been used for secular purposes since it was shut down by Emperor Joseph II in 1782. After that the nuns’ cells served as flats for the poor and the churches as warehouses for a while. Now it is part of the National Gallery.
Centuries after the curse was made, a poor woman living in one of the former nuns’ cells wanted to get married but didn’t have any money. The father of her beloved demanded a dowry even though her parents were both dead and there was nobody to pay it. All she could afford was some poison. She took the vial home to her room and was going to drink it when the ghost of the young nun, wispy and gray, appeared and knocked it from her hand, smashing it to the ground.
Still, this did not solve her problem. A year passed and she was no closer to getting married than before. The ghost turned up again and dropped a purse in the sad woman’s lap as she was crying over her plight. The purse had enough for her dowry.
This is just one of the tales of good deeds done by the ghost of the young nun.
There are other tales at the convent as well, including one about an elixir called sparrow’s water, which could cure all ills. But these are for another day.
The Convent of Saint Agnes, called Anežský klášter in Czech, is in Prague’s Old Town on the right bank of Vltava. It was founded in 1231 by Agnes of Bohemia, who also became the abbess and was a convent for Poor Clares of the Order of Saint Clare.
There was also an adjacent cloister for monks, the Friars Minor, which was a male order closely related to the Poor Clares. Both are connected to St Francis of Assisi and St Clare of Assisi.
This was the first double cloister outside of the Alpine region.
Agnes of Bohemia, who lived 1211–82, was a Bohemian princess who led a life of charity, sacrifice and piety. She was locally regarded as a saint but wasn’t actually beatified until 1874 and canonized Nov. 12, 1989, just days before the Velvet Revolution.
She was the daughter of King Ottokar I of Bohemia, and a descendant of St Ludmila and St Wenceslas.
The church began with land donated by Agnes’ brother, King Wenceslas I, and was granted significant privileges.
Construction took place in three phases during Agnes’ lifetime. After her death, the convent saw a period of decline as it lost its royal connection. A Cistercian monastery in Zbraslav became more significant.
In its prime, it was also meant to be the Přemyslid family necropolis. It was the site of a coronation, royal funerals, and the final resting place of Agnes of Bohemia.
There were better days under Emperor Charles IV, who oversaw another phase of construction, part of which are still well-preserved. Some wooden parts were replaced with more durable stone.
The convent was used as an armory and a mint during the Hussite Wars. A legend says that the reason the cloister was undamaged during the Hussite Wars is that an elderly aunt of one the top Hussite leaders, Jan Žižka, was a nun living there. She chastised him in front of his troops, calling him by his childhood nickname.
Dominicans briefly took over the female section and the convent and sold the male one to be developed as real estate. When the convent was returned to the Poor Clares it was in bad condition. After 1611, part of the land was used as a cemetery.
Emperor Joseph II shut it down along many cloisters that did not do productive work. The convent was sold in 1782 and changed into small flats, workshops and storage space.
In the late 19th century, several plans for renovation were made, and a renewal started at the beginning of the 20th century and lasted until 1914. Archaeological research took place after World War II.
The National Gallery became the owner of the convent in 1963 and began new renovations, preserving some of the original structure and adding new modern elements. Since 1978, the convent is a national cultural heritage landmark and a gallery. It shows medieval art and temporary exhibitions.