Long-dead monks wander the grounds of Emauzy, one a hero and the other a villain
The monastery at Emauzy looks pleasant enough from a distance, with its modern concrete wings added in the 1960s. Its history goes back to 1347, and before that, it was allegedly a pagan grove dedicated to Morana, the Slavic goddess of death and winter.
There are also two proper ghosts.
One tale centers on a monk who was planning on leaving the monastery, as the spartan life didn’t suit him. But he needed money if he was going to get very far. He managed to get in touch with a moneylender, but unfortunately he had nothing to pledge as security. The moneylender said he would make an exception. If the monk brought him a consecrated communion wafer, then they could make a deal.
The moneylender practiced black magic and needed the wafer to perform a ceremony to invoke his favorite spirits.
The priest, though, was not as secretive as he thought. The abbot began watching his every move and saw him steal the Eucharist. The abbot lay in wait, and caught both the priest and the moneylender.
Both of them were tried and sentenced to death for sorcery. The monk had his head lopped off.
The ghost of the headless monk now wanders the grounds of Emauzy, carrying a small sack of coins. A newly ordained priest can free the ghost by giving him a communion wafer so he can return it to its proper place. But these days, there are few new priests in the almost empty monastery.
The next ghost is a bell ringer. When Emauzy was invaded by foreign troops, the original monks did not see it as a cause to celebrate. It was clear that their order would be replaced by a different one.
The soldiers expected a feast, or at least some bell ringing in their honor. But there was not a sound. One of the soldiers eventually found the monk who served as bell ringer. The monk admitted to cutting the ropes to the bells so there could be no celebration. The angry soldier ran him through with his sword.
But try as they might, nobody could reattach the ropes. A few days later during the monk’s funeral the bells rang out, but on their own with nobody causing them to swing. Then they were silent again for a long time.
The ghost of the monk returns to the bell tower whenever the nation is in danger to make sure nobody rings the bells to welcome the enemy. The main bell towers were destroyed in World War II and only a small one remains, so his job is easy.
There are even more specters at Emauzy, including shadows of soldiers from the fateful Battle of White Mountain (Bílá Hora) waiting to prove their valor, but this tale is for another day.
The monastery at Emauzy dates back to 1347, and was founded by Emperor Charles IV, with the consent of Pope Clement VI. It was originally dedicated in honor of St Mary, St. Jerome, St Cyril and St Methodius, and St Prokop. It was located next to an existing parish church for St Cosmas and St Damian at a hill called Podskalí. Originally, it was for monks from Croatia and Dalmatia in the Benedictine order. It was the only Eastern Slavic monastery in Bohemia.
That the area has pagan roots is remembered in the nearby street name Na Moráni, a reference to the goddess Morana.
The idea to have an Eastern Slavic monastery using the Old Slavonic language was because St Methodius and St Prokop both allegedly spent time nearby in Vyšehrad and helped to spread the Eastern form of Christianity.
Emperor Charles IV wanted to keep an outpost of the Slavonic language to honor their efforts, and also to increase the importance of Prague with other Slavic countries by providing a place for scholarship open to people from the East.
Medieval manuscripts called it the Monastery of St Jeronimus the Slav, and by the time it was finished in 1372 it was called Na Slovanech by the local people. On the day of the consecration the Bible passage that was read was the one about Jesus on the road to Emmaus. This led to its current name.
For a long time it was a center of art and learning, with many illuminated manuscripts made there. Fragments of Gothic murals in 26 panels around the cloister arcade that show Old and New Testament stories can still be seen.
Hussites came in 1419, and Emauzy thus became a Hussite consistory, and it avoided being plundered like other churches were. In 1446, it became an Ultraquist monastery, the only one of its kind.
In the 16th century there was a tavern on the site where people could listen to musicians and play skittles.
The next century the monastery became a home to astronomer Johannes Kepler. A Baroque renovation by Benedictines from Spain happened in the late 17th century, and two onion-domed towers were added to the church.
In the 19th century, German monks remodeled the church in the neo-Gothic style. The monastery became a center of Gregorian chant.
In World War II the monastery was damaged during a Feb. 14, 1945, air raid by American forces, and many of the frescoes that had survived centuries were destroyed.
Reconstruction began in 1946, but the monastery was used for secular purposes by the Academy of Sciences. The white concrete wing spires were added in the 1960s to repair the bomb damage to the facade.
The monastery was turned over the Spanish branch of the Benedictine order in 1990, and two monks currently live there.
The small Church of St Cosmas and St Damian is also still in use and has services in a variety of Eastern European languages.
Part of the grounds are occupied by a modern and quite boxy metal-and-glass building used by the Prague Institute of Planning and Development, and there are plans to further renovate the grounds to make them more accessible to the public.