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The devil chef of Emauzy

The centuries-old monastery once had some devilishly good food made by a devil chef

The monastery at Emauzy looks pleasant enough from a distance, with its modern concrete wing-shaped spires added in the 1960s. Its history goes back to 1347, and before that, the area was allegedly a pagan grove dedicated to Morana, the Slavic goddess of death and winter.

Over the centuries, Emauzy has become home to several spirits, but the most famous supernatural appearance was a devil on its cooking staff.

The devil, whose name is not known, was a rather clever one. He wanted to stop the monks from doing their religious duties. As luck would have it, the monks had an opening for a layperson on the kitchen staff. The devil transformed himself into a typical-looking chef and asked for the job, promising to work hard for low wages while keeping within a meager budget.

Monk and Chef
Monk and Chef by Alessandro Sani

The abbot accepted the deal, and the devil took up his place in the monastery kitchen. The monks were used to fairly bland food. The devil slowly began to introduce tastier food, first by adding a touch of herbs and spices, then introducing exotic vegetables and finally better cuts of meat and poultry. Fridays were particularly good, with many new fish sauces and side dishes.

But the pork and elderflower pie, sprinkled with bacon bits and served with optional rosehip sauce and whipped cream, seasonal salad with dried apple rings and mountain cranberries, fresh spinach and pine-nut bread and shredded, pan-browned squash with a touch of brown sugar was by far everyone’s favorite.

The changes were so gradual that the monks didn’t notice. But more and more, they neglected their prayers and religious works, and spent all day speculating about what the next meal would be.
The abbot happened to be passing the kitchen and heard the devil laughing to himself and muttering something about the success of his evil plan.

The cloister in Emauzy
The cloister in Emauzy

The abbot suddenly came to his senses, remembering the old food. He saw how the chef had led them all astray from their devotions. The abbot rushed into the kitchen and held out his cross, telling the devil he had been discovered.

The devil saw the cross and knew he had to make a hasty escape. He transformed himself into a fiery black rooster and flew out the kitchen window.

But the devil never likes to give up a good trick. The rooster flew to a restaurant frequented by Prague’s business leaders and politicians. He again tried to distract them with his haute cuisine, and on occasion he still turns up to make a fine meal, especially on election years. But he never duplicated his original luck.

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 place 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.

mural at Emauzy
Part of a mural at Emauzy

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.

Tombstone fragment at Emauzy
Tombstone fragment at Emauzy

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.

Emauzy before it was bombed
Emauzy before it was bombed

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 to 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 glass building used by the Prague Institute of Planning and Development.

An article by BabaBarock with Raymond Johnston. Copyright BabaBarock Ltd, all rights reserved. Please contact us if you would like to syndicate or otherwise use this article.

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