Pilgrimage Church of St. John of Nepomuk
The Pilgrimage Church at Zelena Hora was designed by the Czech-Italian architect Jan Blazej Santini Aichl, who delivered a masterpiece out of a combination of gothic and baroque styles.
The church was the first major shrine to St. John (Jan) of Nepomuk, a local martyr who had died in 1393. Abbot Vaclav Vejmiuva of the nearby Cistercian Abbey was a great follower of St. John, and had the church constructed in close collaboration with the architect Santini.
Already from its beginnings (1721) the church was meant as a place of pilgrimage. The cloister, which encircles the chapel and is based on a ten-point-star groundplan, was completed later (in 1769).
Map of Pilgrimage Church of St. John of NepomukLoad map
Visit April 2007
The name of the town is Zdar nad Sazavou, where this church is located in the outskirts on a green hill (Zelena Hora). From the train station, bus number 2 to will take you there. Otherwise, it’s a 3 km walk. The location of the site is very pleasant: at the bottom of the hill there are a castle and a lake. A long flight of stairs has to be climbed to reach the top, where the cloister, the cemetery and the church can be found.
The whole complex is full of symbolism. The number 5 returns often, representing the crown with 5 stars that according to the legend has appeared on the site where St. John of Nepomuk died. There are 5 gates to enter the cloister, the church holds 5 chapels and 5 altars.
The church also has windows in the form of a bishop’s mitre and of a tongue, the part of St. John’s body that had been miracleously preserved and was taken as proof of his sainthood.
The cloister is decorated with 10 very different towers, all very pretty and some with sculptured figures on top.
For 50 kroner there are tours to the interior of the church. An English explanation (on paper) is available. Beware that it’s closed from November to March!
The church is quite small on the inside. Because of its unusual shape there’s not much space left to hold a congregation. Several original sculptures can be seen. Reconstruction works are being executed on the ceiling. In all, I found this a very atmospheric site that just oozes religious symbolism.
I did an afternoon trip to Žďár nad Sázavou in July 2020, and the reason was to go to Zelená Hora again. I visited the site many times, and I can observe how this place has been changing with time: The forest obscuring the visibility of the site was cleared, the cemetery inside the area surrounded by the ambit was canceled and gravestones removed, the church interior has been meticulously restored with other reconstructions works on the way. There are also plans to reconstruct the ambit, especially the roofs with high wooden pylons on the top of the chapels, etc.
Besides the long-term reconstruction works on the church, I have to mention the former Cistercian abbey, now the castle returned to the Kinský family. They invested a lot of money not only to taking care of the forestry and fishponds, but also to thorough reconstruction and revitalization of the former monastery complex. However, the basilica with the Well Chapel and the St. John of Nepomuk church are still properties of the Catholic Church.
The church settings, layout and interiors are truly exceptional (PHOTO). It has adopted the shape of flower with the five-fold symmetry and not the simple round or Greek cross principle. The site is stuffed by catholic and kabala symbolism as already described by others.
As I already mentioned, not only St. John of Nepomuk church is the worth-visiting site in the area. There are several guided tours in the castle. I skipped the museum and joint the tour to baroque abbey buildings and the basilica. The basilica dates back to13th century, but it was seriously damaged during the chaos of 15th century. The reconstruction plans of the entire monastic complex started with the anti-reformation of 17-18th Centuries. The main idea, which has been applied also elsewhere in the kingdom of Bohemia, was to re-establish great monastic complexes founded in 13-14th Centuries but destroyed later during the decline from the catholic faith. It explains the origin of the unique gothic-baroque style. The impulse came from the abbots, and it led not only to reconstruction of the main church but also to foundation of St. John of Nepomuk church. They hired a talented architect Jan Blažej Santini Aichel, who was active also in Sedlec near Kutná Hora WHS, etc. While the reconstruction of the basilica was exceptional but rather conservative, St. John Nepomuk is his truly masterpiece.
The story about John of Nepomuk is very interesting. He was declared as saint in 18th Century and used as a powerful symbol of anti-reformation in Czechia. However, he is rather a fake saint, because in reality, he was a victim of intrigues on the court of the emperor Václav IV. It is a paradox that the story about St. John of Nepomuk invented by the catholic propaganda was the powerful source of inspiration for constructions of masterpieces such as the church standing on Zelená Hora. Furthermore, the church was founded even a couple of years before the official declaration of John of Nepomuc as Saint – it means that his cult was very strong!
The site is accessible by train from Prague, but it is quite far away from the railway station (around 3-4 km). As the town is rather unassuming, I would recommend local busses.
I visited this WHS in Summer 2019 on a bright sunny morning. The pilgrimage church of St John of Nepomuk on the green hill of Zelena Hora represents the culmination point in the work Jan Blazej Santini, a third generation member of an Italian artistic family settled in Prague in the 17th century.
The church represents a timeless work of art, supposed to be complete in itself, free from any single conventional elements of architecture of its time. Construction work began in 1719, when an allegedly preserved tongue was found in the crypt of blessed John of Nepomuk in St Vitus' Cathedral in Prague, and when preparation for his canonisation also began. The church was consecrated in 1722 and became the first major shrine dedicated to St Jan of Nepomuk.
The cloisters around the church are set out on a 10 pointed star ground plan. Pyramid roofs over the gates supported allegorical sculptures, three of which remain. There was once rich decoration with stucco figures and frescoes on the vaults, but little has been preserved. The church itself has been built on a 5 pointed star ground plan according to a legend saying that on the spot where John of Nepomuk drowned, a crown consisting of 5 stars appeared. The number 5 as a symbol was also used throughout the building: the premises are accessible through 5 gates and there are 5 chapels and 5 altars inside the church.
At the top of the cupola, there is a large tongue, the symbol of St John of Nepomuk, encircled with flames from which beams of light irradiate. It is the symbol of a victorious weapon, the martyr's sword, and the opposite of the star emphasised by the shrine's ground plan. The church was actually built using a mic of two styles, Gothic and Baroque. Whereas in the Gothic period, souls sought God by denying the body and constantly looking upwards, in the Baroque period, they tried to understand God through the motion that He gave to the world through His acto of creation.
Santini tried to convey these impressive contrasts using Gothic windows symbolising the sword, or hands folded in prayer. Plans are underway to restore the original tiling which lies underneath most of the present floor tiling which formed several star points in a stricking geometrical red, yellow and black design. The many church windows give sufficient light to enlarge the whole space in Baroque style, thus enabling the Baroque style sculptures to be emphasised. The astute location of the windows is such that no dark corner can be found in the church.
The windows come in three different shapes: tongue shaped reminding pilgrims of a sword in its sheath which the local saint achieved through his spiritual victory with his tongue; bishop mitre shaped, an abbot's emblem; and in the shape of a spherical equilateral triangle symbolising the Trinity. The last tombstones and graves which were found within the church grounds enclosure were removed since 2017 and they were placed in the new cemetery area nearby.
The whole WHS is relatively small, in line with most Czech WHS, but it's quite unique and deserving of inscription as a shrine with OUV.
On my way from Trebic to Brno, I made a detour to visit the Pilgrimage Church of St. John of Nepomuk near the city of Zdar nad Sazavou on early April, knowing that it was closed to the public, so my initial idea was just to look around the peaceful church landscape which reportedly to be located on the picturesque green hill. From a far the unique church structure on the green hill was really eye catching, I planned to drive around the hill with a hope to find a perfect spot for photographing and discovered that the cemetery next to the church was in full swing of Easter graves visit which caused unexpected traffic jam around the church! I noticed that there were people who entered the church, so I decided to follow them.
It turned out that those people I saw was contractors who were rushing their jobs in order to complete the church restoration before the summer. There was no guard so I just entered the compound with no problem. Inside was a complete mess with restoration materials almost everywhere, the design of five pointed star shape church was really unique and look a bit confusing in design and I was curious for its interior. Unfortunately, the doors were close, they seemed to just repaint the doors and put plastic sheet to cover all wooden parts. I also noticed the recently move gravesite, a thing that I read before that church is in the process to remove all grave to the new one outside the church compound. The layout of ten pointed star cloister was amazingly complex, walking around the cloister was a bit like walking in the labyrinth. There were some nice chapels and ceiling painting which clearly inspired from the star shape. Even for a casual visitor the star related design and symbols were easy to notice which made me immediately googled the story of St. John of Nepomuk in order to understand the meaning.
I spend around thirty minute in the compound, there was nothing much to see actually. Anyway I really appreciate the unique design and the play of symbolism of the church. Judging from the layout and design I don’t think the architect expected many pilgrims, there was no such place that suitable for gathering large people, maybe the outside beautiful green hill is more appropriate for religious practice. Its outstanding universal value, in my opinion, was quite OK since most of the traditional churches around the world were mostly built on cross rectangular or square shape, so the special design of five and ten pointed star shape of Pilgrimage Church of St. John of Nepomuk is a good example for original idea, a unique site among World Heritage Sites.
The Pilgrimage Church of St. John of Nepomuk is located on the top of a green hill (Zelena Hora) near the town of Zdar nad Sazavou. The complex consists of the central church with a ground plan in the form of a 5-pointed star and the surrounding cloister in the form of a 10-pointed star. It is no wonder that most of the photos that can be found in the Web show the church from the bird's eye view. But not only the geometry of the ground plan is unusual. Also the architectural style with the combination of Gothic and Baroque elements is exceptional. As mentioned by other reviewers, the symbolism of the number '5' plays a major role and it is fun to look for the '5' everywhere inside and outside.
The church itself is rather small and it does not take long time to visit the interior. There is little decoration and ornament in the church, but because of the five-sided geometry there is only little shadow, the interior is bright, and the sun generated nice light effects through the stained glass windows.
All in all, this WHS can be visited in less than an hour. That we've spent a fair bit more time there was mainly due to the beautiful weather. The bright blue sky in combination with the white of the walls, the red of the roofs, and the green grass around gave the whole scenery a very special charm. Such circumstances often contribute significantly to the pleasure of a visit. I'm sure, at a cold, rainy day our visit would have been less remarkable.
It is a magical place: highly symetrical church surrounded by the cloister with chapels situated on the top of the bare hill. The impresive interior has been reconstructed according the old plans. The ansamble was built in the special czech style - so called gothic baroque.
I have been many times to Zelená Hora, a hill situated near Žd’ár nad Sázavou. On the top of it there is erected the pilgrimage church of St. John of Nepomuk, constructed in the begin of 18th century on a star plan, the masterpiece of Jan Blazej Santini Aichel and of his personal Gothicizing Baroque style. It is a central complex and its proportions are based on the number 5. There are two radials and two groups of five radial axis that determine the position of the elements. The church is decorated with stucco, pilaster frames, portals, windows and vaults. The interior is divided in two spaces by a gallery and has five niches with altars. It is in the middle of a cloister (where is a cemetery) that is also constructed on a star plan and has gates and chapels.
I was a little bit disappointed by this church because it isn't much artistic and must be restored more well, but its project is of high quality. It is worth to be visited if you are in the region Vysoèina and it however justifies the inscription, because it is Santini's masterpiece and the best expression of the personal style of this great architect; it could be inscribed also with the adjacent Santini's complex of the Cistercian convent with the church, the guest quarters and the cemetery, or even with other Santini's buidings in the Czech Republic.
Photo: Žd’ár nad Sázavou - Church of St. John of Nepomuk on the hill of Zelená Hora
The church here is the work of the architect Jan Santini, who developed his own style mostly based on baroque but with gothic influences. The church is on a hill which can be climbed by the recently renovated stairs. The church is surrounded by an exterior wall which forms an internal cloister containing a grave yard. There are proposals to remove the headstones and return the cloister to its original state. The Church sits proudly in the middle of the ensemble. I found that walking around was a little disorientating as the courtyard is pretty much symmetrical so when I got to a gate it wasn't the one I thought it was.
Every aspect of the ensemble is planned to be significant to the story of Jan of Nepomuk who was martyred in Prague for not revelling royal secrets. The five pointed star and tongues occur consistently in the design and decoration of the church, this is why ICOMS viewed it as being a form of Gesamtkunstwerk as its architecture is linked to symbolism and other art forms of the baroque period.
Inside the church they have a CD to play which gives you a good idea of the significance of the design. The "tour" is available in about 5 or 6 different European languages. The interior is pretty impressive but was being restored when I visited. At the bottom of the hill is a monastery also designed by Santini and its chapel contains an impressive baroque interior which almost verges on Rococo style.
The site was quite impressive for its uniformity and architecturally was very interesting. I don't think it is a "must see" though, but it is close to two other sites in South Moravia so if you are in the area it is worth a visit.
The church is situated on the outskirts of the town of Zdar nad Sazvou, it is not the nicest of towns but has direct train links to Prague (two and half hours) and Brno (one and a half hour), from the station it is about 3km to the site there are local busses that run there.
The church by the interesting architect with the curious Czech-Italian-German name Jan Blazej Santini-Aichel has been sufficiently described here. The number 5 appears all over, and it´s a nice enough building in a beautiful location. Zdar nad Sazavou is an industrial town that doesn´t hold any other attractions (but some street names like Revolution and First of May are reminders of the not-so-distant past - there´s also a part of the town called Stalingrad ...) It´s easy to reach from Brno, as it´s located directly on the Brno-Prague train line, and an integral part of the Southern Moravian WHS hotspot. The interior is still being renovated, but there´s still enough to see for a pleasant outing.
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