The Most Outstanding Member of the Noble Family of Drazice

3-4 2010 Kultura English
obálka čísla

This very old Czech aristocratic family lived in an area called Pojizeri and derived their name from the castle of Drazice, whose scant remains can be found on the right side of the river Jizera near the town of Benatky. The family coat of arms consisted of three silver, gold or green vine leaves in a red field. The members of this family stood by the last Premyslids on the Czech throne and also by the first Luxemburks. All of them were important church dignitaries. The first one who is mentioned in historical writings was given a beautiful old Czech name of Budislav. During the reign of Premysl Otakar II Budislav became a vicar, and later a provost in the town of Melnik which used to be given to Czech Queens as their “dowry.” At the end of his life Budislav became the bishop of the Prague canonry. Before his ordination, which took place rather late in his life, he had been married. One of his childrena son Jan- was elected bishop of Prague in 1258. He served as Jan III until his death in 1278. He survived the king Premysl Otakar II, (killed in the battle on the Moravian Field) only by a few weeks. Present day historical sources describe Jan III as a good and just man, and as an excellent preacher. Two of his brothers also became church dignitaries. Both of them were canons- one at the cathedral of St. Vitus, the other at the church of St. George. The fourth brother in this family- Rehnik- became burgrave of the Prague castle and served as vice chamberlain of Queen Kunhuta.

One of Budislav’s sons was named Jan for his uncle, who was a bishop, and it might not have been by chance that he followed in his uncle’s footsteps. After finishing his studies he became a vicar in Prague and in Vysehrad. In 1301 he was elected bishop and was known as Jan IV. At that time the Czech lands were ruled by the very young king Vaclav III., the last male member of the Premyslid dynasty. Bishop Jan IV.was known as a very well educated man who loved the arts and supported the sciences. It was he who asked the famous canon known as Frantisek Prazsky to record in writing all important events taking place at the end of the 13th and at the beginning of the 14th century. Soon thereafter ( following the so-called Olomouc murder) much fighting took place about who the next ruler of the land should be. Bishop Jan IV. stood by the young Jan of Luxemburk and later by his son, the future king and emperor Charles IV. He was a good and faithful counselor to both of them. Interestingly enough he strongly opposed the Dominican Order in Southern Bohemia, whose members convicted many citizens of heresy and recommended that they be burnt at a stake. Bishop Jan IV. traveled to the area around Pisek to investigate the trial. He was successful in preventing the death of many of the accused. However the provost of Litomerice, Jan of Sumberk ( who had some previous dispute with the bishop) complained about him to the Pope, accusing him of protecting heretics and of sodomy. Thus the Pope Jan XXII relieved Jan IV. of his office and started a thorough investigation. Jan IV, who was almost 70 years old, decided to defend his innocence in person and traveled to Avignon which was at the time the seat of the popes. He never expected that the trial would take 11 years. He was kept in some church quarters almost penniless, while his salary went directly to the Pope. Finally he was found innocent of all charges. Even though he was in such a difficult situation, he did not waste his years in France. He acquainted himself with French gothic architecture, and with their advanced book illustrations. After returning home and completely cleared of all accusations against him, bishop Jan IV invited the master stone mason Vilem from Rome to oversee the building of the first stone bridge in the Czech lands, namely in Roudnice. This town was at that time the summer residence of the Prague bishops. In the same location he founded an Augustinian monastery with a beautiful garden which is still very much admired. He also took good care of the church of St. Jilji in the Prague Old Town. There we can see the coat of arms of the noble family of Drazice. Jan IV also made some improvements in the Bishop’s Court of which very little can be now found near Charles Bridge on the Lesser Town side. He brought with him from France many beautifully illustrated manuscripts which became models for further book paintings during the Gothic period. His plea to the Pope to admit to the Augustinian monastery only applicants whose both parents were Czechs was ignored.

For us bishop Jan IV. represents evidence of a very strong national feeling for the country where he was born in 1250- 1251, where he grew up and where he served as bishop for nearly 50 years.

He died on January 5, 1343 in Prague.

His life and deeds bear witness to a kind heart, and to an effort to practice the ideals of Christianity in daily life – rather thanwhat was more common then and later - using imprisonments, cruel torture and burning of those accused of heresy.

Unfortunately the aristocratic family of Drazice died out with the bishop’s nephew ( also named Jan) at the end of the 14th century. Jan IV’s great understanding of fine art can still be seen in the Gothic decorations on a fireplace which was preserved in the ruins of Drazice.

Jana Volfova
Translated by Marie Dolanska

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