Discovery of Rosenberg tomb upends legend

04-12-2009

The House of Rosenberg was one of the most powerful noble families in Czech history. They were the de facto rulers of Bohemia for much of the Middle Ages, but their dynasty came to an end with the death of the celebrated Petr Vok, in 1611. Now, archaeologists in South Bohemia, where the family had its seat, have come across their family tomb, and in doing so have set straight a well-known legend that surrounds them.

The Church Ascension of the Virgin Mary in Vyšší Brod, photo: www.czechtourism.comThe Church Ascension of the Virgin Mary in Vyšší Brod, photo: www.czechtourism.com The mighty Rosenbergs left many a legend behind them when their lineage ended in the early 17th century. Among those is one that said the last of the line were not buried as normal, but had their bodies seated on golden thrones around an oak table, symbolically continuing their reign into the afterlife. The entrance to the tomb was then said to be sealed in such a way as for it never to be found. Now, nearly 400 years later, archaeologists (armed with drills against history’s mysteries) found a much different situation in the floor of the Church Ascension of the Virgin Mary in the South Bohemian town of Vyšší Brod. Zuzana Thomová is the head of the study.

“The situation proved to be simpler and much more prosaic than legend suggests – the Rosenbergs are not sitting on golden armchairs. There is essentially a small space there where two tin caskets can be seen. One of them belongs to Petr Vok, and we haven’t been able to determine who the second one belongs to. And then there is a number of broken wooden coffins according to written records, there should be ten generations of members of the Rosenberg dynasty in the tomb.”

Who lies next to Petr Vok, the last of the Rosenbergs, will just have to be guessed at, as there will be no hands-on study of the family’s tomb. Very concerned about changing the environment in the tomb, the archaeologists used the least intrusive methods possible, drilling only a three-centimetre hole an arm’s length down into the vault of the tomb and mapping it with cameras. For all the missing golden thrones, they did find a finely decorated crypt with embellished reliefs, unique coats of arms, and an insight into burial habits that had previously only been known from writing. And all in a place where they had been looking for nothing in particular:

“Well, we weren’t exactly looking for the tomb of the Rosenbergs, we were doing this examination at the request of the owners, the Order of Cistercians, because they wanted to know the condition of the church’s foundations. So we did a geophysical measurement of the part they were interested in and we found a very distinct anomaly in the presbytery which we connected with the Rosenberg tomb.”

The main figure of the tomb, Petr Vok, was not only significant as the last of his dynasty, but also as a great patron of the arts and sciences. He gave vast financial support to these studies and created one of the largest libraries in Central Europe. He was famed for a sense of justice and magnanimity to the poor, all of which gave the historian František Palacký reason to write of him as one of history’s greatest Czechs.

04-12-2009