Find proves main Czech pilgrimage site Velehrad was settled at time of Great Moravian Empire, say archaeologists


Archaeologists have just discovered what they say is the first evidence that the Czech Republic’s most important pilgrimage site was inhabited during the era of the Great Moravian Empire; pieces of ceramic material found during a dig at Velehrad are being seen as proof that it was indeed settled in the 9th century.

Photo: CTKPhoto: CTK On July 5 every year thousands of Czech Roman Catholics gather at the Basilica of the Assumption of the Virgin Mary and Saints Cyril and Methodius in the south Moravian town of Velehrad.

They are there, on Cyril and Methodius day, to celebrate the evangelisation of the Slavs by the two Greek missionaries in the 9th century. The huge popularity of the annual mass makes Velehrad the country’s most important pilgrimage site.

Cyril and Methodius came to the Great Moravian Empire at the behest of Prince Rastislav, and some Czechs believe that when they arrived in the Slavic state Velehrad was one of its most important centres.

Photo: CTKPhoto: CTK However, others question whether Velehrad was even settled in the 9th century. That dispute may now have been resolved. During an archaeological dig at the basilica several significant pieces of ceramic material were found, archaeologist Zdeněk Šenk announced earlier this week.

“We can say with 99 percent – or 100 percent – certainty that this ceramic material is from the period of the Great Moravian Empire. It bears typical markings of that era. It is basically the first evidence of as-yet undefined human activity at that time on the site of the basilica. I’m talking about settlement before the actual building of the basilica itself in the Romanesque period, in the first half of the 13th century.”

Photo: CTKPhoto: CTK Zdeněk Šenk says, though, that he is reluctant to speculate as to exactly what kind of settlement existed at Velehrad during the era of the Great Moravian Empire.

He and his team from the company Archia Olomouc have been examining the Basilica of the Assumption of the Virgin Mary and Saints Cyril and Methodius since last autumn. As well as the valuable ceramics, they have uncovered the graves of people buried in the 13th century and a sophisticated drainage canal system.