The Christianisation of Bohemia and Moravia

Bohemia_and_MoraviaThe Christianisation of Bohemia and Moravia

By Petr Sommer, Dušan Třeštík, Josef Žemlička and Eva Doležalová

Annual of Medieval Studies at CEU, Vol.13 (2007)

Introduction: The territory of what is now Czech Republic consists of essentially two lands, Bohemia and Moravia. Moravia was appended to the domains of the Bohemian princes shortly after 935, and definitively after 1020, but previously the two lands were independent units. It is therefore necessary to treat the Christianisation of Moravia and Bohemia as two separate chapters, even though there were intensive mutual influences between the two lands.

In the pagan era up to the ninth century the situation in Bohemia (and perhaps also in Moravia and among the Western Slavs as a whole) was characterised by a certain division of power between the people and the princes. Fundamentally, the princes were elected, and thus deposable. The Slavic princes were at first under the cultural influence of the Avar empire, then gradually came into contact with the Frankish aristocracy, which was already Christian. The Slavic princes started to be attracted by the culture of Christianity, but this culture was not yet acceptable for their people. Some princes could therefore, at the most, accept Christianity as a “private” religion. This was the first stage of Christianisation, documented more in Moravia than in Bohemia.

Very little is known of Czech paganism, because of the rapid and effective Christianisation. From the later sources it may be inferred that the Czechs had the same pantheon as other Slavs. The cult relicts include, in particular, sites of pagan sacrifice, known mainly from Moravia. Two such sites have been found at Mikulčice, which was apparently the primary stronghold of the Moravians. The first site was a rectangular post enclosure with a ritual horse burial and a cemetery, in the vicinity of which various anomalies were found, such as a burial of human limbs. The enclosure was in use from the end of the eighth until at least the mid-ninth century, that is, even after the “official” conversion of Moravia. The other site of non-Christian cult at Mikulčice is defined by a ringshaped ditch in which fires used to be lit; it lies close to the buildings of Christian churches. Other pagan cult places in Moravia were found in Chotěbuz-Podbora and at Pohansko near Břeclav. The so-called “blessed pool” at Stará Kouřim was a pagan sanctuary in Bohemia. The multiple fire sites in this area bear witness to cult activities. In Prague, the most recent research has identified the existence of a sacred precinct, enclosed by a ditch, on the “acropolis” of the later castle. The rise was called Žiži, which may be related to burnt offerings. Of greater importance, however, was a stone throne which stood nearby and on which, until the end of the twelfth century, Czech princes were enthroned.

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