In an extended special edition of Czechs in History we visit the town of Trebon, some 150 kilometres south of Prague. This is where the Schwarzenberg nobility resided until the Second World War. A dominant building in Trebon is the Schwarzenberg tomb. Join me as I take a tour with my guide Paul Stasek.
PS: "Welcome to the sepulchre building of the Schwarzenberg family in Trebon. My name is Paul Stasek. This building was constructed in 1877. It was built at the initiative of Lady Eleonora Schwarzenberg. Why was it built in this year? Before, all dead members of the family were deposited in the near village church, which is about half a kilometre from here. When the underground space was full, this new building had to be constructed. Well, it was finished in the year 1877, after four years. As to the architecture, you can see it's in neo gothic style, which was imported from England."
RP: Tell us a little bit about the Schwarzenberg family here. Why do they have a crypt here in this place?
PS: "It's connected with the Schwarzenberg family's history. Trebon was the first place in the Czech kingdom where a Schwarzenberg lord settled. The Czech lands were part of Austro-Hungary and the first member of the family came and settled in Trebon in 1660. Shortly after the end of the 30 Years War, they successfully gained further estates. They purchased some but also gained Hluboka and Cesky Krumlov, for example, by means of hereditary inheritance after one aunt of the family Schwarzenberg married into the Egenberg family. Because Egenberg had no children, she as a wife inherited the whole estate. The estate of the Schwarzenberg family was so large that they possessed almost the whole of southern Bohemia. When serfdom was discontinued in the Czech lands in 1848 the family Schwarzenberg possessed 250,000 employees on their estate and they possessed over 300,000 hectares of forests, fields and fish ponds. The family was very rich and that is why they finished this building in Trebon."
RP: And until when was the family here in Trebon?
PS: "At the beginning of the protectorate in 1940, Adolph Hitler confiscated all the family's estates. Why did Adolph Hitler do so? Because the ruler of the Schwarzenberg family refused to support the war mission of Adolph Hitler, and therefore all their estates, Cesky Krumlov, Hluboka, Trebon, were confiscated. Doctor Adolph Schwarzenberg in 1940 escaped via Switzerland to the United States where he stayed until the end of the war. They never returned to Czechoslovakia because he was informed that his property would very soon be expropriated and nationalised because of the communist and socialist development. So, this building has been in the possession of the state since 1945."
RP: We are standing in front of the stately neo-gothic building. Can you tell us what we can find inside it today?
PS: "There are two compartments. The first floor is the compartment dedicated to the chapel, which is used for sacral purposes. In the underground space, there is a depository for 26 coffins. On the first floor, which has an octagonal shape, we can see the imitation of stone. The whole building is constructed of hard burned bricks and covered with very durable plaster. On this plaster, the shapes of stone give the impression that it is all made from stone. This plaster is very nicely decorated with stucco.
"Until now, the interior never underwent reparation work because the plaster was made with a special method which is very durable. The space is dominated by the very modest altar. It is made from white sand stone, fine alabaster, and Istrian marble. In the centre stands a sculpture of Jesus Christ but not as a symbol of suffering and being crucified but as a symbol of hope. He was resurrected on the third day after crucifixion and that is why the sculpture features him this way."
RP: Did the sculpture of Jesus Christ stay intact during the communist period here?
PS: "Yes, The sculpture of Christ was left here during the Communist time. During communism the space of the chapel was regularly used as a space for classical music concerts.
"We have entered the underground where there are 26 coffins deposited. The eldest nobleman is Johann Nepomuk I. On the very top is the bust of Johann Nepomuk and on the left is the statue of love and to the right is the symbol of justice."
RP: So in front of me, this coffin in front of me, there is a body inside it now?
PS: "Yes there is an embalmed body in the coffin and there are double metal plates: the inner from copper and the outer from zinc."
RP: Now I wonder whether there have been any legends or myths about ghosts down here...
PS: "As to the chapel, there are none, but there is a legend of the ghost of the castle in the town. But this legend is still connected with the predecessors of the Schwarzenberg family, namely the family Rosenberg. They tell of a legend about the white lady, who was the unlucky daughter of the old prince Rosenburg who gave his daughter to a Liechtenstein nobleman in Moravia. This nobleman handled his wife very badly and this lady wrote several letters which were preserved until now. They are kept in the state archive which is also located in the Trebon castle and these letters document her fate. When this lady died, she began appearing some times during the night and other times during the days in several castles in South Bohemia - in Telc, Krumlov and in Trebon also. When she wore black gloves, it was to forecast that somebody would die very soon. When she put on red gloves, it was to warn of a fire. And when she wore white gloves it foretold the birth of a child. Yes, that was the legend."
RP: This looks like a very small coffin.
PS: "The first coffin in this row is that of Lady Eleonora Schwarzenberg, who gave birth to this baby - Prince Walter Prosper, who died just two days after birth. His coffin is deposited here, out of the row, because he was an illegitimate child. When Lady Eleonora stayed in Great Britain she fell in love with an English nobleman and this child was born from this love. In this small vessel is the heart of this baby."
RP: And why is it kept separately?
PS: "It is interesting that in the main crypt of the bodies of the Hapsburg family in Vienna, all the bodies are kept in one church and the hearts of the bodies are in another special church. We don't know why but it's true, it is so. And here are the original funeral bands from the time of the funeral."
RP: Different colours, black, green, red...
PS: "The bands decorated the wreaths used by the funeral and on this wall is the text of the telegrams which were sent by Emperor Franz Josef to the members of the family."
PS: "This coffin bears a special shape because it was made in China. The son of Adolf Josef was a diplomat who was engaged in Asia and died in Shanghai of diphtheria. He was put in a Chinese coffin and sent by ship over the ocean and therefore the shape of the coffin is quite different from the European ones."
RP: Yes, it's looking very simple.
PS: "His name was Karl Laurence Schwarzenberg. One intimate story from the Scwarzenbergs: Edmund Chernov was originally a member of the Schwarzenberg family but because he married a lady who was not from the nobility, a normal town lady, and he was involved in a Prague bank where he stole some big amount of money, he put the Schwarzenbergs to shame and they told him to go away. He went away from the family and accepted this name."
RP: So he was disowned and is now Edmund Chernov.
PS: "He travelled to Africa and on the way back...
RP: He died on board the ship?
PS: "...He died on the Maria and his coffin was thrown into the ocean. I will show you the last coffin that was buried here in 1939 and that was of the father of Dr. Adolf Schwarzenberg, Johann Nepomuk II. He died in 1938 in Vienna. But in the meantime, Adolf Hitler made the so-called Anschluss occupation of Austria; therefore the coffin was sent half a year later in 1939, and that was the last funeral Dr. Adolf participated in. Now I can tell you maybe one legend also: we are told that the German Gestapo wanted to erase Dr. Adolf very soon after the funeral. But he was warned and escaped across the border to Bavaria and into Switzerland and then to the United States of America."
RP: What about the Schwarzenberg family today?
PS: "Today, there are still 36 members of this family and they are managed by the Schwarzenberg Family Foundation. The president of the foundation is Karel, or Charles, Prince of Schwarzenberg, who gained some property back in restitution and now owns the castle Orlik, which is 60 kilometres south of Prague, and the small castle Chimelice. He was the advisor of president Havel for two years, 1990-1992, and now he is a senator.
"But the seat of the foundation is in the principality of Lichtenstein. Under the foundation, they administer the Czech district of the property, two districts of property in Germany, four districts now in Austria, in Steinmark, in Murau, and still one palace in Vienna. The palace was totally destroyed during the bombings in 1945 when Vienna was conquered by the Russian army, but it was very nicely repaired and reconstructed. A hotel and also the Swiss embassy are in this palace now."