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Castle in Bečov nad Teplou.


Concise history of the reliquary and it

On 5 November 1985, an outstanding monument of world-class significance was rediscovered by criminologists at the castle of Bečov nad Teplou (Petschau) in Czechoslovakia - the shrine of St Maurus, dating from the first quarter of the 13th century.

It was buried by its owners - the Beauforts - under the floor of the castle chapel in the last days of the Second World War, just before they (being the members of NSDAP) left the Czechoslovak Republic in 1945. Forty years later it was discovered and presented to the surprised and enchanted Czech and foreign public as "the discovery of the century". The shrine of St Maurus certainly is a unique and unrivalled example of its kind and a beautiful testimony of the late Romanesque goldsmiths' art, one of few preserved shrines of this kind in Europe.

The reliquary belongs to the sarcophagus type (circa 140 cm long, 65 cm high and 42 cm wide). The wood case is entirely covered with goldsmiths´ work of copper-gilt and with an abundant colourful decoration of enamel, brown varnish plates and filigree set with precious stones. The slopes of the roof are decorated with medallions depicting the scenes from the life of St Maurus and St Timothy and by the iconographic cycle of St John the Baptist. The borders of both slopes of the roof are decorated with altering enamel and filigree. The statuettes of the 12 apostles stand in front of plates decorating the sides of the wooden case. The medallions show scenes from the life of Moses. The richly decorated gable with the statue of Christ has the same structure as that of St Maurus at the other end of the shrine.

Restoration of the reliquary constitutes an extremely difficult and time-consuming process. After having spent so many years hidden under the floor of the chapel in dump soil, the reliquary's condition was heavily dilapidated. The whole shrine was dismantled for restoration purposes. When meticulously disassembling the adornments of the destroyed wooden case, restorers gradually detected the scope of damage. In particular, the poor condition of metal parts - corrosion, fissures and inadequate cohesion of some parts (see photo from 1986: gables with the statues of Christ and St Maurus, as well as both side views). Solving the above problems necessarily involved various restoration procedures or applied goldsmith's techniques, some of them forgotten since the Middle Ages. Parts of the decoration were laid on a polystyrene model of the case (gables with the statues of Christ and St Maurus, parts with the scenes from the life of St Maurus, the cycle of St John the Baptist and the bottom of the shrine). The original oak wood case as well as the remains of the bottom of the shrine were deposited separately.

The Institute of Historic Monuments in Plzeň (Pilsen), now the trustee of the monument, has authorized restorers Alena Nováková and Andrej Šumbera to perform comprehensive restoration. A highly challenging restoration process, unrivalled both in this country and abroad, was commenced in 1991. A commission closely watched the restoration; each step was subject to prior authorization. The whole process entails detailed survey of the monument and careful documentation of the implemented works in the years 1991-2002.

Before making the new wooden case, the restorers used models facilitating the reconstruction of the exact shape and dimension of the original reliquary (see application of the adornments on the first linden wood model). After measuring of all the differences the second linden wood model was constructed, and finally the walnut wood case. Nevertheless there still were several small adjustments to be made. To see how complicated the process of mounting the adornments onto the surface of the definitive case was, see the following photos. You can see the mounting onto the case in June 1999. In April of 2002 the core of the nut is definitely completely set. The original oak wood case had been preserved.

 

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