The Treasury of the Church of Saint Thomas Before 1420

The inventory of vestments is carefully described in the Codex Tomaeus. From this detailed list we learn not only of the magnificent gifts of liturgical vesture and appointments but something of the structure of the church and the liturgical feasts celebrated by the Augustinians in the fourteenth century. Liturgical vesture enhancing the sacred atmosphere as befitting the dignity of God apparently was paramount for the Augustinians and their celebrations.

Each of the highest festivals (pro summis festivibus) feasts of the Church as Epiphany, Easter, Pentecost, Corpus Christi, the Assumption, All Saints and Christmas had specified attire that, at times, could be quite elaborate and personalized. Jan Kluc, a knight, for example, had his personal coat of arms, “of a white dove emblazoned on a golden field embroidered with a cross of pearl.” Nor were vestments the only donations. On the occasion Lord Henry of Rzedemburg’s funeral in St. Dorothy’s chapel, we read that a precious cloth “woven with a simple red lining” was given in his memory.

For the “greater” (pro maioribus festivibus) feasts of the Circumcision, the Ascension, the Nativity of Mary, St. Thomas and the death anniversaries (or requiems) of Henaslinus and his wife, Lady Margaret, who were buried below the chapter room, donors had stipulated the wearing of certain liturgical apparel. For example, on the foresaid requiems (or Masses for the dead) “vestments with matching dalmatics entirely woven in green, lined with red cloth with matching albs, stoles and maniples embroidered with the cross and images” were to be worn in memory of their noble donors. There is a notice in the Codex Tomaeus that Queen Anna of Bohemia (+1362), the third wife of Emperor Charles IV, had commissioned a set of red vestments embroidered with golden eagles to be worn on the “most solemn feasts” of the Church. Included in this list of festivals, incidentally, is the consecration date of St. Thomas on May 02nd. The friars often repaid their more generous benefactors such as Stephen, “the protonotary of the king” and Lady Margaret “whose ancestors were buried in the cloister” with interment in the monastic precincts. Hugwich, the attendant druggist and, perhaps, physican to the friars, was buried at the entrance to the sacristy while an otherwise unknown Gentensson was given sepulture in the chapel of St. Peter. The more celebrated as the Augustinian bishop Nicholas of Launy, imperial councillor and the first rector of the theological faculty at Charles University; Duke Alexander of Lithuania and his brother, Henry (who had been baptised in St.Thomas) and Hincon, the Augustinian auxiliary bishop of Prague, were buried in the choir.

Some specified “greater feasts” (“majoribus festis”): the Christmas morning Mass, the Circumcision of the Lord, the Purification, the Annunciation, the Ascension, the feasts of St. Augustine, St. Thomas, and the Christmas day Mass had their own prescribed vestments. Other “certain feasts” (certa festa) of St. Stephen, the Mondays of Easter and Pentecost, St. John the Baptist, the Translation of the relics of St. Thomas, St. Michael and St. Lawrence were also suitably endowed. For such occasions was also included an undetermined liturgical parament given the friars “after the death of the most serene emperor, Charles (IV)” in 1378. The prior, Conrad, later interred “near the choir wall,” had donated a vestment described as “red with green and gold flowers and lined with green silk.” Nicholas of Orzech, the chamberlain of the queen of Bohemia, who had given a "vestment…embroidered with a cross on a red field,” was repaid for his beneficence with burial in the chapel of St. Augustine. One Proczko, a courtier of Jan Henry, “the former Marquis of Moravia,” who had donated a gray vestment to be worn on the above-mentioned feasts, was buried “under a marble stone in the middle of the church”. Incidentally, the burial crypt of the Moravian marquises was in the Augustinian Church of Saint Thomas in the city of Brno.

Other non-specified Minora festa or Minora duplicia festa, “minor feasts of second class status” were celebrated with vestments described as either green or black. Thus, “Lady Ela, the wife of Andrew Rak, a citizen of the Old Town, who is buried with us (‘quae est nobiscum sepulta’)” had offered the friars a “green silk vestment, lined with gold cloth, decorated with white animals”. For the commonplace Dies Feriales or “days without any special commemoration or feast” vestments of the same somber colors (green and black) were generally worn.

Among the many noted treasures of the church were two magnificent canopies: one had been used for the imperial cornonation of Charles IV at Rome (1355) and the other when he as newly preconized emperor ceremonially entered the city of Prague. Numerous carpets, antependia and altar cloths too, were donated but more frequently than not for some specific altar or chapel. It is from the wills of such donors that we learn something of the former beauty and sumptuousness of the Augustinian church. One such area was the still existant chapel of St. Barbara (formerly entitled Saints Philip and James). Originally built as a chapter room over the friars’ burial crypt, it soon became a chapel of devotion adorned with three altars dedicated to Sts. Margaret and Agnes, Sts. Simon and Jude, Sts. Christicola and Bargaria, two young martyrs among the much venerated but legendary “Eleven Thousand Virgins”. Adjoining the Church is the still existant gothic sacristy containing a single altar in honor of St. Catherine of Alexandria whose dedication title lives on in a much later seventeenth century interpretation. Opening directly into the church there were, as far as we ascertain, seven lateral chapels with altars dedicated to Corpus Christi; St. Augustine “behind the church”; Sts. Peter and Paul; St. Nicholas of Myra; St. Mathias; St. Anthony, the Abbot and the original chapel of St. Dorothy. Finally, there were seven other altars dedicated to the Blessed Virgin, St. Augustine, the Holy Trinity, St. John the Evangelist with St. John the Baptist, the Visitation of the Virgin with St. Mary Magdalene, St. Wenceslaus with the Patrons of Bohemia, the Holy Cross, and St. Bartholomew with St. Andrew. Judging from such extant discriptions we possess, the Augustinians must have been fortunate in possessing many generous benefactors.

In addition to such outstanding pieces, the Church could boast of an astounding relic collection enshrined in monstrances, reliquaries and vessels of gold and silver magnificent even by late medieval standards. Especially treasured were putative relics of the holy cross, a portion of the seamless robe and the purple garment covering Christ in his Passion. The list continues with such astounding objects as a board from the table of the Last Supper, a vial said to contain some of the “lac beatae Maria virginis” and even a strand of her hair. The catalogue continues with a notice of Emperor Charles IV’s donation of “the arm of Saint Thomas containing… the finger of the glorious patron” which complemented the relic of that saint’s sole previously given the Augustinians by the Benedictine abbot of Brevnov. The inventory relates further that a relic of the head of “St. Dorothy, virgin and martyr, had been donated by the illustrious King Vaclav II, the founder of this convent of St. Thomas in Prague and grandfather of the most serene Lord Charles, King of the Romans and Bohemia.” Each of the altars once solemnly consecrated were endowed with indulgences in recognition of their many enshrined relics too numerous to mention here. Such a spiritual center certainly drew the faithful in their search for saintly intercession from all regions of the kingdom of Bohemia.

The Chapter hall because of the overflow of these relics was soon converted into the chapel of Saints Philip and James. The Codex Thomaeus gives some specific details that could explain the attractions and lure of medieval piety. As previously mentioned the Chapel possessed three altars dedicated to Saints Margaret and Agnes long venerated as patronesses of women in childbirth and young marriageable girls. The main altar of Saints Christicola and Bargaria will be described below while the third was dedicated to Saints Simon and Jude, whose cultus was associated with problems defying solution. The chapel was first consecrated on November 9, 1409 followed by the three altars on June 19, 1410. The Dominican auxiliary Bishop Vaclav of Prague, who consecrated the Chapel, granted an indulgence of 40 days to those who prayed before the altar-shrine of Saints Christicola and Bargaria, situated “in the middle of the chapel.” The relics of these two virgin martyrs who suffered death rather than compromise chastity were enshrined in an imposing central altarpiece above the burial crypt of the friars. With these two Saints were interred the remains of the martyred Holy Innocents; the relics of the martyred virgins Sts. Benigna, Christina, Catherine and Lucy (especially invoked by those suffering with diseases of the eye), the tempted, students and scholars. Other relics of St. Mary Magdalene, the patroness of penitents; two widows, Elizabeth and Ludmila, known for their charitiable works on behalf of the poor and indigent shared a place of honor with such remains of the holy Apostles Peter, Paul, Andrew and Thomas, the patron of the Church. The Codex also notes the presence of the relics of the Five Holy Martyred Brothers or monks who been murdered by roving bandits, timely patrons, certainly, in the rough fourteenth century. Vaclav, the saintly father of the Czech nation, was also the patron of the nascent wine industry in his native land. Candid, (one of the ‘Ten Thousand Soldier Martyrs) would naturally appeal to soldiers and military men as much as Paul, the first hermit, would be venerated by the Augustinian hermits. Lawrence, the deacon martyr of Rome, because of the circumstances of his cruel death on a gridiron, was in medieval times invoked by firemen, bakers and cooks as their particular patron.

For the Prague Augustinians, the fourteenth century was a period of slow but steady expansion that can be chronologically marked off in decades and scores. For example, in 1315 the sanctuary of the church was consecrated; in 1338 the cloister complex was completed followed in turn by the cloister brewery in 1358, the library in 1368, the main nave of the Church was consecrated in 1379 and the refectory was completed in 1398. By 1418 just before the devastation by the Hussites, the dormitory, the service areas (officina), the bakery and the great cellars were in full use. On April 17, 1379 Cardinal Pilaeus, accompanied by two archbishops and four bishops, solemnly consecrated the great nave of the Church under the patronage of the father and founder of the Augustinian Order, St. Augustine of Hippo, who now – after St. Thomas – became the secondary patron of the Church. The Augustinians had arrived.