Archaeologists discover secret passage in Milevsko monastery

Milevsko monastery, photo: VitVit, CC BY-SA 4.0

Archaeologists have made a unique discovery in the Milevsko monastery in South Bohemia. While creating a 3D scan of the monastery complex, they unearthed a secret corridor with an extended end hidden behind a massive medieval wall. It may have served as a safe for valuables concealed from raids by Hussite troops in the early 15th century.

Milevsko monastery,  photo: VitVit,  CC BY-SA 4.0

Legend has it that during the Hussite Wars, the abbot of the Milevsko monastery hid all the valuable items from plundering troops at the nearby Příběnice castle. After the castle was conquered, the items disappeared. Archaeologists believe some of them could be hidden in the newly discovered secret corridor.

The Premonstratensian Monastery in Milevsko has been undergoing a lengthy reconstruction since the early 1990s, when it was returned to the Premonstratensian order.

The monastery, which is one of the finest examples of Czech Romanesque architecture, was founded in 1187. In 1420 the Hussites set it on fire and it was taken over by the nobility. After the battle on the White Mountain in 1620, it was given back to the Premonstratensian order, but it never regained its former glory. In 1785 it was abolished and in the 19th and 20th centuries the entire complex fell into disrepair.

Jiří Šindelář
After the Velvet Revolution, the Premonstratensians came back to Milevsko and started to renovate it. The first building to undergo reconstruction was the deanery, followed by the Basilica and now, the tribune church of St. Giles. Jiří Šindelář is in charge of the archaeological research:

“The northern wall of the nave of the oldest church from the 12th century has been preserved to this day and there is an interesting architectural detail. Within the thick wall there is a passageway with a staircase which led to a platform of the original church, used by the nobility.”

Archaeologists were aware of the staircase from various historical documents, but they discovered a number of other walled-up cavities, such as a niche with original decoration, including profiled ledges and illusory paintings of gothic windows.

However, the discovery of the hidden corridor is something they didn’t expect to find, says Jiří Šindelář:

“When we created a 3D documentation, we discovered another hidden space. We squeezed through the corridor with speleologists and at the end we found a sort of extended space. When we put all the facts together, the only explanation is that it is a corridor with a safe.”

In the 90 by 60 centimetres passageway, archaeologists uncovered wooden beams. An analysis of the old timber shows that they were made from trees felled in the 15th century.

Researchers expect to return to the site within a few weeks, when the coronavirus restrictions are eased. They are hoping that beneath the rubble, which fills the end of the corridor, they might reveal some of the valuables that were hidden there back in the 15th century.