Archaeologists to use radar, mini-camera, to explore Rozmberk crypt


Archaeologists from the Museum of South Bohemia in Ceske Budejovice have been putting together a project to explore an underground level of the famous Cistercian monastery in Vyssi Brod, which houses the final resting place of the monastery's original founders, the Rozmberks. The vault was sealed almost 400 years ago after the death of nobleman Petr Vok - the last in the family line - and was never again reopened. Archaeologists now sense room for discovery.

Cistercian monastery in Vyssi Brod | Photo: Radio Prague International
For almost 400 years the grounds beneath the Cistercian monastery in Vyssi Brod have remained sealed and shrouded in mystery: its spaces were the final resting place for generations of the Rozmberk family, including the last, Petr Vok, buried there in 1611.The site has not been accessed since. Now, as early as next year, archaeologists will know more: as part of a project mapping the monastery's past, specialists from the Museum of South Bohemia in Ceske Budejovice plan to use non-destructive methods - namely radar and a mini-probe - to explore the grounds. The aim is to learn more about where and how the Rozmberks were buried, while leaving the interior and its "inhabitants" untouched. A little earlier I spoke to archaeologist Zuzana Thomova, in charge of the project:

"We're doing non-destructive research in the whole area of the Church of the Ascension of the Virgin Mary, of which the monastery is of course a part. The monastery was founded in 1259 and it was always intended that the Rozmberks be buried below the church. But the exact location of the crypt remains uncertain: it is most likely to lie beneath the church's most significant spot, that is, before the altar in the presbytery, but we do not know for sure. Around 23 men and 17 women were buried there, but for them to have all been buried in one crypt is unlikely."

Archaeologists and team specialists will first use cutting-edge technology, including geological radar, to measure and produce a full layout of the grounds and its forgotten interiors. Tiny two-centimetre wide holes will then be drilled for a mini-camera to be lowered. The probe should explore - as well as record - areas of the crypt, eventually providing information for a detailed 3-D computer model, even of Petr Vok himself. Zuzana Thomova again:

Petr Vok
"We hope we will be able to find the resting place of the last of the Rozmberks - Petr Vok - to be able to examine his remains. Many paintings of the nobleman survive to this day. We would like to be able to make a model based on his remains to determine how he really appeared in life. There could be problems: he could be buried within a broken casket or in a zinc tomb. In such an event we would hope to drill yet another hole to allow for access by the mini-camera."

Numerous legends abound about the final resting place of the Rozmberks, among them that anyone who disturbs the noble family vault will be cursed and will die within a year. Other legends pertain to World War II, when the monastery grounds were occupied by the SS and used to store, among other things, stolen artefacts. One legend, dating back to the 17th century, states that the Rozmberks were not buried in coffins at all but were left in chairs in seated positions - which specialists say is almost certainly untrue. By next year, when research takes place, archaeologists should know the truth. Experts from the team and Museum of South Bohemia in Ceske Budejovice hope to release all their findings for the Vyssi Brod monastery's 750th anniversary in 2009.