Barefoot Carmelite Sisters flee central Prague to build their own monastery on the periphery

Prague’s Hradčany Square right next to Prague Castle is a top-notch address, but with hordes of tourists and ever rising noise levels it is not conducive to quiet contemplation and prayers. This led the community of Barefoot Carmelite Sisters to roll up their sleeves and get to work to turn a derelict farmhouse on the periphery into their new spiritual retreat.    

The order of the barefoot Carmelite Sisters was founded during the 12th century on Mount Carmel in Israel and reformed by Saint Teresa of Avila in 16th century Spain. The nuns originally walked barefoot, but as the order spread to places with harsher winters, the rules adapted. However what has not changed is that the order lives isolated from the world in silence and contemplation. The sisters rarely venture outside of their spiritual retreat and even do their shopping online.

The Prague-based order originally lived in Prague's Hradčany square right next to Prague Castle. But when the noise levels and the hustle and bustle around their monastery increased they looked around for a new home in a quieter setting.

Sister Marie | Photo: Barbora Kvapilová,  Czech Radio

Sister Marie explains how it all came about:

“In the monastery on Hradčany Square we had only a very small garden, because the building was not originally conceived for a cloistered order. That was a huge disadvantage. In addition, the noise was growing ever louder in the area, which is a problem because a quiet environment is important for prayers and contemplation. We decided long ago that we needed to find a new home but it took us 15 years to find a suitable site.”

In 2018, the Order purchased a dilapidated farmstead in Drasty, east of Prague, from the Vyšehrad Chapter. In 2020 the nuns left their monastery and church on Hradčany Square and moved into one of the buildings in Drasty which was in habitable condition.

Prayers and contemplations | Photo: archive of Carmelite Monastery in Drasty

Overnight their lifestyle changed from prayers and contemplation to daily work on a construction site. The completion of the building depends mainly on finances and because those are always in short supply the sisters are taking part in the reconstruction work to the best of their abilities, having received a dispensation from the Pope, for the duration of the construction.

There is noise, chaos, dust and loud modern music coming from the workers' radios that one would not expect in a convent. The sisters are actively involved. Although they get a lot of help from volunteers, they are not afraid to pick up a drill and assemble their kitchen cabinets, paint their cell or drive a tractor around the yard.

“It is not something that we envisaged or planned but it just turned out that way. All these machines and tools are a great help and the sisters soon learnt how to operate them. For us it was natural to participate in the reconstruction effort, not just to save money but because work is also a part of our spiritual life.”

Photo: Barbora Kvapilová,  Czech Radio

The reconstruction of their new home has been taking place in several stages and is now nearing completion. The monastery should be ready after Easter and masons are now finishing the cells where the sisters will move.

“In the wing of the building there will be six more rooms or cells for us sisters which will bring the overall number of cells to twenty one – that is the maximum number of sisters you can have in the community of Barefoot Carmelites in order to maintain the “family” character of the community.”

The chapel should be finished before the summer. Sister Marie is proud of how much has been completed.

“We are now standing in the chapel of St Tereza of Avila dedicated to the founder of our order of Barefoot Carmelite Sisters. It is in the shape of a heart, which is why we have used red bricks to enhance the symbolism. The wall plaster has been finished and there are some acoustic details that need to be finalized and then they will lay down a red-tiled floor.”

Photo: archive of Carmelite Monastery in Drasty

Plans are still in the works for landscaping, paving the courtyard and repairing the gatehouse. When that is done the Carmelite sisters will be able to return to their normal routine.

“Our day starts at 5.30 with a silent prayer in the chapel, then we attend mass after which we all get to work, depending on where we are needed. We work in the afternoon as well and we have two hours in which to relax – one after lunch and one in the evening, when we usually get together for some handiwork and talk.”

Sister Marie says that after years of hard work Drasty has become their new  home — a place where they can live much more naturally, in touch with nature and in a new intimacy with God, whose help and protection they say they experienced almost “tangibly” during the reconstruction process.

Part of the Drasty spiritual centre will also serve the public, whether in the form of a retreat, spiritual programs or regular services.

Authors: Daniela Lazarová , Bára Kvapilová | Source: Český rozhlas
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