Honz Nex Palace in Telč: where a Czech conservationist’s home is his castle

Pavel Jerie, photo: Miloš Šenkýř / Czech Radio

Pavel Jerie has been a professional conservationist for more than half a century, serving as general director of the National Heritage Institute in Prague when many would be easing into retirement. He continues to crisscross the Czech Republic to advise on how to best preserve and restore the nation’s cultural monuments. Among them is the Honz Nex Palace in Telč that he now calls home.

“Telč Castle, the Jaroměřice Castle Church, the Church of Jan Nepomuk in Zelené hora, the roofs of the Vranov chateau, and of course the years of Český Krumlov. The castle in Uherčice, here in Moravia…”

Those are just a few of the cultural heritage monuments that Pavel Jerie, the doyen of restoration work, has supervised or worked on over the decades, including most recently, the National Museum in Prague atop Wenceslas Square.

Photo: archive of Pavel Jerie

Restoration work is painstaking, meticulous and bureaucratic. While the results are often treasured by the general public, he says, conservationists are not always appreciated in their lifetimes – certainly not by owners of historic properties.

“Of course, it depends on the approach. Some owners have had bad experiences, nothing like those of visitors to national flagship monuments – castles, chateaux, churches. I had an interesting experience on a tram once when the National Theatre façades were being repaired.

“Two skinheads were looking up at the restored National Theatre and one remarked there details he had never noticed before! That quite surprised me, that such a type knows something about the building.

“But anyway, of course, it’s the same with all professions. Some conservationists are good, some bad, some better, some worse. Just like doctors, just like lawyers. So, you probably can’t generalize. Some conservationists do lack diplomacy. When entering into negotiations with an owner, one should behave diplomatically, behave decently.”

Photo: archive of Pavel Jerie

A few years ago, Pavel Jerie found himself in both roles – that of conservationist and owner of a historic building, in an architectural jewel of a town on the edge of Moravia. Namely in Telč, among the best-preserved historic towns in the country. Despite his expertise in restoration, there are no short cuts on the administrative side of a project.

“What complicates monument care is that it is twofold. There are the professional institutions which give advice and then there are the decision-making bodies, that is, the municipalities, the regions. Not everyone can find their way.

“The officials who place their stamp on a project may see it from a different angle. So, often it complicates life terribly, the administrative proceedings. Even for the little things. It’s different when someone wants to renovate or repair an entire building or a matter of routine maintenance.

Photo: archive of Crescon

“Even though the owner de facto wants what the officials want, what the professional conservationists want. But there is extensive correspondence around it all, administrative deadlines, and it takes a long time. It can be a month or two before the owner gets the stamped approval. It’s a banal thing.

“For example, say your grandmother owns a historic building and wants to paint the windows. The windows were white, the conservationists want them to be white, the owner does not mind them being white. Still, she must ask the municipality, which will send the request to the National Heritage Institute, which decides how it will be. She then gets the decision: the windows will be white.”

Photo: archive of Pavel Jerie

Honz Nex Palace, since 2016 the home of Pavel Jerie, lies in the very heart of Telč, whose charming main square, lined with Renaissance and Gothic burgher houses with arcades and richly decorated gables and sgraffito, earned the town a place on the UNESCO World Heritage List. Last year, it also made National Geographic magazine’s ranking of top 25 “must-see” travel destinations worldwide.

Now Pavel Jerie’s “palace” – in fact a grand burgher house by the Church of the Holy Spirit, from the late-Romanesque period of the early 13th century – was a dilapidated, damp near ruin when the conservationist bought it. It was love at first site, not least because of its majestic surroundings.

“The wall of the church and of the tower and former burgher house, that is, the Romanesque part, date to around 1240. In fact, this is actually the site of the oldest settlement in Telč. At the moment the town was founded, a square and a new castle were built on the site of today’s Telč chateau, so Jan Mladší from Hradec founded a hospital here in 1414.

“And then Zachary of Hradec, who was restoring the chateau and the town as his residence, founded a new hospital on the outskirts. And he sold or perhaps gave the historic hospital to his personal tailor. And he built a Renaissance house here.

Photo: archive of Crescon

“Since then, it had been in private hands, but then the house was expropriated by the Czechoslovak state. It was returned to owners in restitution but remained empty for almost nine years. It was actually completely vacant when I bought it.”

Pavel Jerie hastens to add that he did not by the “palace” on his salary as a National Heritage Institute conservationist, but with his share of an inheritance after selling the family villa in Prague’s Hanspaulka neighbourhood, where he had lived all his life.

During the communist regime, the Honz Nex Palace was divided up into flats, and many historic flourishes were carted off or disappeared behind new walls and ceilings. While subsidies were available to offset renovation costs, Pavel Jerie also spent hours hunting through bazars and antique shops to find appropriate fittings.

“Fortunately, the damage to the ceilings was minimal. What the owners really looked after, even though it was empty for many years, was the roof, so it was not leaking. But there were some devastating “renovations” by the housing company in the 1970s, when it replaced doors, put up chipboard walls, PVC on the floors and the like.

“But you can find replacements. Many owners either throw historic bits away or sell them. So, it’s not a problem to buy a historic door or hinge lock in the end. Of course, it takes work. One has to search and search on the internet.”

Photo: archive of Pavel Jerie

The results have been striking. For his restoration and preservation of the architectural monument, Pavel Jerie received a Patrimonium pro futuro Award. But he gives credit where credit is due – to local conservationists and the company that realised his vision – also for making him feel at home in Telč.

“When I moved to Telč, for the first two years or I met in the afternoon with the local conservationists every month, right here. Most of them were young, and we would discuss their issues, agree on the way forward…

“Some homeowners seek my advice, which has a cultural impact on the town, I would say, which makes me happy. I was also pleased a local construction company worked on it, they brought their wives, children, even brothers-in-law and the like to see the work progress. What a nice thing to do! I was pleased they felt good about the work. In fact, they were proud of the results.”

Every man’s home is his castle, as they say. Taking pride of place in the Honz Nex Palace, alongside a corridor full of photographs of Pavel Jerie’s ancestors, is one of Tomáš Garrigue Masaryk, the first president of Czechoslovakia, taken by his friend the writer Karel Čapek, and signed by the President himself.

These are just a few of the personal and historic treasures with which the conservationist has decorated the interior of the burgher house, including a table where Masaryk once sat, alongside a carpet that Čapek helped his grandfathers, one a philosopher the other an architect, pick out.

“Masaryk sat there, yes. My parents kept the table in the family all those years. Even though money was tight, it was simply out of the question to sell it or replace it with something modern. They had respect for it, and I thank my parents for that. So, I thank my grandfathers for getting it, and for my parents for keeping it.”

First Republic furnishing, within Renaissance walls, crowned by Gothic arches. In short, cultural heritage.

Authors: Brian Kenety , Miloš Šenkýř
run audio