The Svatý Kopeček Restoration Project

The basilica complex at Svatý Kopeček near Olomouc will be renovated starting this year. The project, named "Restoration of the Basilica of the Visitation of the Virgin Mary at Svatý Kopeček near Olomouc, Phase II," is receiving financial support from the EU through the Integrated Regional Operational Programme (IROP) – Integrated Territorial Investments of the Olomouc Agglomeration (ITI OA). The project number is CZ.06.3.33/0.0/0.0/16_036/0005816. Construction and restoration work in the complex will continue until the end of 2020.

Sample from the restoration of paintings and stuccos in the Basilica of the Visitation of the Virgin Mary at Svatý Kopeček.

Description of the Restoration Project

Since October 2018, construction and restoration works have been underway in the pilgrimage complex at Svatý Kopeček. These works include repairs of windows and doors, reconstruction of flooring, plaster repairs, complete renovation of the electrical installation, heating system overhaul, low-voltage and specialized electrical installations (lighting, sound systems, security systems), facade reconstruction, and refurbishment of paved areas. Restoration efforts will focus on the renewal of existing artistic and craft elements, with special attention given to visitor-attractive ensembles (representative halls, basilica, Holy Stairs structure). Restoration will involve the refurbishment of stucco elements, wooden components, restoration of wooden sculptural works, stone elements, paintings, artistic and craft elements, restoration of artificial marble, sculptural works, stones, stained glass, floors (stone and wooden), doors, and windows, etc.

The work is being carried out in the following parts of the complex:

  • Basilica of the Visitation of the Virgin Mary, including adjoining spaces.
  • Holy Stairs structure (chapel, sacristy, museum, holy stairs, library, depository, and adjoining spaces).
  • Right wing (residence) - representative halls (Andrýsek's Hall, Chinese Salon, French Hall, Abbot's Room) and adjoining spaces on the second floor.
  • Right courtyard wing (residence) - facilities for the cloisters and adjoining spaces on the first floor; facades.
  • Courtyard of the right courtyard wing.
  • Main courtyard with the statue of St. Norbert.
  • Southern part of the cloister corridor of the main courtyard, including the facade.

The project also includes the renewal, expansion, and modification of the exhibition in the Matice svatokopecká Museum and the spaces of the historic library within the monument complex.

Enhancements or replacements of movable furnishings in the complex will be carried out to raise the moral and aesthetic standard. New equipment will primarily include furniture for the facilities of the cloisters considering their intended use, replacement of museum showcases; replacement of benches, and additions of amenities for visitor comfort.

Expected Scope of Construction and Restoration Work

Reconstruction and renewal of representative spaces on the 2nd floor of the right wing:

  • Andrýskův Hall, Chinese Salon, Abbot's Room, French Hall, and adjoining spaces (toilets, kitchenette).
  • Restoration of artistic-craft elements
  • Reconstruction of electrical wiring
  • Lighting (electrical wiring, lighting elements)
  • Heating (pipework and heating bodies)
  • Sewage and plumbing (pipes, fittings, etc.) of adjoining spaces
  • Security systems (fire alarm systems, intruder alarm systems)
  • Reconstruction/restoration of structural constructions

Revitalization of the Basilica:

  • Restoration of artistic-craft and structural elements
  • Reconstruction of electrical wiring
  • Lighting (wiring, lighting elements)
  • Sound system (wiring, sound technology)
  • Security (fire alarm systems, intruder alarm systems)
  • Heating or improving user environment comfort (heated benches)

Revitalization of adjoining spaces of the Basilica and the Holy Stairs structure:

  • Holy Stairs, sacristy, chapel, library, museum.
  • Restoration of artistic-craft elements
  • Reconstruction of electrical wiring
  • Lighting (wiring, lighting elements)
  • Security (fire alarm systems, intruder alarm systems)
  • Heating (chapel + sacristy)
  • Museum furniture and chapel equipment
  • Structural modifications of the museum's facilities, renovation of toilets

Modifications to the courtyard of the right wing:

  • Restoration of artistic-craft elements
  • Paving including driveway adjustment
  • Solution for mobile greenery
  • Drainage
  • Courtyard lighting
  • Facade reconstruction

Adjustments to the main courtyard:

  • Restoration of the statue of St. Norbert and artistic-craft elements
  • Revitalization of grass areas
  • Solution for greenery and paved areas
  • Renewal of the eastern entrance to the basilica
  • Placement of rainwater storage tanks

Reconstruction of the cloisters:

  • Creation of facilities and adaptation of several sections of the arcade corridor for social use.
  • Restoration of artistic-craft elements
  • Reconstruction of electrical wiring
  • Structural modifications to create facilities for social events
  • Sewage and plumbing (pipes, fittings, etc.) for facilities
  • Lighting (electrical wiring, lighting elements)
  • Heating of newly designed layouts
  • Security (fire alarm systems, intruder alarm systems)
  • Furniture for cloisters and equipment for facilities
  • Facade reconstruction

Goals and Results of the Restoration Project

The goal of the project is to carry out extensive revitalization of the monastic complex. The outcome will be the renovated complex of the cultural monument: the project addresses the restoration of both the real estate and the furnishings, including elements of both the exterior and interior. Unfit or, in some cases (such as sculptural elements, wooden floors, etc.), even emergency conditions of the monument will be remedied. The reconstruction and renewal of previously closed or limited-access areas will allow their new or improved use by the public (for example, the space of the historical library and museum will be renewed/expanded, and visitor tour routes will be extended). Also, by renovating the main courtyard, the internal historical garden, and making suitable modifications to the cloisters, new accessible areas and elements designed for visitor movement and use will be achieved. Measures will be taken to protect and secure the monument, including the removal of access barriers (e.g., the continuity of spaces or the restoration of the eastern entrance to the basilica will be addressed). As a result of the implementation, the monument will be fully utilized and reopened to the public, with plans to open newly accessible areas and new visitor routes.

New Svatokopecké Museum

In the last days of March, work was finalized on preparing the Svatokopecké Museum. The exhibition is located on the ground floor and first floor of the inner tract of the Svatokopecké complex with the Holy Stairs. Precious historical artifacts associated with one of the most significant pilgrimage sites in our country were gradually placed in the display cases. Many of these artifacts had previously been restored by professionals to bring back their original luster and beauty. Visitors to the new museum will be able to view fragments of the rarest preserved earliest phase of the basilica's decoration alongside original paintings. Both laypeople and experts will appreciate the displays of liturgical textiles, particularly a set of Moravian provenance from the mid-18th century and a numerous collection of liturgical utensils, among which two chalices from the late 17th century and a newly restored monstrance with St. Norbert, loaned from St. Stephen's Church at the former Premonstratensian monastery on Hradisko, stand out. Also noteworthy is a unique collection of Baroque cabinets with relics of saints, known as monastic works.

The exhibition emphasizes the pilgrimage character of the site, recalling local fraternities, the coronation of the miraculous image in 1732, and 20th-century pilgrimages. In the hall of the former library, Matice Svatokopecká will present current aspects of pilgrimage on changing exhibitions.

Another exceptional visitor experience will be a tour of the reconstructed spaces of historic halls in the building of the Baroque residence. However, viewing these will only be possible under limited opportunities at pre-determined times.

The opening of the new museum follows the completed stage of restoration of the Svatokopecké complex, funded by EU resources. The museum itself will see further enrichments in the coming period. Later this year, the exhibition will be enhanced with an interesting feature. Thanks to smartphones and tablets, visitors will meet Jan Andrýsek, who was instrumental in the creation of this pilgrimage site in the 1630s. He will guide them through the complex and provide a wealth of additional information. Several information kiosks will be placed in the museum spaces, where users can look in detail at the decorations of the entire complex and learn more information. This part is a result of the digitization project of the Svatokopecké complex, also financed by European Union funds. The next phase plans for the complete restoration of the fresco decorations of the Holy Stairs, the Winter Chapel, and other previously inaccessible areas of the complex.

View of the interior of the new Svatokopecké Museum.

Restoration of the Main Altar

History of the Altar: The foundations of the altar itself were laid in the year 1723. The completion of the work on the altar and its subsequent consecration occurred in 1727. The construction of the sanctuary was financed by the abbot of Hradiště, Robert Sancio. The altar design was created by Baltassare Fontana in the spirit of high Roman Baroque; once completed, the realization was overseen by the Kroměříž goldsmith, Nikolaus Ferdinand Indegrentz (c. 1656 - Feb 8, 1732). The work on the sanctuary took a long duration and was completed in 1732, marked by the coronation of the Miraculous Image. The completion of the goldsmith's work was entrusted to the workshop of Jan Sturmer, a sculptor active in Olomouc, and after his death, the commission was taken over and finished by sculptor Josef Winterhadler Sr. The total cost for the works amounted to 22,000 gold coins.

In the years 1731-1732, Wolfgang Rossmayer, a goldsmith from Olomouc (active 1708-1752), added to the altar an antependium made of hammered silver and gilded copper, now lost, according to a precise drawing valued at 1614 gold coins and 42 kreutzers (the antependium was transferred to the chapel of St. John the Baptist at the Olomouc cathedral at the end of the 19th century and is today missing; it featured a prominent ornamental frame with a lattice decor and the relief of the Lamb of God on the Book of Isaiah's prophecy at the center, flanked by two relief allegorical figures). Six now-lost silver candlesticks in the "Augsburg fashion" were crafted by the Olomouc goldsmith Franz Joseph Rossmayer.

Main altar, historical painting.

A major repair took place in 1894 when the silver tabernacle was completely disassembled and repaired in the Prague goldsmith workshop of Jan Tengler. The current antependium was made in 1901.

The entire altar stands over 6 meters tall and 3.5 meters wide. The architecture is up to a meter deep in places, making manipulation very complex. Restoration work, which has been ongoing since the fall of 2018, aims to remove corrosion products, manufacture missing parts, and perform overall conservation including final surface finishing. At the same time, the wooden structure of the altar is undergoing complete restoration. The work is being carried out by the restoration studio RiZe.

From the History of Restoration at Svatý Kopeček

The history of the place known as Svatý Kopeček is full of changes, transformations, renewals, and substitutions. The earliest chapel, consecrated at this site on April 3, 1633, was thoroughly renovated in the early 1650s after being devastated during a Swedish raid in 1645. A significant change occurred between 1669, when the foundation stone of the present basilica was laid, and 1677, when its construction was completed and the original chapel was demolished.

As the centennial of the pilgrimage site and the associated coronation of the Miraculous Image of the Virgin Mary approached, a decision was made for another major renovation of the entire pilgrimage complex. The renovations, carried out from 1721 to 1732, involved replacing all the altars, including the main one, dismantling the gigantic wooden pulpit, and producing a new one. The walls were also covered with new artificial marble pilasters. The painting decor was updated; Steger's paintings in the pendentives and two side walls in the chapels of St. Joachim and St. Joseph were replaced by a new fresco by Jan Kryštof Handke. The stucco decor also underwent significant transformation. The previously modest color scheme of the sculptural decoration in shades of white, highlighted only in detail with ochre and gilding—as known, for example, from the decor of the Dominican church St. Maria Rotunda in Vienna—was replaced by an exceedingly colorful composition. This design perfectly and, in a concept that might be exaggeratedly called horror vacui, covered almost every square inch of all stucco and wall surfaces. This was complemented by rich painted festoons and garlands composed of colorful flowers and fruit. As a historical source states, "Neither gold, nor silver, nor marble, nor stucco was spared." Significant changes in the first third of the 18th century also affected the exterior, where new wings of residences built already in 1714 were complemented by a new concept for the facade of the basilica and sculptural decor on the cornice. Adjustments to the rear parts were also made, with the construction of cloisters and the Chapel of the Name of the Virgin Mary.

The dissolution of the Premonstratensian patrimonial monastery at Hradisko in 1784 meant, among other things, a loss of financial support for the regular and costly maintenance required by the Svatý Kopeček complex. Funding came only from the religious fund with an annual 400 gold coins and income from several fields. The "Rosenthal" foundation, which could have paid for repairs, was also withdrawn. The basilica, which continued to draw crowds despite prohibitions and restrictions, suffered from operation with insufficient building care. This inevitably led to its gradual deterioration. Nearly fifty years after the dissolution of the monastery in 1832, the centennial of the image's coronation and building's renewal fell due. Not only was no celebration held, but the church was also in a dilapidated state. This is evidenced by the speech with which the local priest Ignác Halbich welcomed Empress Caroline Augusta on September 21, 1834, saying, "This is the happiest day of my life.... – yet, it is also the most important moment for this poor church, which is near to falling into ruin." The planned delayed celebration of the centennial never took place due to the emergency condition of the complex.

A critical decision was made in 1844 by the Strahov Abbot, Jerome Joseph Zeidler, for the Strahov Premonstratensians to take over the administration of Svatý Kopeček. That same year, 5000 gold coins were sent from Strahov for repairs. From 1846, repairs on the building commenced in full, with costs rising to 7,000 gold coins. These were overseen by Strahov clergy, who were assigned here on November 8, 1846. Abbot Zeidler then regularly provided significant resources for the renovation, which included construction work on both the exteriors and interiors.

Part of the repairs involved the cleaning of the painting and sculptural decorations of the basilica around 1856. This was a vigorous cleaning in line with the technological procedures of the time, driven more by a desire for maximum optical effect—namely, brightening the space—than by a reverent approach. The work was carried out by the then-unidentified painter Jan Fabel, whose signature was discovered during restoration work in 2007 above the cornice in the Chapel of St. Joachim.

In 1891, the Litomyšl decorator Jarolím Štajntejnský worked on cleaning the fresco decorations of the Holy Stairs and other spaces. His signature with the date 24.7.1891 was discovered by the painter Janša in 1931.

After the complete cleaning of the silver tabernacle of the main altar in 1894, which was disassembled and repaired in Jan Tengler's Prague goldsmith workshop, a costly renovation of the interior began in 1903. The renovation started in the choir and organ area, where there was relatively good access to the decorations. The work was undertaken by the Šternberk painter Gustav Přeček, who had previously repaired paintings in a number of mostly rural churches in central and northern Moravia. The result of his work was evaluated in June of that year by the Olomouc conservator of the Vienna Central Commission for Monument Care, Professor Josef Kachník, who reported to Vienna:

"Although the retouching seems moderate and well done, one cannot agree with the polychromy of the angels on the organs, choir railings, and the figures of angels carrying the choir. These figures, like all others in the church, were originally white. The repair contractor, Gustav Přeček, painted the exposed parts of the bodies with an unnatural reddish flesh color, draperies in blue, green, lilac, almost each figure differently, so the original symmetry from the positioning of the figures was destroyed. Similarly, the four statues of the evangelists in the niches of the four pillars at the crossing between the nave and presbytery were polychromed. Further breaches of the harmony and symmetry of this artistic ensemble must be prevented by all means." He further suggested that the Central Commission intervene with the general of the Premonstratensian order, then-Abbot Sigismund Starý at Strahov, to ensure the church's renovation maintained the original character of the interior decoration in both whole and detail. He also recommended that:
a) all figures of angels and saints throughout the church be kept in their original white color and that their restoration be entrusted to a sculptor, not the painter G. Přeček,
b) that the fresco painting in the side chapels and on the vault be restored in its original color by a skilled painter, perhaps Urban from Prague,
c) that stucco and marble work be assigned to experts—perhaps the firm Erezio and Giavini, since it is Italian work and must be restored in its original manner, lest the character of the Baroque monument be destroyed,
d) that the provost of the church be urged to seek the conservator's advice for each restoration.

Following the report, a letter was indeed sent to the Strahov Abbot, in which the head of the Vienna Central Commission, Professor Alois Riegl, criticized that the work had begun without submitting a restoration program and the restorers did not preserve the Baroque character of the building. The abbot was asked to halt the works and to send a detailed plan for further activities. About a month and a half later, however, Professor Kachník informed Riegl in Vienna that he had agreed with the provost and the painter Přeček on the method of further repairs, so that nothing would be changed about the Baroque character of the church. The altar painting "Visitation of the Virgin Mary" by J. Spilberg was to be cleaned with ether to remove the varnish, lightly impregnated with poppy oil to enhance the color, and then the oil was to be removed with linen cloths to eliminate gloss. The fresco on the presbytery vault by the Viennese painter J. Steger (circa 1670), which was indistinguishably dirtied, would be cleaned with bread crust, cracks filled, and where absolutely necessary, missing parts supplemented with watercolors in the spirit of the fresco's painter. Otherwise, the ornamental decoration of the presbytery and nave would remain intact, only toning and gilding of the white clothing of the angels would be renewed.

On the proposal of Professor Riegl, the Central Commission then informed Josef Kachník that it agreed with the announced program provided that nothing on the frescoes would be repainted and asked him to supervise the work. The restoration of the presbytery, which was in the worst condition, followed.

This was primarily due to blackening from the large number of candles that had been used over the previous decades to light the church's most important space. At the end of the same year, 1903, Josef Kachník reported to Alois Riegl that "the repairs were carried out according to the approved program. Steger's (!) fresco on the presbytery vault was cleaned so that settled dust and soot were softened by fresh water vapor, then the surfaces were carefully washed with rainwater. No overpainting was found. Although the colors are faded in places, the entire painting from below (19 meters in height) is clear and distinct. Since the restoration of the paintings by the painter Gustav Přeček from Olomouc was very successful, he was asked to clean the indistinct mural paintings of the side chapels of St. Joseph and St. Joachim in the same way. In the right chapel, beautiful fresco images of St. Joseph's death and "Twelve-year-old Christ in the temple" were revealed, and in the other, "Joachim and Anna" and "The Betrothal of the Virgin Mary". According to the technique, they also originate from Steger and were not coated with varnish, as the conservator mistakenly believed in his work "Church Artistic Monuments from Olomouc". The altar painting "Visitation of the Virgin Mary" by J. Spilenberger was cleaned and overcoated with poppy oil, which was successfully done. The conservator supervised the work four times. The provost complied with all the intentions of the Central Commission and contributed greatly to the repair. He would like to restore the fresco in the nave in the same way, but he does not have the funds."

Vienna, in response to the conservator, acknowledged the report and announced an inspection by General Conservator Riegl in March. Whether Alois Riegl actually inspected it is not known. However, it is certain that in the spring of 1904, Josef Kachník was relieved of his role as conservator by the Central Commission for reasons unknown to him and was now a private individual when he announced in May of that year that restoration of the frescoes in the dome was continuing, with scaffolding already erected. In a letter sent a few days later, he reported that according to his information, this work had been assigned to people who had never done anything similar, not the restorer of the presbytery. He feared a poor outcome. Since he was relieved of his office before the end of the five-year period for unknown reasons, he now had no authority and therefore asked for intervention by J. Excellency. The response of the Central Commission was to write a letter to the Strahov Abbot, in which it "to avoid damage to the artistic value of the paintings, asks the general to influence the favorable development of the matter and especially to request that the repair program be presented to Dr. Kachník, whose instructions need to be followed." As it turned out soon after, the work was again assigned to the proven Gustav Přeček. The Svatokopecký provost then subsequently informed Vienna that "the paintings do not need restoration, just cleaning of dust. The stucco ornamentation will be cleaned and toned in the original manner. The work will be given the utmost care." The extent of Přeček's repair could be observed in more detail during the last restoration interventions conducted in 2007-2009. Přeček, in many cases, used extensive repaintings that were meant to retouch earlier damage and probably also previous repairs by Jan Fabel. Notable features of Přeček's activity included, for example, new floral festoons, imitating older templates from 1732 (for example, in the smooth surfaces of the main nave's ceiling).

The quality of Přeček's work was soon questioned as early as 1924, when the Heritage Office proposed "due to the unprofessional and insufficient previous repairs, new repairs should be carried out." That same year, Provost Půda arrived at Svatý Kopeček. He immediately began cleaning the church, using ladders borrowed from Olomouc firefighters to clean the entire church from accumulations of dust, and a gentler approach to decoration also included the introduction of electric lighting in the basilica in 1926.

In preparation for the 200th anniversary of the coronation of the Miraculous Image, a new renovation of the church's interior began. A substantial loan was arranged for this purpose with the Mortgage Bank in Brno. It was planned that the heavy layers of paint would be removed and the interior would be toned in light pastel colors with a predominance of white. The work was entrusted to the painter Jan Janša from Prague, and the renewal of the stucco decoration was carried out by the Olomouc sculptor Josef Hladík.

By the end of 1930, painter Janša had cleaned and fixed half of the fresco images on the vault of the presbytery. The Heritage Office report states that the central image is modern, painted during the last repair, and some parts of the images are overpainted, probably where they were previously faded. The stuccoes were washed with the last polychromy, revealing gilded lines with acanthus leaves accompanying the edges of the stuccoes. Three original tones of stucco polychromy were identified: figurative parts in white, framing in yellowish tones, and the background (smooth surfaces of vaults) in greenish tones. The sculptures on the main altar, on which artificial marble was being polished and was quite worn, were originally alabaster with gilding on the draperies, as determined by probes. The angel figures on the main cornice were similarly painted with an alabaster-like coating. Work on the restoration continued even in the winter months, as by February 1931, an inspection recognized that the repair of the stuccoes and paintings on the vault was satisfactory, although the gilding on the stuccoes was mostly renewed, it was not visually disruptive. The gilding of the originally alabaster sculptures on the main altar was washed off, only part of the original technique was cleaned and polished, the remainder, where the surface was too blotchy after the removal of the gold, was coated with a yellowish casein paint, which is noticeable only upon close examination, overall it does not disturb.

In the fall of the same year, intense work began on the dome, and in the winter and spring of 1932, work continued in the main nave. Meanwhile, the nearly destroyed painting of the sacristy and the oratories was also cleaned. In May, Janša completed the work and reported to the Heritage Office: "The paintings on the ceiling in the nave were mostly overpainted either with oil or tempera, whichever suited that painter, by an unskilled hand. I managed to completely remove the overpainting, so they now have much greater artistic value. The paintings in the sacristy and both oratories were in a ruinous state. The ceilings were completely black, water-soaked, and parts of the plaster had fallen off, so it was necessary to patch some areas. This was done at the request of Provost Půda."

By June 1932, the scaffolding was being cleared and by August the renovation was almost complete. From the records, we learn that: "The artificial marble of the walls and altars was polished, the organs tastefully retouched with the removal of the previous brutal polychromy of the sculptures and decor. On the frescoes of the dome and vaults, which were partly repainted during the earlier renovation of the interior, no new additions were found, only the inscriptions were unnecessarily highlighted, and the retouching of fallen spots went to the limit of acceptability.
However, on the oratories, where the fresco in rich ornamental framing was badly damaged by leaking, the decor was almost restored and the fresco retouched, under the excessive zeal of the provosts who proceeded too independently in their enthusiasm for restoration. In the sacristy, the ornamental framing and wall decor were also supplemented, not as puristically as on the oratories. Faults were pointed out to the provost, as well as to the painter, who was warned against similar actions; both defended themselves, claiming they acted bona fide."

The repairs not only left the basilica beautifully cleaned but also a debt of 600,000 First Republic crowns. During the economic crisis, the Strahov Abbot faced a difficult decision. The debt was eventually addressed, in part, by selling the painting "Rosary Feast" from the Strahov Picture Gallery to the Czechoslovak state.

Remarkably, in the middle of the war year 1940, repairs were made to the chapels of St. Norbert, Augustine, St. Paulina, and the Guardian Angels, which had not been reached in the 1930s. Painting work was carried out by Otto Stritzko, who took over the studio of the previous restorer Janša, while the stucco work continued under Josef Hladík from Olomouc. The Ministry of Education and National Enlightenment in 1941 provided a subsidy of 560,000 crowns for the repairs. For the following year, Stritzko requested an allocation of gold amounting to 60 square meters. In August 1943, Lidové noviny reported that "70 books of gold were consumed for the restoration of the church on Svatý Kopeček."

The last major repair followed after the tragic night of May 6, 1945, when bombing caused serious damage to the southern tower and roof of the temple, including the dome. The stucco decorations and the painting of Isaac and Rebekah were damaged. Repairs to the damaged basilica began in the summer of the same year. By mid-next year, Otto Stritzko, the sculptor Hladík's firm, and the gilding company Kubeček were again at work.

In the 1980s, a thorough restoration of Handke's frescoes in the oratory was carried out by academic restorer Renana Bartoňová.

After the Premonstratensians returned to Svatý Kopeček in 1990, the artistic decoration of the organ choir was restored, including the wall painting and stucco decoration. The survey and restoration of the paintings and stucco were carried out by academic painter Miroslava Trizuljaková.

A certain mystery remains that during their work in the chapel vaults in 2008-2009, the restorers encountered a technical anomaly, namely an oil painting that replicates Steger's style but is from a younger period. In 1932, a report stated that "work is being done in one of the southern side chapels, where stuccoes and paintings on the walls and in the vault painted in oil over apparently destroyed original frescoes were cleaned by Provošt Matthauser, who stayed there."

In 1941, Otto Stritzko noted that "probes revealed that the original fresco had not survived under the new painting. The walls of the chapels also feature oil paintings from 1864, again overpainting Stögrov's frescoes."

From both reports, it would follow that this insensitive and destructive modification should have been carried out by Josef Mathauser in 1864. However, Mathauser would have had to do this at the age of eighteen, which seems highly unlikely. More likely, it was one of the first attempts at modern restoration at the end of the 19th century, intended to save the irretrievably lost frescoes from moisture. However, it is a fact that Mathauser was in the 1890s "the perpetrator" of the oil-overpainted frescoes in the ambulatory chapels on Svatá Hora and Mathasuer was also active around the Premonstratensians, specifically at the Teplá Monastery. Perhaps further study of archival materials will clarify this small mystery.

The last extensive interior restoration of the basilica took place between 2007 and 2009. More information bellow.

A brief recap of just some of the repairs shows how much the appearance of this exceptional artistic monument of Moravia has changed over time. Each repair also brings an adjustment, some larger, some smaller. However, each is always driven by the aim of rebirth, transformation in the already stated "bona fide."

© Libor ŠTURC, Royal Canonry of Premonstratensians at Strahov

Renovation of the Basilica Interiors from 2007–2009 – Phase I

The Royal Canonry of Premonstratensians at Strahov, which has owned the pilgrimage basilica of the Visitation of the Virgin Mary at Svatý Kopeček since 1846, received an individual grant in 2007 from the Financial Mechanisms of Norway covering 60% of the cost for the restoration works. These works included the painting and stucco decoration of the interior from the dividing cornice upwards. The grant was awarded by the Financial Mechanisms Office in Brussels with a total amount of €367,238 under project number CZ 0018.

Following a tender process, GEMA ART GROUP a.s. was selected for the implementation. The work was carried out in three phases: the first phase in 2007 focused on the presbytery; the second phase in 2008 included the drum, dome, lantern, and the chapels of St. Joachim and St. Joseph; the third phase in 2009 covered the main nave and side chapels. Preliminary to the restoration, thorough laboratory investigations and on-site probes were conducted to examine the layers of paint that had been applied over the centuries on the original surfaces of the paintings and stuccos. A remarkable discovery was made of original paintings and stucco decorations from the 1670s located at the very end of the presbytery vault behind the altar architecture, which are not usually visible. Additionally, the exploration of fragments of the preserved original stucco decoration, along with chemical-technological analyses, brought new findings regarding the original appearance and subsequent changes. During the work, parts of the colorful appearance with surprising Baroque decorations were uncovered and are now presented as such.

The first part of the restoration, carried out in 2007, focused on the vaults above the presbytery covering a total area of 364 square meters. Here, numerous serious damages leading to widespread flaking of the paint were identified. The damages were of various types and were caused by multiple factors. One cause was the progressing degradation due to old cracks, which were caused by tremors of the masonry during bombardment by Russian artillery in 1945. Additionally, there was heavy contamination and powdering of the paintings. Due to previous water ingress, dark stains and loosening of the plaster layers from the substrate occurred. Under the layers of dust, further damages were revealed; a large part of the ceiling had partially detached stucco decoration from the masonry of the vaults and, since its creation, had been covered by a number of repaintings, preserved in various states of degradation depending on the type of binders used.

Photo from the restoration of the basilica's ceiling.

Laboratory investigations of samples collected, as well as subsequent large-scale uncovering, precisely documented the individual layers that had been applied over the centuries to the sculptural decoration of the ceiling. Over time, the original spatial understanding of the stucco in its architectural and tectonic effects – i.e., the differentiation of the "back" and "face" sides and the "suspension" of mass into the infinite space above the vault – was gradually lost.

During the restoration, an exceptionally valuable original decoration from the 17th century was also discovered, albeit only in a few places intact, hidden behind the altar area. After the original main altar was torn down around 1730 and a new one built, the highest parts of the decoration became invisible to viewers and commonly inaccessible for subsequent modifications. Once cleaned, this section provided a unique opportunity to compare the original painterly handwriting and technology with the condition preserved today. A detailed visual examination of the stuccos also documented the original decorative monochromatic concept.

Based on the information obtained, it was possible to determine that in the original decorative program, the stuccos were not colored over their entire surface. The foundation was monochromatic white, only locally emphasized by shading and possibly outline contours in ochre color. Probably only the basic surface was colored.

Experts from the Institute of Art History of the Academy of Sciences of the Czech Republic managed to decipher the mystery of the author of some of the paintings, previously known only as the Italian painter Jacobus. This Italian artist was Giacomo Tencalla (1644, Bissone - 1690/1692), who came from the same family as the basilica's architect Giovanni Pietro Tencalla. The stucco decorators—Quirino Castelli, Carlo Borsa, Domenico Gagino, and Matheo Contessi—also came from the same region in northern Italy, Ticino.

After a complete cleaning, removal of surface dirt, fixation of powdered paintings, and deep injection, all overpaintings were removed.

During the reconstruction of the angel sculptures on the main cornice in the presbytery, it was found that beneath later, hard overlay stucco layers applied during past repairs, there is an original, artistically very high-quality surface in "polished white" with a polychromatic layer of shading. The work revealed a high degree of destruction of all these quality sculptures, necessitating extensive reconstruction work. Parts of the sculptures had been broken in the past, parts were completely missing, and were variously supplemented (fingers, hands, even entire heads). Some parts had to be reconstructed anew.

Phase II – the Dome

In the subsequent phase, conducted in 2008, scaffolding was erected to the very top of the dome. Work also took place in two adjacent chapels covering a total area of 263 square meters. While the stucco decoration seamlessly continued from the presbytery and had the same authors, in this phase, the restorers encountered additional artists. The paintings in the dome depict events from the lives of six Old Testament women: Sarah—Abraham's wife, Rebekah—Isaac's wife, Abigail—David's wife, Bathsheba—mother of King Solomon, Judith—who overcame the Assyrian general Holofernes, and Esther—wife of the Persian king Ahasuerus; smaller cartouches feature the prayer "Hail, Holy Queen (Salve Regina)." These are the work of the German painter Johann Steger, as are the paintings in the side chapels dedicated to Saint Joachim and Saint Joseph.

Photo from the restoration of the dome.

Before the grand celebrations of the coronation of the statue of the Virgin Mary in 1732, significant changes were made to the entire interior, where the surfaces of the sculptural decoration were painted in vibrant colors and large areas under the dome were even adorned with new frescoes featuring allegories of the four continents. The Olomouc painter Jan Kryštof Handke was instrumental in this decoration.

The stucco decor was cracked, showing local damage and inconsistencies caused by the weakening of the stucco binder, and was significantly damaged mechanically in some areas.

To analyze the individual layers and composition of the material, it was necessary to take samples for laboratory investigations. Infrared reflectography was also used for the paintings, allowing penetration through the paint layer, or overpainting, to discover facts not visible in ordinary daylight. Among other things, preparatory sketches made with red clay, which the painter used for applying color layers, were proven.

The lantern above the dome was also heavily damaged. Additional material—wood—from which more than two-meter-high gilded half-pillars ending in angel heads were carved, and at the very top at a height of 43 meters, a dove representing the Holy Spirit was set in rays. The wooden parts were thoroughly treated against wood-destroying pests in the studio, centimeter by centimeter, earlier paintings removed, and after puttying, retouching and gilding followed.

During the cleaning of the stucco decoration, it was necessary to remove later inappropriate modifications in many places, particularly aluminum foil, which had covered older gilding during the last modifications in the early 1930s. Missing and damaged parts needed to be re-gilded with gold leaf.

Restorers had to climb the scaffolding to the dome countless times over the year to gradually remove unsuitable older fillings and overpaintings and replace them with new ones using more suitable technology. All their interventions were carefully consulted with heritage conservation experts.

Phase III – Main Nave and Side Chapels

When restorers in the third phase, conducted in 2009, thoroughly examined the state of the decoration of the main nave and the six adjacent chapels, they again found significant damage, mainly due to earlier moisture in the masonry. This damaged part of the paintings, but the material from which the stuccos were made also degraded due to the long-term effects of moisture. In several places, ornamental plasterwork was falling off, some iron fittings of the sculptural decoration were completely rusted, and rust growth had torn apart some of the sculptures. The most significant destruction was found in the Chapel of the Guardian Angel.

The most challenging work was mainly the consolidation of compromised stuccos and the subsequent dismantling of disintegrating parts of the sculptures. Similarly demanding was the sculptural plastic reconstruction of missing parts of the sculptures—hands, fingers, feet, and bodies of cherubs.

Another major problem in the restoration of the stucco decoration of the nave's vault was the restoration of the polychrome painting of the stuccos and their gilding. After consolidating and gluing the disintegrated degraded elements and removing non-original additions, restorers reconstructed the missing elements, drawing on the morphology of the preserved original sculptures.

Restoring the paintings also posed a daunting task. While the frescoes in the main nave, created by Giacomo Tencalla, were in a relatively favorable condition, the paintings in the side chapels were extraordinarily damaged. Original frescoes by Johann Steger were preserved only on the walls, while his medallions in the chapel vaults had been unfortunately overpainted with oil paints in the 19th century. The overpainting of the medallions in the chapels had destroyed the original 17th-century paintings to such an extent that they could not be uncovered, and only the newer overpainting was restored.

It was valuable to find that significant color modifications to the walls and stuccos, which occurred in the early 18th century, are preserved in the Chapel of Saint Augustine and Saint Norbert to the extent that later paintings could be removed and their baroque appearance presented in remarkable and unusual color combinations for us today.

Updates from the Restoration of the Site

October – December 2018

Scaffolding was erected in the church on the left side up to the presbytery, the altar in the presbytery was dismantled and transported to the workshop for restoration. Restorers are cleaning sculptures, paintings, and decorations of the church for extended restoration surveys (main altar, baldachin tabernacle, pulpit, statues in niches, stucco frames of wall paintings in side chapels, walls of the presbytery, side altars, and the church, wall paintings both figurative and decorative, oil paintings, and the Andrýsek Hall.)

Information Sign Announcing Ongoing Repairs

Scaffolding was erected inside the church from the left side up to the presbytery. The altar was dismantled and transported to the workshop for restoration. Restorers are conducting cleaning of sculptures, paintings, and decorative elements in the church as part of expanded restoration surveys. This includes the main altar, baldachin tabernacle, pulpit, statues in niches, stucco frames of wall paintings in the side chapels, walls of the presbytery, side altars, and the church, as well as figurative and decorative wall paintings, oil paintings, and the Andrýsk Hall.

January 2019
Scaffolding construction continued on the right side of the basilica interior from the church entrance. Due to climatic conditions, restoration work is only being conducted inside the church, including trimming the internal damp plasters in the winter chapel. The remaining tiles were removed in Andrýsk Hall, and materials affected by dry rot were also removed.

February 2019
Restoration work in the church continued, and construction began in the ambits; damp plaster in the winter chapel was trimmed. Ongoing exploratory work is being supplemented, and restoration and construction methods are being discussed in detail with heritage authorities, including thorough planning of reconstruction and restoration techniques. Technical aspects related to the reconstruction of part of the ambits were also discussed during the month.

March 2019
March saw a control day at the restorer's workshop for the metal parts of the main altar. Construction work began in Andrýsk Hall, involving the removal of parquet floors for their subsequent restoration and the gradual removal of parts affected by dry rot, primarily old fill under the floor. Painted wallpapers on the walls were covered before starting these works. Agreement with the owners led to the start of ceiling implementation above the confectionery. Restoration work continued in the interior of the basilica.

April 2019
Work continued in Andrýsk Hall, on the restoration of the northern, so-called winter chapel, in the ambits, and on the floor above the confectionery, where new beams were installed. In cooperation with heritage conservation representatives, project documentation for various types of restoration is being refined.

May 2019
In Andrýsk Hall, the removal of parts contaminated with dry rot was completed. New heating units were prepared for installation in the historic halls. Restoration work continued in the church and construction work in the ambits. The new ceiling above the confectionery was completed. In the representation halls, all installations will be laid in the floors and covered in week 22. The foundation for the tiled stove in Andrýsk Hall was completed.

June 2019
Construction work continued in the ambits and representation halls. After complex preparations, which involved the challenge of getting heavy machinery into the courtyard areas, restorers used a crane to lower the stone statue of St. Norbert in the courtyard. The supplier carried out high and low voltage installations in the interiors. Pressure tests were also successfully completed. The ceiling above the confectionery was finished, the space was painted, and handed over to the owner.

Photo from the restoration of the ceiling spaces above the main altar.

Scaffolding was erected in the church from the left side up to the presbytery, the altar in the presbytery was dismantled and transported to the workshop for restoration. Restorers are conducting cleaning of statues, paintings, and decorations in the church for extensive restoration surveys (main altar, baldachin tabernacle, pulpit, statues in niches, stucco frames of wall paintings in side chapels, walls of the presbytery, side altars, and church, figurative and decorative wall paintings, oil paintings, and Andrýsk's Hall).

July 2019
Restoration work continues in the church and construction work in the ambits and representative halls. Electrical installations are completed in the ambits, and plastering is underway. Painting of the basilica walls has begun. Restorers are working on a design for internal shutters for the representative halls – the French, Chinese, and Abbot's rooms. The electrical conduit in the passageway is completed, non-functional cables are being removed, and a shaft is being installed in the middle.

August 2019
Construction of the podium in the winter chapel to the right of the entrance began; painting continues in the basilica, and on the left side, tarpaulins were removed from the scaffolding; other restoration work also continues there, including stair repair near St. Norbert. Construction work continues in the ambits, the ground floor of the courtyard wing behind the boiler room, with demolition of modern floors and partitions according to approved project documentation. New floors are being poured over the vaults, and wet exterior plasters on the facade of the courtyard wing are being removed.

September 2019
Restoration work continues in the church, work on plasters of vaults in the ground floor of the courtyard wing has begun, foundations under stone portals, fitting of stone portals, heating ducts in the courtyard wing, electrical installations, waterproofing in ambits, and construction work continues in the second floor of the right wing of the residence. Issues related to the repair of historic ironwork, such as grilles in skylights, are also addressed.

October 2019
Protective tarpaulins are being removed from all scaffolding in the church to allow light access for restorers. Restoration work continues in the church, plasters of vaults in ambits are being done, foundations under stone portals are being laid, stone portals are being fitted, and construction and restoration work continues - flooring in the representative halls on the second floor of the right wing of the residence is being laid. On October 23, 2019, a control day was held with restorer Ph.D. Norbert Riegl, who is restoring the silver sanctuary for the church and other metal elements. Work is progressing according to the construction schedule, and after the dismantling of all scaffolding in the church (after the completion of the stained glass), the sanctuary will be placed in its position.

November 2019
A sample of the plaster on the facade was taken. It was decided that only the paint would be removed by the end of 2019, and the new facade of the courtyard wing would be made in the spring of 2020. The angel statue was restored and placed back on the statue of St. Norbert. Scaffolding continues to be dismantled in the basilica. However, restoration work continues there, plastering of vaults in ambits, electrical and sound system installations are being done. When the scaffolding was dismantled, the brackets for hanging chandeliers were reinstalled. In Andrýsk's Hall, the installation of restored tile stoves is underway. In the floors of the future museum, rough electrical installations have been completed. Concrete was poured in the passageway, and floor converters were installed in the ambit.

December 2019
Doors and heating radiators needed to be installed in the representative halls to continue restoration work. The contractor is preparing a detailed work schedule so that it is clear which works will be performed from January 2020. A separate schedule will be prepared for the facades of the building, which will be approved by the end of January 2020.

In the interior of the basilica, restoration work on the walls of the chapels and the main nave has been completed, and the remaining work focuses on finishing the presbytery. Most of the interior of the basilica has had scaffolding removed.

January 2020
To complete the restoration work in the representative halls, doors and heating radiators were installed. Apart from the French Hall, the spaces can now be heated again. Proposals for internal skylights for the doors in the courtyard wing have been agreed upon.

After the scaffolding in the church was dismantled, a clean-up was conducted before the Christmas holidays. Work on the electrical installation, laying of tiles, and cladding is being carried out in the ambit chapel and part of the residence. It has been agreed that the stained glass in the presbytery will begin to be fitted after mid-February. Subsequently, the restoration work in the presbytery will be completed, and the sanctuary installed. The flooring in the ambit has been laid according to requirements, with only the skirting on the walls remaining.

February 2020
Restoration work continues in the presbytery of the basilica and further restoration work in Andrýsk's Hall, the French Hall, and the Chinese Lounge. In the ambit and courtyard wing, cladding, tiles, and air conditioning have been completed.