The church of Boletice is the oldest standing Romanesque church in southern Bohemia. Its tower and nave were built in the late 12th century, its rectangular, cross vaulted presbitery was raised a century later in place of the original semicircular apse. Between 1410 and 1420 a sacristy with a superb net vault was added to the north side of the presbitery, certainly by the same Mason Hans from Prague – in the Czech literature, Jan Staněk –, who between 1407 and 1410 created, at the expense of Henry III Rosenberg, the net vault and sacristy of the Český Krumlov cathedral, both similar to that of Boletice. As a master from Prague, in both churches he followed the new, impressive style introduced by Peter Parler in St. Vitus Cathedral and the Charles Bridge in Prague, in the castle of Karlštejn, or in St. Barbara’s Church in Kutná Hora. The village church of Boletice can be regarded as a cousin of such masterpieces.
This suggests that the church of Boletice was no simple village church. And indeed, the church and the surrounding estates were donated in 1263 by the great art patron, King Ottokar II Přemysl, to the Cistercian monastery of Zlatá Koruna, founded by him some kilometers below Český Krumlov, along the Vltava. The new owners probably used the church actively, as it lies not far from their monastery. In addition to the superb sacristy, that they used the church frequently is suggested by the enlargement of the choir, which thus became suitable for monastic use, and in which 14th-century frescoes were discovered during the restoration of 1991. The Christological cycle, which follows the compositions of contemporary bibliae pauperum, begins on the northern wall with the Annunciation, and ends on the southern wall with the Last Judgment, in which the figure of a Cistercian monk can be seen among the blessed. At the same time, the spiral staircase, which passes up via an external northern tower to the western gallery, as well as the Gothic sitting niches built in the gallery, also refer to a secular owner. This was probably Ulrich II Rosenberg, with whom in 1420 Emperor Sigismund put the monastery of Zlatá Koruna in pawn with all its possessions. The surviving pieces of the former Gothic altars, made between 1390 and 1450, also refer to generous patrons: the statue of St. Nicholas, patron saint of the church, that of St. Catherine, made in the style of the “beautiful Madonnas” of the International Gothic, the Madonna with the Child, and the crucifix, from which the image of Christ was removed after the Good Friday liturgy, and placed on the catafalque usually prepared at one of the altars of the church.
At the same time, the church also served as the parish church of the neighborhood. Its entrance opened on the northern side instead of the more usual southern one, because the village lay to the north. The southern wall of the nave was once covered by a huge fresco of St. Christopher, which, according to its inscription, “1623 hat Walburga Jungfrau aus Hörwitzl malen lassen”, was commissioned in 1623 by Walburga from the nearby Hörwitzl/Hořičky.
Boletice in the 1920s. Photos of the already mentioned Josef Seidel, photographer of Krumau/Český Krumlov
All this I know from the chapter on Boletice of the monograph 750 let Kájova, published for the 750th anniversary of the nearby pilgrimage church of Kájov. In fact, Boletice is now part of the town of Kájov.
From Kájov no signpost points towards Boletice. On the map, only the name of the narrow Boletická Street suggests that we are on the right track. The road continues on no wider beyond the village, and it soon ends, at least for us.
The successive signboards command us to stop. We arrived at a closed military zone, at the border of the Boletice Military Area, where, according to the English and (bad) German text, entrance is prohibited, and according to the Czech inscription, it is subject to permission.
The Boletice Military Area was established with the decree of 1 July 1950 for the purpose of military exercises, or an eventual concentration of troops here, next to the Austrian and Bavarian borders. The creation of the 300 square kilometer closed area, which embraces a significant part of the highland to the west of Krumlov, required the liquidation of forty-eight villages. Their predominantly German population had been already expelled or deported in 1945-1946. During 1949 the few Czech inhabitants who remained here or recently moved in, were also displaced, and the settlements destroyed. The villages included Beníkovice (Penketitz), Bezděkov (Pösigl), Bílovice (Pilletitz), Bláto (Benetschlag), Boletice (Polletitz), Břevniště (Tussetschlag), Chlumany (Chumau), Dětochov (Tichtihöfen), Dolany (Dollern), Dolní Brzotice (Böhmdorf), Hořičky (Hörwitzl), Horní Brzotice (Perschetitz), Hostínov (Hossen), Hvozd (Hochwald), Jablonec (Ogfolderhaid), Kovářovice (Schmieding), Květná (Blumenau), Květušín (Quitosching), Lomek (Haidl), Loutka (Reith), Lštín (Irresdorf), Maňávka (Böhmisch Haidl), Míšňany (Meisetschlag), Mladoňov (Plattetschlag), Nová Víska (Neudörfel), Nový Špičák (Neu Spitzenberg), Ondřejov (Andreasberg), Osí (Schönfelden), Otice (Ottetstift), Petrov (Peterbach), Podvoří (Podwurst), Polečnice (Neustift), Polná na Šumavě (Stein im Böhmerwald), Pražačka (Pragerstift), Račín (Ratschin), Sádlno (Zodl), Šavlova Lhota (Schlagl), Skelná Huť (Glashütten), Stará Huť (Althütten), Starý Špičák (Alt Spitzenberg), Střemily (Richterhof), Strouhy (Graben), Svíba (Schwiegrub), Třebovice (Siebitz), Vitěšovice (Kriebaum), Vítěšovičtí Uhlíři (Kriebaumkollern), Vlčí Jámy (Wolfsgrub), Vražice (Proßnitz), Zadní Bor (Hinterhaid), Zlatá (Goldberg), as well as a number of farms, mills and other smaller settlements.
Mapire: Polletitz and the neighboring villages on the map of the third Austro-Hungarian military survey (1877-1880) and on Open Street Map, respectively. The area shaded in pink is the military zone. Click on the picture!
From the site Zaniklé obce a objekty po roce 1945 – Verschwundene Orte und Objekte nach 1945, dedicated to the disappeared villages in Bohemia
“How can one get to the Boletice church?” I ask the sister in the Kájov pilgrimage church. “Well … maybe you can get permission at the town council.” She accompanies me to the local government. However, they are already closed on Friday afternoon.
An hour later, we are at the Renaissance main square of the other neighbor town, Chvalšiny/Kalsching. This is a veritable city in comparison to Kájov, it even has a museum in an impressive Renaissance arcaded building, the native house of the engineer Joseph Rosenauer, designer of the Baroque timber-floating canal system, through which timber from the Czech Forest was floated, incredibly, over the Alps, to the Danube. Perhaps in the home of the Muses they know more about how those, whose photos of the church sometimes pop up on the net, get into the military zone. The ticket-selling aunt is pleased to help me. She searches for an e-mail in her Google mailbox, sent around just a few weeks ago by the command of the military district as a response to the tourists’ attempts of illegal intrusion, on how to get legally into the area. On Saturday and Sunday the military exercises are suspended. Thus on these days one is permitted to enter into zone “A” of the district, only on foot or bike, free of any further permission.
The next morning at six I leave on foot from the border of Kájov. Three kilometers later I arrive at a barrier. The operator soldier, who looks like the brave robber Rumcajs, watches me curiously. “I’m an art historian, came to see the Boletice church.” He self-evidently lets me pass, obviously my kind of people are everyday guests here.
In the zone, on the main road there are already some road signs for the Saturday and Sunday bicycle visitors, warning that it is prohibited to deviate from the main road. Soon I get to the double building of the headquarters protected by anti-tank obstacles. Here stood the village of Dollern/Dolany, which in 1930 had 57 German inhabitants.
The road starts to rise to the former Boletice, offering more and more beautiful views of the hill country of Český Krumlov. A plundered chapel along the way. It was tidied up after 1990, and its former holy image replaced with a copy of Neumann’s 1913 “St. Cyril and Methodius convert the Czech people”, a work of folk-inspired Czech national romanticism. At the border of the former village there still stands, albeit without inscription or cross, the chapel dedicated to St. Hubertus, the patron saint of forest people, particularly revered in the German mountains. And from here you can already see the tower of the church of St. Nicholas emerging from the woods.
A path marked in blue turns down from the asphalt road towards the church hill. A veritable Planet of the Apes feeling: the concrete road, which has not seen a car for seventy years, has been already reconquered by nature, overgrown with moss and shrubs, and partially absorbed by the marsh. It probably has not seen many hikers, either, because it is no beaten path. I advance in damp undergrowth to the knee, desperately swatting at the horse-flies and mosquitoes.
A four-sided holy image column appears among the trees. I’m on the right path. The former road leads up the hill. Ruins of stone walls, former houses, a school building, a cemetery wall. The woods, still regularly cut until the 1990s, by now has overgrown everything. At the end of the road, in front of the church, there are anti-tank obstacles.
There is the date 1666 above the gate of the churchyard. Entering through the gate, at the base of a German tombstone to the right, there is placed a small candle. Several other tombstones are lying in the garden, but they have no inscription any more, only the date of 1918 on one, and the round openings for two missing photographs, two empty eye sockets one on the other. Apart from the few meters around the church, everything is overgrown with weeds to the waist. Among the weeds, garden plants run wild, daylily, small, delicate raspberries.
After the evacuation and destruction of the village, the church of Polletitz long stood intact in the strictly closed military zone. However, from the early 1960s, the beginning of the Czechoslovakian thaw, looters began to raid the zone. They repeatedly broke into the church, stole Gothic and Baroque works of art, and whatever they did not take away, they mostly broke. Therefore in 1964 the remaining works of art – the above statues and the remains of the Baroque altars, benches and furniture – were taken to four different museums, and the bell of the church was requested “on loan” by the parish priest of Lužnice. In 1967, the already empty church served for a scene of František Vláčil’s costume film Údolí včel (Valley of the Bees), which fills up with an imaginary history, templar knights, fortress lords and hermits the Middle Ages of the Böhmerwald, emptied with the expulsion of the Germans. The fanatical ritter, Armin von Heide, comes here to the local priest to let him know that his friend Ondřej lives in sin with his own stepmother in the nearby fortress of Vlkov, that is, Wolf Castle (in reality, the monastery of Kuklov, see the top edge of the map above). The film shows the already empty church interior for five minutes, from 1:18:10 until 1:23:42. The forelorn furniture and the crappy thorn wreaths and crappy rosaries, the crappy statues which try to imitate Catalan Romanesque statues, but instead resemble African totems on the crappy altars in the sacristy and at the two walls of the nave, where no altar could ever stand in a Romanesque church, are all the film offers. But the church itself is glatt kosher.
After the Soviet invasion in 1968, this part of the military zone, lying closest to the Austrian border, was appropriated by the Soviet army. Since then, the Czech authorities had no input into the fate of the church. In 1989, they took it over, in a terrible state, from the retreating Soviet troops. In fact, they began its renovation in the twenty-fourth hour in 1991. The starting point of the renovation is well described in the photos of Monudet (black and white) and gemaerz (color) from 1990, as well as by the pictures of a 2007 concert that took place in the interior, which was conserved in the state of 1989.
From the clearing in front of the church we look around one more time in the beautiful and desolate mountain landscape. We have a photo and a description in hand, which helps to imagine, what we would have seen from the same point seventy years ago. The author, the theologian Engelbert Schwarzbauer (1877-1960), who was appreciated in his obituary by his fellow exiles as the greatest Catholic priest of the Czech Forest, was born in the neighboring village, Hörwitzl/Hořičky, and went to school in Polletitz/Boletice. In the twelfth year of his exile, and two years before his death, he had an imaginary look around his native land, in one of his last articles written for the journal Glaube und Heimat of the displaced Bohemian Germans. As we lack of the original German text, we translate it from Czech, from the site Kohoutí kříz / ’s Hohnakreiz / the Rooster Cross, devoted to the German literature of the Czech Forest.
“The photograph in front of me shows the church of Polletitz (Boletice), and a part of the village of Polletitz to the left. To the right, just five minutes away on foot, lays Dollern (Dolany), the hometown of Anton Feyrer, the teacher of religion of the municipal school in Bischofteinitz (Horšovský Týn). At the right edge you can see some houses of Krenau (Křenov): this already belongs to the parish of Gojau (Kájov). In the background stands the majestic Schöninger (Kleť) mountain with the Josefsturm (Josefská vež), a popular tourist location for the inhabitants of Krumau (Český Krumlov). Between Krenau and the Schöninger, in the valley lies Losnitz (Lazec), where the Christ of the Passion Plays of Höritz (Hořice), the schoolmaster Johann Bartl saw the light of day. Three kilometers further north is the once charming town of Kalsching (Chvalšin), the former seat of the since then unfortunately deceased Dean Ottomar Rausch. This workaholic father not only performed spiritual care with devotion, but he also passionately researched the history of the region, and collected every bit of information connected with it. As his close friend, I know that he wanted to compile and publish a volume of the biographies of all the eminent personalities who contributed to the prosperity of his beloved Kalsching, or originated from there. He almost finished the biography of his predecessor, the highly respected Dean, Vicar and School-Inspector Gerschtenkorn, whose portrait was in the parish archive. About him they said, that on his visits of inspection in the school of Polletitz he sometimes had a student write on the board the following poem:
du bist ein wahrer Edelsitz
Kalsching liegt zu deinen Füßen,
von dort aus wir dich freundlich grüßen.
you’re a really noble town,
Kalsching lays at your feet,
from where we warmly greet you.
Father Feigl from Kájov, the former parish priest of Polletitz praised very much this poem, and was able to recite it with extraordinary solemnity during his visits. And Polletitz, the former royal possession was a really noble town, indeed.
Not only from Kalsching, but also from Germany, is warm greetings to the now lonely and abandoned former Polletitz, all its former inhabitants, and also all the former inhabitants of Kalsching, by the former Dean, Schwarzbauer.”