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The Benedictine Nuns

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In 1889 Benedictine nuns from the Nonnberg convent in Salzburg, Austria arrived at the newly-built convent of St. Gabriel. Until it was closed in 1918, some additional 90 sisters, many of whom were noblewomen, entered the convent.

Countess Anna von Galen (Sister Magdalena) was one of Father Desiderius Lenz’s students. Her uncle, Max Gereon, Count von Galen, was consecrated bishop of Muenster, while another relative was a Benedictine priest at Emmaus monastery in Prague; some years later she was followed into the convent by her sisters Emma and Anna-Maria von Galen.

Princess Maria Aloisia zu Schwarzenberg (Sister Benedicta) entered the convent of St. Gabriel in 1909. Her mother acquired Bertholdstein Castle in Austria which is where the St. Gabriel nuns relocated after being expelled from Prague in 1919.

Countess Christine Schoenborn was the niece of Count F. Schoenborn who had become Archbishop of Prague in 1885, then was ordained Cardinal in 1889. Her other uncle Bedřich was named Minister of Justice in 1888. Their grandnephew, Christoph Schoenborn, is the current Cardinal of Vienna.

Princess Maria Franziska Lobkowitz (Sister Johanna) was the daughter of Prince Jiří Kristián Lobkowitz who was High Marshall of the Kingdom of Bohemia.

Countess Auguste Salm-Reifferschiedt (Sister Edeltraud), was one of Lenz’s students; she created the murals on the glauzure. Countess Marie Františka Coudenhove (Sister Elisabeth) nee Trauttmannsdorff, married Karl, Count Coudenov who was the proconsul for the Czech Lands from1896 to 1911. The couple were childless so that when the Count died in 1914, Marie Frances entered the St. Gabriel convent.

The nuns followed the strict rules of the order, the convent prospered, and even included a pharmacy and a bakery on the premises. There was a vegetable garden on the site of the present day Povodí Vltavy building. North of the convent there were some commercial buildings and a water works.

Unfortunately, the government of the newborn Czechoslovakia was not supportive of religious orders which had a predominance of foreigners as members. This forced the nuns at St. Gabriel’s to leave Prague involuntarily, relocating to Bertholdstein Castle in Austria. They sold the convent to the Czechoslovak state with the proviso that church services would be allowed to be conducted, forever. To this day, the stipulation has been observed by each successive government/regime.

The present day owners are the Czech Postal Service.

Click here to visit the Czech Benedictine Nuns site:


In its day, the St. Gabriel Gospel Book had no equals. It is one of the best works created by the students and nuns under the direction of Father Desiderius Lenz during the period 1900-1912. The book consists of 37 loose laminated pages which are kept in leather covers and adorned with Beuron Arts emblems. The Benedictine nuns took the gospel book with them when they relocated to Austria.

It currently resides in the Diocesan Museum in Graz.

The individual pages celebrate certain holy days on the Church calendar. One page is the Latin text accompanying another page which is a painting depicting the holy day. Two pages of text and two pages of paintings are especially dedicated to the Christmas holy days. These four were made at St. Gabriel’s in Prague from 1900 to 1905.

The Latin texts were used during morning prayers. One page consisted of the gospel of the day, while the other page contained the daily prayers. The layout of the text for the very first page was designed by Sister Magdalena von Galen; the painting, lettering, and borders were created by Sister Dorothea Forstner; and Sister Edeltraud von Salm provided the backgrounds. Another sheet of text was designed by Edeltraudvon Salm. As of 2009, we have not been able to confirm the authorship of the picture page.


1. The nuns devoted two pages of text and two paintings each for Christmas only. The first page depicts the Nativity in three scenes.


2. The middle part shows Mary and Joseph in the grotto, piously kneeling before the Baby Jesus in his crib, awash in golden light and pointing at His Mother with a raised hand. The breath of a cow and donkey helps keep the newborn Child warm.


3. In this Heavenly scene angels with their harps and shepherds, announce the tidings written on the band: Gloria in excelsis Deo (Glory to God in the highest)


4. At the bottom are the three characters of inscriptions that proclaim the coming of the Messiah. King David is in the middle of the cave with a harp, a sign above his head from Psalms 19.5 (attributed to David): God built a tent on the sun in the heavens, it is like a bridegroom coming out of his chamber.

The Prophets Isaiah and Daniel at the side of King David helping to deliver the message: Rosa put the heavens from above and just rainy skies, the earth shall open and you will behold the Savior (Isa. 45.8) and Do not leave us in shame, but be lenient and merciful with us (according to the Greek text of his book Daniel 3.42).


• On the left page of the Gospel Book is written the Gospel according to Matthew, Chapter 1,1-16, where Jesus' lineage is related. Scores of letters show that these texts were solemnly sung. The text is supported by a tree: "My crown is .... tree touches the celestial sphere ..., here symbolized by a triangle with the Tetragrammaton (four Hebrew letters signifying the name of God).


• The roots grow deep into the earth below the tree reaching to the people ... and the joy of this shoot (the root of Jesse) the future Messiah lies among the roots ... as David sings a solemn hymn wedding celebration, in which wisdom and humanity are joined together.


• The other page is text from the Gospel according to Luke, Chapter 3.38 ...'the ancestors of Jesus... Adam, who was from God.' The detail of the medallions in the upper part of this page with the text: God creates man (Adam in Hebrew) with the Canon of P. Desiderius Lenz.


• The second picture in the Christmas octave of the Gospel Book is that of the Good Shepherd, who protects his flock and provides them with manna. Purple, the color of his valuable blood in which the righteous have washed their robes, covers his shoulders with a laurel wreath crowning his forehead.

• The Latin text is divided into four parts which arise from the halos like bolts of lightning: Behold, I will bring her (the daughter of Jerusalem) peace like a river (Isa. 66.12).


• Above the Good Shepherd's head sits the Phoenix, symbol of resurrection.


• Archangel Michael raises the cross as the Lord's hand is lifted up, because 'He alone can ordain peace' (Isaiah 26,11-12) and continues, '... the fire will devour thy enemies ... Before him stands a sacrificial lamb casting a dark shadow (the symbol for human sins, which Christ took upon himself).


• On the feast of St. Stephen the last prayer of the day is sung, the Latin text centered and set on a golden cover:


We pray, Almighty God, deliver us from the slavery of sin so that we may live in the freedom which gave us the birth of your Son. For He and You in the unity of the Holy Spirit lives and reigns forever and ever. Amen.