Series: Monastic life – then and now
The Capuchin monastery in Bratislava
In our series on monasteries we look this week at our neighbours, the Slovak Republic, and the renowned Capuchin monastery in the city centre.
The history of this monastery starts in the early eighteenth century, a few decades after the order arrived in the city. In spite of political upheaval, border readjustments and wars, the Capuchin community has survived in the historical centre of Bratislava. Today the unprepossessing monastery and its inhabitants are an integral component of city life.
Who are the Capuchins?
The origins of the Capuchins go back to Francis of Assisi, the son of a rich merchant, who underwent a spiritual conversion after seeing a vision. He spent his life in poverty and looked after sick people and animals as Jesus had done. In 1210 he founded the Order of Friars Minor (Franciscans). During the following centuries the Franciscans distanced themselves increasingly from their founder’s ideals, and in the sixteenth century a reform movement developed with a return to the original lifestyle – poverty, contemplation and prayer. The Order of the Friars Minor Capuchin (Capuchins for short) arose out of this movement.
The Capuchins in Bratislava
In July 1676 Emperor Leopold I asked archbishop Leopold Kollonitsch from Wiener Neustadt to establish the order in nearby Bratislava. The archbishop managed in a very short time to organise the chapel of St Catherine for the Capuchins. Through a donation by a noblewoman the foundation stone for a monastery was laid outside the city walls in December 1708 and three years later for a church next to it. In 1732 the monks were also give a garden and two houses by the city. By 1735, however, the church threatened to collapse because of the muddy foundations and had to be shored up at great expense. A hospital was set up in the garden, where plague sufferers and others were treated. The first mass in Slovak was celebrated in 1853. Until the end of the First World War, however, the order was under Austrian administration.
The monastery and church of St Stephen are both on Župné Square close to the historical centre and are now among the city’s most important sacral monuments. The plague column in front of the church recalls the epidemic of 1723. Behind the church is the unprepossessing four-winged monastery building with an inner courtyard and garden in the centre. It is also used for studying. After 1948, when the Communists came to power in Czechoslovakia, the friars experienced hard times. In the night of 3 May 1950 police stormed the church during a service and dragged off everyone inside. They were interned in various labour camps for years with members of other orders, and many were sentenced to long prison terms. In spite of these difficulties some of them continued to work underground.
Activities of the friars
The Capuchins are known as open and friendly members of a community that does not shut itself off in its monastery. The friars can often be seen in public in the city. In spite of his humble lifestyle St Francis of Assisi was a great music lover, and this tradition also lives on today. Many of the friars write songs and organise gospel music concerts. Their CDs can be purchased on the website paterpio.sk. In addition, the friars bring out books in their own publishing company MiNOR. They organise summer camps and sports competitions, including ice hockey tournaments. They are very popular with young people in particular on account of their helpfulness and charity work. Visitors can see for themselves on Sundays at the church of St Stephan. When mass is celebrated there at 7 p.m. as so often by the popular minister and musician Friar Damián, you have to come early to get a seat. A church full to overflowing, with people even out on the street hoping to experience the mass, at least from a distance: such scenes are far from commonplace in today’s world.
Monastic life then and now
Part 1: Viennese monasteries
Part 2: Klosterneuburg Monastery and Altenburg Monastery / Lower Austria
Part 3: Stift Melk and Seitenstetten Monastery / Lower Austria
Part 4: Serbian monasteries
Part 5: The Capuchin monastery in Bratislava
Part 6: The monastery of Divine Mercy in Nové Hrady
Part 7: Pannonhalma: monastery, school and vineyard
Part 8: The Remete monastery in Zagreb
Part 9: Novodevichy Convent in Moscow
Part 10: The Slovenian Stična Cistercian Abby
Part 11: Franciscan Monastery in Sarajevo
Part 12: Stavropoleos Monastery in Bucharest
Part 13: The bulgarian Rila Monastery