About the Augustinian Abbey in Old Brno
The original complex, founded by the Augustinians in 1347 on the outskirts of the city beyond the Rhine Gate (Moravian Square in what is now known as the Governor's Palace), had to be rebuilt in the 15C after being destroyed by fire during the Hussite raids. What remains there is the Augustinian Thurn, founded in 1653 as a result of a substantial endowment from Sibylla Polyxena Francesca von Montani (Countess von Thurn und Walsassina) for the encouragement of music. It was largely as a result of the sponsorship of this institution that Leos Janacek (1854-1928) was able to remain in Brno as director of the Old Brno Choir.
In 1752, the augustinian convent was promoted to abbey by Pope Benedict XIV. Then, in 1783 during the reign of the Hapsburg Emperor Joseph II, the friars were forced to leave and take up residence in a former Cistercian monastery in Old Brno, where the community has resided ever since. Its sixth abbot was Gregor Mendel; the present abbot Lukas Evzen Martinec - the eleventh to succeed to the post - is responsible for the gradual restoration of the abbey since 1996.
During World War II many of the friars were prosecuted and executed for their resistance to the Nazi regime. With the advent of Communism in Czechoslovakia, the monastery was secularised and used, amongst other things, as a student residence. Finally, in 1989 the Augustinians were free to return.
Among the treasures of the monastery is the elegant 18C library containing some 27,000 volumes, manuscripts and prints and the Gothic Basilica of the Assumption of the Virgin Mary. On a smaller scale, the Panna Maria Svatotomska or Old Brno Madonna is said to have been painted by Luke the Evangelist. According to local legend, it was acquired by the Emperor Constantine's mother St Helena and taken to Constantinople; from there it travelled to Genoa and Milan where it was in the possession of Bishop Eustorgius. Later it is meant to have been given to the King of Bohemia Vladislav by Emperor Friedrich. In 1356 the picture passed from Charles IV to his brother Margrave John Henry who donated it to the Augustinians.