Capuchin Burial

An integral part of every Capuchin monastery was the crypt, where the bodies of deceased monks and their benefactors, both male and female, were laid to rest in one or more chambers. Burials in the Brno tomb began in February 1656 when the Capuchins transferred the remains of their brethren who had originally been interred in the crypt of the first monastery outside the city walls. That monastery was leveled to the ground in 1645 during the Swedish siege of Brno.

The established practice was interrupted only by the burial reform initiated by Emperor Joseph II in 1784. Among other measures, the reform prohibited burials within city limits, whether in tombs or cemeteries. Up to that point, approximately 150 Capuchins and 50 benefactors had been interred beneath the Capuchin church in Brno.

However, the story of the Capuchin tomb was far from over. After some time, the brothers began to write another chapter, slowly shifting their focus from the deceased to the living... the visitors. They opened the gate to the underground for them, offering them the chance to confront their own mortality.

Behind Trenck to the Tomb

When it first happened, we may not know exactly, but we've managed to trace the cause. Or rather, who was the cause – Franz Baron Trenck, the brave and feared leader of the Pandurs, a soldier in the service of Empress Maria Theresa. As early as the mid-19th century, people sought out the Capuchin tomb to honor the memory of the famous soldier.

In October 1872, a requiem mass was held for him in the local church. Following this, a funeral procession made its way to the chapel beneath the church, where Father Alois Ježek, the guardian of the Capuchin monastery, spoke over the coffin into which Trenck's remains had been transferred. The tin coffin was commissioned for his great-uncle by Heinrich von Trenck (1804–1876), an imperial and royal major and the last male member of the family in Austrian territory.

The Capuchin brothers had to adopt a new profession – guiding. "We descend first down narrow, winding stairs into a room resembling a chapel… The Capuchin lights a wax torch, by whose red glow we can better look around us," describes the author of a report published in the magazine Ruch in 1882. All one had to do was ring at the entrance to the monastery and present their request. In 1889, the tomb was even visited by Archduke Franz Ferdinand d'Este himself, along with his younger brother Archduke Otto.

Memento Mori by Zeno Diviš

At the end of the First World War, Capuchin Zeno Diviš (1887–1976) arrived at the local monastery. In addition to his other duties as a lay brother, he took on the role of guiding visitors through the tomb and was probably the very first Capuchin to systematically devote himself to the spaces beneath the church.

During Zeno's era, the tomb underwent significant transformations. Among the most striking was undoubtedly the bone decoration in the subterranean chapel, which originally served as a winter prayer room for the brethren. For many years, this room remained very modestly furnished. This changed in the early 1920s, as documented in numerous contemporary reports. However, even this decoration succumbed to impermanence.

As part of the communist action "K" in the spring of 1950, the Capuchins were evicted, and their property confiscated. The care of the church and tomb fell to diocesan priest Karel Černý (1879–1963), who was succeeded by Ludvík Horký (1913–2008) in 1961. This intervention had virtually no impact on tourist traffic.

With Ludvík Horký's arrival, Brno's academic sculptor and restorer Jaroslav Vaněk (1914–1991) entered the scene. He created a series of sculptures for the tomb, but his signature style could also be found in the church.

Return of the Capuchins

The Capuchins regained control of the monastery in 1990 and embarked on extensive and time-consuming renovations. Even the tomb itself underwent changes. Visitors are now led to it by a narrow alley beside the church, which ends in a small courtyard adorned with a fountain by the prominent academic sculptor Otmar Oliva. The deceased Capuchins are symbolically separated from the living visitors by a glass wall. The remains of bodies that deteriorated over the centuries are reburied in a brick tomb.

In 2017, the thumb of the left hand was returned to Franz Trenck, which had resided in the Museum of the City of Brno's repository for over a century. However, who and why took the thumb from the deceased pandour remains a mystery. A year later, we were able to see his face for the first time, thanks to Brno anthropologists and their three-year study.

In 2024, the tomb underwent the replacement of unsuitable flooring. During necessary excavation work, archaeologists uncovered the foundations of original renaissance houses, donated to the Capuchins by the Magnis couple. These houses were demolished due to the construction of the church, but the cellar portion was used by builders for the future tomb. Experts also confirmed the existence of another level of the old cellar below the crypt level.