The Mummies of Kralovice
A great opportunity to get acquainted with the historically well-known crypt of the Gryspek family which is shrouded in myth and legend. The chapel with its underground crypt was created during the Renaissance reconstruction of the Church of St. Peter and St. Paul (1575-1581). It has retained its original appearance throughout the centuries, and is a site of historical interest with wider cultural importance.
The crypt was constructed on the south side of the church as a family mausoleum. Inside the chapel there is a staircase leading into the underground crypt which is beautifully decorated with a epitaph to Florián Gryspek from 1593. It is a pious place annointed for the eternal sleep of an important Central European aristocratic family who were to be connected with the town of Kralovice for less than a century (1542-1622). The words of the epitaph tell us that Florián “built this building on his own from the basement to lay there the remains of his body and his family.”
In the history of Kralovice, only a very short period of time was decisive. This period began with Florián Gryspek, who was a councillor to the first three Habsburg emperors to sit on the Czech throne. In 1542 he received lien rights to the Plasy monastery for the period of four future generations, which brought a boom to the town. The last members of the Gryspek family were the brothers Václav and Albrecht Ferdinand who died during the rebellion “in the constant revolt”. After their deaths, the brothers Florián and Jan Jaroslav Gryspek took charge of Kralovice for a short time. On 16th September 1622 the confiscation committee doomed the Gryspek family to the loss of all their properties. Everything was expropriated as a penalty for the royal chamber. Their local property was the estate of Kaceřov, which the town of Kralovice belonged to. The confiscated properties were given to the Plasy monastery on 26th November 1622 at the request of the abbot of Plasy. The other members of the Gryspek family – Blažej, Bohuslav and Václav – also lost all their properties during the confiscations including their estates in Nečtiny, Rožmitál, Strýčkov, Liblín and Žíkov.
However, those family members who were laid to rest in the crypt didn´t find their eternal sleep there. From the 17th century onwards the crypt became an object of curiosity due to the unusually good condition of the bodies. As a result they became better known as “the mummies of Kralovice”. Florián Gryspek (+1588) was among the first family members to be buried there. His wife Rosina and a lot of their children were also laid to rest next to him. Jan Jaroslav (who died in Draheničky in the Příbram region) was the last person to be buried there in 1623. In 1678, when Jáchym, the last surviving male member of the Gryspek family died in Střezimíř in the region of Klatovy, the church was already being managed by the Plasy monastery and the crypt in Kralovice had been closed. He was therefore buried in the Kolovrat tomb in Týnec. The first fatal moment for the crypt was connected with this event. It was a step that started the growing interest in the Kralovice mummies. When the provisionally bricked up tomb was opened in 1666/8, the tin coffins were allegedly removed (the material was used for the organ pipes in the Plasy monastery) and the bodies of the Gryspek family were displayed to curious gazes. The story has been passed down over many centuries. It mentions the amazement about the good condition of the bodies, which attracted the interest of all types of people from all walks of life. The visitors have changed throughout the centuries with many leaving written evidence behind of their fascinating experience in the crypt which they subsequnetly passed on. Two historically conditioned assessments are reflected in their descriptions. A conservatively enlightened one from the end of the 18th century (Quirin Jahn) and a romantic one from the first half of the 19th century (Fischer, Weleba). Face-to-face with the mysterious formerly richly dressed up dead, visitors asked questions that couldn´t be answered. A legend was therefore created which connected fragments of historical truth with fantasy. This secured the Gryspek family their so called second life. Their bodies remain of constant interest to us. That interest has changed from an odd curiosity to see dead bodies to cultural-historical attention, piety and an effort for preservation and a partial entrance into this special site.
Generation after generation have repeatedly asked the same questions: who rests here and how is it possible that the bodies are in such good condition. In the first case, it is very difficult to identify the bodies with the fates of the well-known members of the family. Science has been engaged in the question of body preservation since the 18th century. The bodies preservation has been put down to the natural process of mummification of the remains in a suitable environment. Alternatively, folklore, which was popular during the period of Romanticism and which was against the scientific approach, tells us the story of the poisoning of the Gryspek family. The bodies have simply been preserved by the poison they ate. From this point of view, the “Kryšpáci” as they are locally referred to, became a regional phenomenon. They entered into topics of romantic literature and drama (Neruda, Arbes).
In all there are 11 glass coffins, including a baby´s one, lining both walls of the underground crypt. Today there are the remains of 14 adults and a few human torsos. After the removal of the metal coffins, the bodies of the Gryspek family were left lying unprotected in open coffins. Around 1890 the Metternich family had new coffins made and supplemented missing or torn clothes. The coffins remind us of museum showcases. However, in the spirit of late Romanticism, it enabled people to pay a pious visit to the buried people. For approximately the next 30 years Florián Gryspek and 14 other members of the family found their rest there. Unfortunately several years of free entrance into the crypt led to the gradual devastation of the bodies. This was documented by a witness: “Many visitors took the mummies out of the coffins. They turned them over curiously to have a look. Then they let them fall back like a piece of wood. Their clothes suffered during these actions as well. Many of them handled them with disrespect. Others cut off pieces of their clothes as a memento of the dead and to boast of their visit to the crypt.” People have brought back extraordinary and terrifying experiences from the crypt that prove the bodies were being handled by the local sexton without diligence and care. This statement by a lay witness proves it: “those who died a few hundreds years ago have maintained their appearance as if they had died just a few days ago. [ …] If you give something to the sexton, he lifts up Sir Grysbek or his wife and puts them against the wall. Then you can see that such a person, already dead for so many years, looks as if he/she were still alive“ [ … ] The text continues: “dressed up in different silken or taffeta clothes which have pieces cut off because the sexton allows people to cut off little pieces of their clothes as a keepsake for a little money…”
This very situation made well informed visitors demand that the bodies be dressed in adequate clothes according to the historic period and to cover the coffins with glass covers so that the “antiques” could still be seen whilst also protecting the clothes and the bodies against interaction with the air, temperature changes and parasite penetration. The Romantic writer Fischer found it suitable that everybody who enters the crypt should pray and remember the virtues of the resting family – “love to God and the mother country, cast iron fidelity to the monarch and the law”. We should respect his advice today too.
text: Irena Bukačová
Clothes of the mummies of Kralovice
Report about the state of the well-preserved clothes in the tomb of the Gryspek family in the parish church in Kralovice
Compiled by: Mgr. Veronika Pilná
NPÚ ÚOP in Pilsen, dep. EDIS
There are 12 well-preserved bodies with clothes which can be evaluated. 7 bodies wear authentic funereal clothes. 4 bodies have got secondarily made shrouds from the beginning of the 19th century (as Fischer mentions 1848). 1 body has got one well-preserved part from the funeral time. All well-preserved clothes can be analogized according to the cut, material and on the whole to the well-preserved period pictures and well-preserved clothes.
1 – This body is supposed to be Florián Gryspek. Dressed in a surcoat made from silken damask with black braiding and black silken trousers, so called “plunder”, with noticeable selvages. On the left shoe, he has got a fragment of a shoe with an octal sole made by frame technique (typical for this period).
2 – obviously a female body, probably dressed in a black silken dress with a silken collar in the empire style. The dress was arranged as a shroud by a large slit on the back side. (This body described in the same state by Fischer.) This body has got crossed arms on the chest, which makes the possibility of changing the dress more difficult. To specify the exact dating of the funereal clothes, a more precise analysis would be necessary.
3 – an old man. According to the authentic funereal clothes, it can be supposed that it is the oldest buried body in the tomb, which is in contrast with a generally accepted determination of the body of Florián Gryspek. The man was buried in a white flaxy shirt with cuffs decorated by bobbin lace. He has got trousers – so called “poctivice” – lined with several layers of stiffeners, which make an effect of padding. (It would be possible to confirm the exact shape of the trousers after precise measuring of the well-preserved remnant and lengths on the body, which wasn´t possible due to lack of time.) On the trunk there is a preserved heavily wadded silken surcoat (wams, doublet). Wadding was a very favourite way of how to shape clothes before 1600. Over the surcoat he has got a black damask coat without strings. On his head there is a cap from brown silken velvet. On the legs there are well-preserved silken knitted sewed tights. On the left foot he has got a silken shoe with cuts with a leather sole in the shape that was typical before 1600.
4 – an old man in dolman. A male body dressed in a black silken coat with strings – so called dolman. On feet well-preserved silken tights.
5 – Blažej Gryspek. A male body dressed in colourful costly clothes with metal braiding. According to Fischer´s notes, it is Blažej Gryspek. The lower surcoat from white damask with colourful red and green flowers decorated with braiding from silver guimpé buttoned up by thread buttons from the same material. Over this lower surcoat there is the second open jacket from yellow silken look velvet with tiny floral motives. The overcoat was also lined with golden braiding and fine silken linen was put under it. The same material as on the jacket was used for the wide trousers and decorated by the same golden braiding. He has got brown silken tights on his legs. An upper leather part from his shoe remained.
6 – Rosina (?) A woman dressed in a long black silken Spanish coat – type “ropa” – lined by black braiding and in a white flaxy shirt (rests of cuffs well-preserved). A part of a shoe with an octal sole from light leather with a top coated by brown silken velvet and decorated by a brown satin ribbon was preserved.
7 – A body dressed only in the left tight from yellow silken yarn with a dark green tiptoe. There is well-preserved white tight laid in the coffin from the beginning of the 17th century.
8a and 8b – Two bodies of girls (?) dressed in silken dresses in the Empire style. The older one has got a dress with short sleeves. On the other hand, the younger one is dressed in a dress with long sleeves bound up with green silken bows on the wrists.
9 – A young woman. A young woman dressed in the fragments of a black silken dress in the Mannerism style with a tight bodice finished by a so called goose belly. The dress is decorated by a black silken braiding. The sleeves have not been preserved.
10 – Probably a person passed off as a clergyman in Fischer´s time. Dressed in a white dress or a shroud with a black laced collar.
11 – A man buried in a purple snipped coat with a light braiding and a black trunk hose from silken loop velvet with floral motives with decorations from black braiding. Rests of a flaxy shirt preserved on the body. A hat on the head from brown silken velvet trimmed by a brown silken bow. Feet still dressed in light silken tights with suspenders from silken bows and provided with shoes with octal soles made by frame technique.
Probable original appearances of all the preserved clothes are possible to reconstruct in painting at least partially. A clothes reconstruction in painting of bodies number 5 and 11 follows.
In Pilsen, 1st March 2012, Mgr. Veronika Pilná
• Bukačová, Irena: Kostel sv. Petra a Pavla v Kralovicích. Muzeum a galerie severního Plzeňska v Mariánské Týnici a Občanské sdružení Gryspek pro záchranu kostela sv. Petra a Pavla v Kralovicích ve spolupráci s Nadačním fondem Mariánská Týnice, 2010, ISBN 978-80-87185-11-7.
• Fischer, Anton: Die Gruft der Herren Griesbeck : Ritter von Griesbach, und die Schicksale dieses Geschlechtes, nach historischen Quellen, mit einer Abbildung des Mausoleums, dann dem Blane der Gruft / von Anton Fischer. Plzeň. M. Schmid, 1848.