What contribution are you destined to make in the world? What will you be remembered for? What choices will you make given your circumstances? Those were the thoughts that went through my mind as I started reading of the Saints of Catholicism. Though St. Agnes passed on in 1282, she was honoured in 2011, the 800th anniversary of her birth, as the Patron Saint of Czech Republic.

This honour coincided with the anniversary of the Velvet Revolution and the overthrow of communism, some 700 years after her passing. Coincidence or church politics? You decide.

St. Agnes of Bohemia

Agnes of Bohemia, whose feast day is on 2 March, was a medieval Bohemian princess who is believed to have opted for a life of charity and piety over a life of luxury and comfort. Agnes was the daughter of King Ottokar I of Bohemia and thus was a descendant of St. Ludmila and St. Wenceslaus, two patron saints of Bohemia.

St. Agnes was betrothed to be married three times. She found herself caught up in a political chess game where marriage could decide and determine the fate of the nation as well as the royal family. She chose the solitary life of sisterly sorority over the political intrigues of the palace halls.

The exemplary architecture of the Convent of Saint Agnes was undoubtedly influenced by two main factors. Despite her choice to take vows of poverty, St. Agnes was a royal daughter and therefore had sufficient financial means and political influence available to undertake such a large venture. Secondly, St. Agnes was raised in convents and therefore knew the kind of building that needed to be constructed.

A magnanimously large convent was built based on an existing structure of the Old Town during a cultural and economic boom, the rise of the Bohemian state; and the beginning of the gothic culture in Central Europe.

St. Agnes cared for the sick in the role as a princess and abbess.

St Agnes tending the sick by Bohemian Master of the year 1482

The Velvet Revolution

The Velvet Revolution was a non-violent revolution. It took place over eleven days in 1989. Demonstrations against the one-party government of the Communist Party of Czechoslovakia included both students and older dissidents. The result was the end of 41 years of one-party rule and the subsequent dismantling of the command economy and a conversion to a parliamentary republic.

Theorists of revolutions have argued that the Velvet Revolution was not a ‘true’ revolution; as by definition, a revolution accomplishes change through violence. On the other hand, the Velvet Revolution is considered a legitimate revolution because it was a “revolutionary situation” of contested sovereignty that led to a transfer of power.

The signature actions of the Velvet Revolution were enormous mass demonstrations. A million out of a total population of 16 million participated in the revolution. The dramatic public rattling of keys displayed a collective show of defiance. The movement had its roots in parallel structures such as critical theatre and music; which cultivated the spirit of dissent within the country’s intellectual culture during the years when repression was its peak.

In 1997, the Czech National Bank issued Koruna banknotes with an image of St. Agnes of Bohemia at the back. They were part of the demonetised Czech Koruna banknotes series but were withdrawn from circulation in 2011. The Czech Republic is often cited as one of the top atheists countries in the world, with 78% of its population declaring themselves to be irreligious.

Leave a Comment