Monastic economy

Monastic economic activities were, at the time of this research, the most dynamic area of contact. Although monastic communities had already returned to their sites in the 1990s, it was only after 2013 that they could begin conducting business on a larger scale. What follows is a description of these processes in the case of Brevnov Monastery.

In the Communist period, it was used as a depository for the secret police. Between 1991 and 2013, the community worked on the repair of the building housing the monks. Business was limited to buildings within the complex: one section was leased and developed into a luxury hotel, another house continued to function as a car repair shop (as it has done during the Communist period), the former granary was leased to a catering company and became a well-known pub brewing the famous Brevnov beer, the oldest ‘trademarked’ beer in the Czech Republic. The income from these rents was far too low to cover the expenses of the reconstruction of the national heritage complex, it was, however, saved by significant donations from German-speaking Benedictine monasteries.

With the passing of the law of restitution in 2013, the Benedictines of Brevnov decided to establish three companies: one to manage the new economic activities inside the monastery (hotel, pub and shop), the second to maintain hop production around Libocany (the hop gardens in the northern Czech Republic were returned to the monastery in 2013) and the third to establish economic activity in the Broumov area where the monastery had, in the past, owned 4,500 hectares of forest. Possession of this land is still under dispute between the state and the monastery. These remarkable changes in the economy of the monastery, from renting parts of the monastic complex to a diversified portfolio of self-managed economic activities, are the result of intensive negotiations between the monastery and its surrounding community as well as the public at large. From a monastic perspective, these economic activities are based on the original tradition: management of properties given to the monastery by the authorities over the centuries to secure the life of the community and develop the monastery as a spiritual, cultural and economic centre of the region. The features of the monastic economy highlighted by contemporary monks in Brevnov are innovativeness, social responsibility, even patrimonialism, in relation to the employees of the monastery and people ‘under the wings of the monastery’. The local community, as well as the public at large, generally approve of (albeit with some suspicion), the enterprising spirit of Brevnov Monastery.

Innovativeness

Some hop gardens around Libocany were returned to our possession, and we have also planted some. God willing, next year, we could have the first crop. Therefore, this winter we will construct a new big harvest hall with entirely new technology. We sought advice from our brothers in Bavaria, and they put us in touch with people producing the harvest lines. So we will be the first to bring to the Czech Republic the most modern Bavarian line. We are working on this in order to prepare the economic base which the monastery once had and which was the base for creating the resources to repair the monastery, to live and to create other values. We don’t need to have golden slippers.

(Archabbot of Brevnov Monastery, May 2017)

This excerpt from the interview with the archabbot presents the many vital concerns of the monastic economy as it is now understood by the Brevnov community: the restitution (and enlargement) of monastic possessions is a rightful act, reconnecting the life of the community with the Benedictine tradition of good management, the proper means by which to earn money and the practice of ethical investment (not for ‘golden slippers’ but instead ‘to create other values’). Doing so, they can rely on international Benedictine networks partly interconnected with the international hop and beer business. ‘In this way, they can present what has always been a traditional, medieval role for the monasteries of Europe as technological innovation.’

Patrimonialism and stewardship of the region

We thought of offering work in the Libocany region, but there are no Czech workers who want to do manual work. So, we employed workers from Bulgaria, and they are very satisfied, as are we. We organised the catering and accommodation for them in our building there so they can enjoy this care. We also went several times to visit them. We try to keep them apart from Czech workers so that they don’t adopt Czech labour habits.

(Archabbot of Brevnov Monastery, June 2018)

The case of Bulgarian workers being kept apart from Czech workers strikes a contradictory note within this example of the particular care provided to the employees of the monastery. According to some bartenders we interviewed in the pub, the monks always show goodwill in finding suitable personnel (permitting reduced hours for students, flexibility and so on). However, what the interviewees appreciated most was the interest of their employers in their personal lives. The monks remain pastors as well as businessmen. In this excerpt, we also note the idea of monastic stewardship across the whole region (‘we thought of offering work’), which we described as very well-received by the local community in the case of Vyssi Brod (Spalova, Liska, Pickova 2019). Here, the monks sought alternatives to offering only manual work. Local newspapers noted their appreciation of a donation of 100,000 CZK (approx. 4,000 EUR) from the monastery to the municipality of Libocany in 2018, which was meant as financial support for the maintenance of local roads.17 Again, the effort to re-establish the former tradition of the monastery as a local steward in all areas of life is discernible here.

Spirit of enterprise

Looking through the media archive with the search keyword ‘Brevnov Monastery’, it is possible to find more than 7,000 articles. Many of them feature culture and history, but since 2013, the content is more focused on the monastic economy:

In the Brevnov Monastery complex in Prague, possessed by Benedictines, a vivid entrepreneurial spirit prevails. There is the pub, the ecological Hotel Adalbert, and even the brewery.18

(Television Barrandov 2015)

This ‘vivid entrepreneurial spirit’ is appreciated by journalists as well as local people. Since the early 1990s, the monastery has collaborated with the Brevnov Association of Entrepreneurs who aim to restore the tradition of small family companies which flourished in the period before the Communist regime:

By the mid-1990s, we already knew how to do business and earn money, and we wanted to do something more. The monastery has always been an integral part of this district. And Abbot Siostrzonek is extraordinarily open, and he loves the honesty and politeness of people.’ Therefore, we decided to finance the general reconstruction of the organ in the church monastery.

(President of the Association, June 2018)

The openness of the abbot (see below) and the valued role of the monastery as a symbol of tradition - not only monastic but the largely pre-Communist tradition of the district as well - enables district entrepreneurs to take part (which is, however, costly) in the reconstruction of the monastery. And it is a similar situation in Broumov Monastery where the same openness and support encouraged a local entrepreneur to organise the reconstruction of the Broumov Monastery and all the activities associated with it.

The functioning of the monastic economy appears rather unproblematic in its daily actualisation, which is rather surprising considering the majority of Czech society did not welcome restitution of church properties. A possible explanation lies in its apparent secularly. There is no need to engage in the realms of monastic ontology if you are an employee or a client in/of the monastery’s economic activity. However, benefit may still be felt arising from the innovation of the monastery, close pastoral care, values such as honesty and politeness, values which are at the same time interpreted by the monks as authentically Christian.

 
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