Robert Kunkel

The mystery of two shrines of St. Adalbert and Forte dei Marmi

St Adalbert (polish:Wojciech, czech: Vojtech), bishop of Prague was the widely known church authority at the end of tenth century. During his career he became a friend of Polish king, Boleslav (whose mother was Dobrava, Bohemian princess) and Otto the Third, Roman emperor. Bishop Adalbert died as a martyr in 997, during a mission intent on converting pagan Pruthenians, inhabiting terrains located to the east of the mouth of the Vistula, and was buried in Gniezno. Forty years later his body have been taken to Prague as a wartime loot in the course of the war between the related princes of Bohemia and Poland. But this fact is known only from the Bohemian chronicles; the official version of Gniezno is, that the body of the saint had been hidden, and to the Prague was taken the body of another bishop. However it was, till today two cathedrals in two towns – Gniezno and Prague are proud of having the relics of saint martyr.

The connection of St Adalbert with Italy is not widely known, however he had been visiting this country wery often, specially the monastery on Aventine. His friend, emperor Otto, after canonisation of Adalbert founded the church in Rome, on Isola Tiburtina, and dedicated it to the new saint. Now that church bears the name of St Bartholomeus, but the medieval well (pozzo) with the figure of bishop Adalbert still remains in the middle of the choir.

In the mid-1990s the approaching thousandth anniversary of the martyrdom of St Adalbert (997), his canonisation (999) and a papal visit in Gniezno, made it necessary to propose a permanent arrangement of the priests choir with the mausoleum of the saint. Similarly these anniversaries resulted in Prague with new tombstone of St.Adalbert placed in the cathedral.

By coincidence, two academic teachers and architects – Bohumil Fanta from the Faculty of Architecture in Prague and Robert Kunkel from the Faculty of Architecture in Warsaw took part in the program of Romualdo del Bianco Foundation in Florence. Both of them also had to deal with St Adalbert Anniversary. Bohumil Fanta as the designer of the Adalbert slab in Prague and Robert Kunkel as an architect, member of the ecclesiastic-conservatory commission in Gniezno, author of the conception of situating the Gothic tombstone of St Adalbert in the eastern part of the presbytery.

The problems of new additions and rearrangements of the medieval cathedrals were discussed in the friendly atmosphere of Paolo del Bianco’s house in Forte dei Marmi. We hope that St Adalbert was also satisfied of the new arrangements of his new tombs (wherever his bones physically are). One of the results of these discussions was the article concerning the Prague project published in Polish quarterly Ochrona Zabytków (The Protection of Monuments).



One of the most valuable relics of Gothic art in the cathedral of Gniezno – the tomb of St Adalbert with its rich ornaments – has not been preserved to the present times in its original form and original place. The history of the confession was closely associated with the history of destructions and reconstructions of the cathedral itself during a period of over 1000 years.

The confession commemorating the place of burial of St Adalbert was founded by the king of Poland, Boleslav the Brave, shortly before the year 1000, when the martyrs tomb have been visited and adorned with gold and silver by the emperor OttoIII. The existing late-Gothic tomb slab in the red marble (see photo), representing the figure of the bishop, was founded by the Archbishop Jakub of Sienno, about 1480. The high level of the representation and its artistic form indicated the autorship of of one of the leading sculptors of that period, namely Wit Stwosz. (see the sculpture of St Roch by this author in the Tribune of SSma Anunziata, Firenze).

After 1690, during the construction of new, Baroque mausoleum and the silver sarcophagus of the Saint, the Gothic slab was mounted vertically in one of pillars of the north nave. During the latest rearrangements of the presbytery, the Gothic sarcophage was reassembled again and placed in the eastern part of the presbytery (see plan), what made it accessible to the faithful and tourists.


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One of the main open questions in the Prague Cathedral is that of the tombstone of St Adalbert, one of the country’s patrons saints. According to the Chronicle of Cosmas, St Adalbert body was brought to Prague in 1039. But after the new, Gothic choir of the cathedral was ready in 1385, his relics were translated to the Gothic tomb, probably made by Peter Parler in 1396. In the late 16th century this tomb was replaced by the late Renaissance chapel

By demolishing the Renaissance tomb chapel during the neo-Gothic reconstruction of the western part of the cathedral in the 19th century his architecturally designed last reposing place was destroyed. The new tombstone, designed by Eva and Bohumil Fanta, is situated in the axis of the central nave (see plan) to commemorate the place of the Gothic sarcophagus and consists of a marble slab (see photo) covering the (now empty) grave.


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