The Old Monastery in Piešťany, a medieval monument with an interesting story

You are at the ruins of a Gothic sacral building – the church, which is the oldest known brick building on the territory of today’s Piešťany. The building had a massive stone foundation, its above-ground part was built of bricks, which are grouted, and some parts of the building – the ribs of the vault, the sculptural decoration, which formed a solid part of the building, etc. were made of sandstone. More attention was paid to it only in the 19th century. For example, Alojz Medňanský writes that it was badly damaged by a flood in 1813.

There are relatively few written sources about this sacral building, traditionally called the “Old Monastery”. In 1560 two churches were mentioned in Piešťany – one parish church dedicated to St. Peter (as old and neglected, without a cemetery) and another church as a monastery church, dedicated to St. Stephen the King, which stands outside the village and is abandoned. The monastery church is said to be very old and, according to tradition, is said to have belonged to the Benedictine abbey of St. Hypolytus. This visitation also describes the church in detail – its appearance, furnishings and condition. However, the existence of the monastery has not been clearly established until now. The monument – the ruins of a Gothic church – is located in the built-up part of the town in the so-called “old Piešťany”. The buildings here consist of family houses, the rest of the area in this part consists of gardens and streets. All the archaeological excavations were carried out in the area of the garden and the house on Detvianska Street No. 9.

Archaeological research at the site was carried out in 1932 by the Piešťany Museum Society and architect Václav Mencl. However, he was primarily concerned with the architecture of the building. In 1981 and 1982 a small research was carried out at the site by the Institute of Archaeology of the Slovak Academy of Sciences in Nitra under the direction of Alexander Ruttkay. A. Ruttkay explored 10 graves in the area east of the northern presbytery, 4 graves were uncovered during the excavation of a part of the foundations of the southern presbytery and 7 graves in the southern half of the northern presbytery. Thus, 21 graves in total. A. Ruttkay dated the construction to the period 1330-1360.

The Balneological Museum’s investigations at the site were carried out over five research seasons – in 1991, 1992, 1993, 1994 and 2004. The museum published an interesting publication The Old Monastery – Research of the Gothic Churchin Piešťany about the results of the research. The central part of the area of the medieval cemetery, where burials took place before the establishment of the Gothic church (before the first half of the 14th century), was explored. Many graves have been disturbed and partially or completely destroyed. This is evidenced by the large number of human bones scattered in layers. The finds consisted of massive ace-shaped earrings, beads, signet rings, round bronze and iron buckles, a clothespin and coins. The graves were also located in the inner space of the church and some of them were covered by the building, disturbed and partially or almost completely destroyed. The multiple phased deposition of graves was most intense in the area of the Gothic church frontage. Clothing components found in the graves include iron and bronze belt buckles, clasps, pins, bronze and silver rings and hair rings. The discovery of a sepulchre of Francis I from 1800 may be related to the last phase of burials in the ossuary cemetery. Grave 5/91 was interesting, in which a man was buried on his back with his hands on his lap and a coin – a silver Hungarian denarius of Andrew II (1205-1235) and a fossil of an ammonite (Lioceras abbinum) were found in the pelvis area. A total of 234 graves were examined.

Next, we focused on exploring the interior of the church. The massive foundations of the southern wall of the nave, built of rubble stone bonded with high-quality mortar, were uncovered. These foundations are connected to the foundations of the southern presbytery. We also uncovered the foundations of the façade reinforced by the inner pillar and the outer corner support pillar. In this part, the foundations of the church nave were followed by the foundations of a younger, hitherto unknown building.

While in the foundations of the nave of the Gothic church limestone prevails as a building material, in the foundations of this younger building it is coarse quarried sandstone. The layers overlying the graves, the foundations of the sacral building and the foundations of the younger extension were not of the same composition. The foundations of the buildings were dismantled in the past in order to obtain good quality rubble stone as building material.

   Many small fragments of stone architectural elements (ribs of the vault) and a fragment of a stone sculpture – a hand holding the hem of a dress or cloak – were also found during the research.

During the archaeological research seasons 1991-1994 and 2004, 37 coins were found in the area of the “Old Monastery” site. 11 coins were found in the graves in various positions. The others (26 pieces) were found in backfill, building destruction, near graves, in dug dirt, etc.

The Window to History project has at least partially fulfilled the academy’s desire. Janek Alexy, a painter and member of the Piešťany Museum Society, who proposed the adaptation and opening of the monument to the public as early as in 1932.

Interesting findings from the research of the Gothic church and the medieval cemetery in the locality of the Old Monastery are exhibited in the main exposition of the Balneological Museum at Beethovenova 5 in Piešťany. We cordially invite you to visit it. Here you can also buy an interesting book about the research of this precious monument.


© PhDr. Vladimír Krupa

Interior photo of the model: Eva Drobná