The St. Joseph chapel in Zákupy was built in 1698 by Gian Gastone de' Medici and Anna Maria Franziska of Saxe-Lauenburg. Gian Gastone was the seventh and last Medicean Grand Duke of Tuscany. She came from one of the most significant noble families of the Baroque period, and was renowned for her modern, often very expensive renovations of her dwellings.

We discovered the Chapel Of St. Joseph in 2012, after it had been on the market for several years. It immediately charmed us as a piece of Tuscany transplanted to the northern Czech Republic. We started to research its history and found out it was built by the Medicis from Florence, when they owned the castle in the late 17th century.

Having been looking in Europe for a suitable Baroque or Neo-classical building to renovate, we immediately became attracted to it. By 2012, we had looked at houses in small towns in southern France, Spain and Italy, which definitely fulfilled the charm requirement, but a suitable renovation we would have wanted seemed too expensive. We had also looked at a number of small castles, country manors, rectories, even a church in the Czech Republic. These were more in line with our intended budget, but most suffered from various ills, which were inflicted by 40 years of Communism: a pig farm built adjacent to a chateau that had been expropriated in the Communist revolution in 1948, a formal garden chopped away from a country manor to make a potato field, or just such disrepair that a renovation did not seem doable anymore.

In contrast, the St. Joseph chapel in Zákupy stood out: fairly decent shape, beautiful piece of land with a view of a valley, line of sight with the castle to the west, plus a variety of outbuildings around the property, including a cave! Having previously rebuilt a church in the New Orleans area into a home, we were ready.

 

 

 


Gian Gastone de' Medici.
Gian Gastone de' Medici was born in Florence in May 1671. His birthplace was the Palazzo Pitti, the principal residence of the Medici family since 1549. It is a vast 32,000-square-meter (344,000 sq ft) palace situated on the south side of the Arno River, near the Ponte Vecchio. The Medicis ruled the Grand Duchy of Tuscany from it. It grew as a great treasure house as later generations amassed paintings, plates, jewelry and luxurious possessions. It is now the largest museum complex in Florence.

Concerned for the future of the dynasty, Gian Gastone's father, Cosimo III de' Medici, urged Anna Maria Luisa de' Medici, Electresses Palatine, Gian Gastone's sister, to find Gian Gastone a suitable bride. She put forward Anna Maria Franziska, her brother-in-law's widow and heiress of the Duchy of Saxe-Lauenburg.


Anna Maria Franziska of Saxe-Lauenburg.
Anna Maria Franziska was born on 13 June 1673 in northern Germany, in the town of Neuhaus upon Elbe, as the second child of Julius Francis, the reigning duke of Saxe-Lauenburg, and Maria Hedwig of Sulzbach. The Saxe-Lauenberg family came to the Czech Kingdom during the 17th century with Julius Henry. Born a Protestant, Julius Henry studied at the prestigious Eberhard Karls University of Tübingen and later served as a military commander under the Swedish king Gustavus Adolphus. However, the young man promptly converted to Catholicism right at the onset of the Thirty Years' War and ultimately benefitted greatly from that decision. Finding himself on the winning side of the war, he acquired numerous estates in the Czech Kingdom that were expropriated from the defeated Protestants. However, the Zákupy estate was not among them: this he acquired through marriage in 1632 to Anna Magdalena of Lobkowicz.

At first, his ownership of the Zákupy estate was plagued by invasions and revolts. The castle was invaded and burned severa times. In 1634 and 1639, the castle was ransacked by Saxon and Swedish troops. Then came a peasant revolt in 1658. Despite all this, he nevertheless laid out the groundwork for a grand renovation of the Renaissance castle, and rebuilding it into a Baroque-style chateau.

When Julius Henry died in 1665 at age 79, the Zákupy estate was inherited by his son Julius Francis. It was him who ultimately kick-started the rebuilding. Julius Francis was born in Prague in 1641 and was the Duke of Saxe-Lauenburg between 1666 until his death in 1689. He had inherited his father's estates at Zákupy (Reichstadt), Ploskovice (Ploschkowitz) and Ostrov (Schlackenwerth), plus more estates from his Lobkowicz mother. He was wealthy, well-educated and worldly. Under his ownership, Zákupy Castle was being rebuilt into a grand early Baroque estate. Yet, it still consisted partly of Gothic, Renaissance and Baroque masonry, and its square four-winged layout still pointed to its origins as a medieval fort.

The architect in charge was Giovanni Domenico Orsi, an Italian by heritage but Viennese-born. He built a number of very prominent religious and civic buildings the Czech Kingdom, such as the Jesuit College in Kutná Hora, or the Kolowrat Palace and the Church of St. Havel in the Old Town in Prague. His style was grandiose, fit for Viennese palaces.

In Zakupy, in addition to the main four-winged castle itself, a farmstead, brewery and gardens were built under Julius Francis. In the town, on the opposite bank the Svitávka River, Julius Francis built the Capuchin monastery between 1681-1683 as a way of giving thanks for his survival in a battle with the Turks. The geometric relationship of the monastery to the castle can be seen in the context of secular vs. religious powers, in that the front of the monastery was placed in a manner to face the most monumental side of the castle. This baroque axial composition was later further extended by the construction of our chapel.

However, having no male descendants, upon the death of Julius Francis in 1689, the family became extinct in the male line. The Lauenburg estate was fought over by numerous sides, including his two daughters and his cousin. George William, Duke of Brunswick-Lüneburg, invaded Saxe-Lauenburg with his troops, thus inhibiting the ascension of the legal heiress. Other monarchies claimed the succession: the neighboring duchies of Mecklenburg-Schwerin and of Danish Holstein, as well as five principalities of Anhalt, the Electorate of Saxony, and even Sweden and Brandenburg. In 1728, Charles VI finally legitimized the takeover. Anna Maria Franziska and her sister Sibylle, never having waived their claim, were dispossessed of Saxe-Lauenburg. Anna Maria Franziska was exiled in Ploskovice and Zákupy.

However, in the long term Anna Maria Franziska did all right, now that she was based in the Czech Kingdom full-time. She amassed an astonishing estate, nicknamed the "Tuscan Estate", consisting of her father's Czech assets including Zákupy as well as other estates acquired on her own.

She was married, had two daughters, but her first husband Philipp Wilhelm of Neuburg died young in 1693. Enter Gian Gastone de' Medici and the politically arranged marriage between the two families. They were married in Düsseldorf on July 2, 1697. Anna Maria Franziska demanded that they reside in her Czech residences, Ploskovice and Zákupy. Being a country girl, she did not like cities or courts, but liked horses and was being described as a Czech peasant rather than a princess. On the other hand, Gian Gastone came from Florence, the centerpoint of Renaissance culture. He was born into one of the wealthiest and most influential families of the Western world at the time, who had ruled Florence for almost 300 years. It does not come as a surprise that he found life in the small town of Zákupy a bit boring. Although he imported his court and servants from Italy. Things were still a far cry for him from the Palazzo Pitti in Florence.


Inscription above the main door: "To Jesus, Maria, Joseph, exiled in Egypt,
dedicated by the Etruscans being observant of their pledge, on October 10, 1698."
It was in 1698 that our Chapel of St. Joseph was built. It was a pet project of the members of Gian Gastone's court, who financed it themselves. They hired Giulio Broggio, the court architect who was in charge of the rebuilding of Zákupy Castle at that time, and thought it would be nice to build a chapel on the hill rising above the castle to the east, situated in line with the castle and the Capuchin monastery located in-between. Broggio had been in charge of the rebuilding of Zákupy Castle since 1689, following the death in 1679 of his predecessor, Giovanni Domenico Orsi.

 

 

 

 


Chapel facade vs. castle facade.


Consecration order.
The chapel was designed with a massive front portico, with a facade and vaulted ceiling looking like a small piece of Florence transplanted to northern Bohemia. Inside, the chapel consisted of one nave with 5-meter (15-ft) vaulted ceiling, 5 windows and a door on each end. The facade above the portico was borrowed from the entry way of the castle. Fairly plain, yet unmistakably Italian in appearance! The building permit says: "The Archbishopric of Prague, at the request of Jesuit P. Joseph Maria Sotomayer, personal confessor of Grand Duke Gian Gastone de Medici, hereby grants the permission to build in Zákupy a chapel dedicated to Jesus, Maria and Joseph. In Prague, Office of the Archbishop, on May 21, 1698.".


Consecration order.
The chapel was built in mere four months and consecrated on October 10, 1698. The consecration order says: "The Archbishopric of Prague, at the request of Gastone, Grand Duke Of Tuscany, hereby grants the permission to Jezuit P. Joseph Maria Sotomayer, the confessor of said Grand Duke, to consecrate the chapel to honor Jesus, Maria and Joseph. Signed by the Office of the Archbishop, on October 10, 1698." There is a hand-written note below the text, added by Sotomayer himself, confirming that he personally consecrated the chapel on October 10, 1698.

Giulio Broggio, the architect, was born in the small town of Albiolo near Lake Como in northern Italy. His family came to the Czech Kingdom and settled in the town of Litoměřice. Giulio learned to be a carpenter and rose from a trainee in 1658 to a notable builder who built many important Baroque buildings. He became the official court architect for the Saxe-Lauenburg family in 1689. He initially continued in implementing Orsi's designs, but gradually moved toward designs of his own (eg. bridge over the moat and outbuildings in front of the castle). Their distinctive styles are very apparent in the castle. Orsi's style was more grandiose and elaborate compared to Broggio's, whose buildings are simpler and typical of the "Czech" baroque (simple windows, onion-shaped church towers etc). The castle itself, being designed and mainly built by Orsi has grand windows and gates, while the outbuildings around the castle designed and built by Broggio are plain in comparison.

Broggio worked on the Zákupy Castle project until 1700, upon which time he likely began to transfer his business to his son Octavian. Octavian carried out extensive construction works on the castle gardens between 1700 and 1701. Giulio Broggio's official successor as court architect was Jan Jindřich Klingenleitner from Prague. However, his involvement lasted only until 1703. He received a low salary illustrating the overall waning of construction activities.

Anna Maria Franziska devoted most of her life to the building, expansion and beautification of her numerous chateaus. She bought and built new chateaus, churches, rectories, and even in 1718 a grand palace in Prague built by count Thun-Hohenstein, known today as the "Tuscan Palace" - seat of the Czech Foreign Ministry. She was also known for her benevolent relationship to her subjects: farmers, foresters and other people responsible for the upkeep of her assets. Altogether, she lived in Zakupy for 52 years.

However, her marriage to Gian Gastone was not a happy one. He did not like her and did not care for Zákupy. He ultimately stayed with his wife for a mere ten months, before escaping to Paris. His father Cosimo explicitly told him not to leave Anna Maria Franziska and ordered him back to Zákupy. Anna Maria Franziska made an effort to welcome him back; however, her mood turned sour when Gian Gastone brought up the prospect of moving to Prague. He ultimately left for Prague with his favorite servant Giuliano Dami. While in Prague, Gian Gastone pursued the good life: drinking, eating, partying and gambling. He racked up exorbitant gambling debts, and owed the most to the Archbishop of Prague!

Gian Gastone wanted to live in Prague or Florence, but she would have none of it. Gian Gastone did return to Zákupy as per the Holy Roman Emperor and Holy Roman Empress's advice. Nevertheless, their reconciliation was brief, and Gian Gastone left for Hamburg in October 1703, only to return to Prague the next February. Gian Gastone requisitioned the help of Pope Clement XI, who sent the Archbishop of Prague a letter to tell Anna Maria she had to move to Florence with Gian Gastone. Gian Gastone's father appealed to her to fulfil her marital duties and bear them a child. She was incensed, replying that there was no point going with him because he was "absolutely impotent." Gian Gastone's family finally conceded defeat and recalled Gian Gastone to Florence in 1708. He never saw his wife again and this is how the Medici family became extinct in the male line with him. One of the most powerful families in the world became extinct because of what happened, or did not happen, in Zakupy....

Anna Maria Franziska is described by some historians as "appalling and immensely fat", or as "a domineering person who drove her weak husband into the arms of alcohol". By others she can be viewed as a remarkable woman who not only succeeded within the largely male-dominated 18th century society, but succeeded in building a remarkable empire and stood out one of the most significant noblewomen of the European Baroque period.

 

 


Land map from approximately 1845.
In 1727, an annex was built to our chapel on its eastern side. The builders were local workers (bricklayer Jan Adam Stampach and stone mason Jan Kryštof Strantz), with a total budget of 53 gold pieces. Apparently, during this second building period a hermitage was built consisting of an attachment to the chapel, a cellar, cave and an animal shelter. This is documented in a paper by Macek and Zahradnik (1996).

During our renovation in 2015-2017, we found clear evidence of another renovation/addition having taken place in 1848, previously undocumented in literature. This is indicated by the numbers "1848" and the builder's name carved into one of the roof rafters. We also found evidence of an older wall having been added to the back of the chapel, pre-dating the 1848 annex. It therefore appears likely that there had been an older annex built 1727, of which the only remaining part is the cellar. The appearance of this older annex is unknown.

An annex clearly appears on Austrian military land maps from the 1840s.

On photographs taken in the early 20th century, the annex was called the "Jägerhaus" (Hunters' House) and appeared more like a tavern than part of a church. It was built of brick and was not constructed nearly as well as the chapel itself. In 2015, the walls of the Jägerhaus were in such a poor shape that they had to be torn down. Our 2015 renovation rebuilt the rear annex on basically the same floorplan, but with 21st century building technologies.

Sometime in the 18th or 19th centuries, other structures were built around the property. These included a two-storey wooden restaurant called the "Schützenhaus" (Riflemens' House) in the eastern corner of the property. The Schützenhaus survived Hitler but unfortunately did not survived the Communists.


Chapel and calvary in 1901.

A calvary was built on the hill immediately above the chapel. It consisted on a large cross at the top of the hill, two small chapels below it, and footpaths with stations of the cross. These were unfortunately destroyed during Communism, and only remnants of walls remain.

Chapel in 1910. Chapel interior in 1910.
Chapel annex (the "Jägerhaus") in 1902. Chapel annex (the "Jägerhaus") in 1902.
Former restaurant behind the chapel, the "Schützenhaus" in 1915. The chapel and restaurant in 1915.

 

Fast-forward to 2015. A large-scale renovation and rebuilding of the chapel complex has been initiated. The chapel will retain its original look and a new annex will be built behind it. This time, with proper budget, and following the style we think Broggio would have used if he had built it at the same time as the chapel. It follows the style of the outbuildings of the Zákupy castle, which were designed and built by Broggio.
Renovated chapel and a new annex, designed and built in 2015.

 

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