“Where Is My Home? Truth Prevails” – A Journey to the Heart of Europe

Terry Boardman 2009

This essay first appeared in New View magazine Issue 54 Winter 2009/10  


Pravda vít?zí  (“Truth prevails” – The official motto of the Czech Republic)

Kde domov m?j (“Where is my home?” -  The Czech national anthem)


A secretive sun – this is the phrase that comes to mind when I think of Prague, a city of open secrets. The heart can be radiant; with its inner chambers it can also be secretive and alluring. The Czech lands and their capital are in the heart of Europe. Prague is not an in-your-face kind of city as are London, New York or even Paris in their different ways. It does not set out to impress, and yet it does. It has been called the mother of cities, the city of a hundred spires and the golden city, but they are the kind of names with which many other European cities might preen themselves. I prefer the word threshold, which is the meaning of práh, from which comes the Czech name Praha. In those sounds are something upright, mobile, open and somewhat not quite of this world. Perhaps in that sense, ‘mother’, ‘spire’ and ‘gold’ are not misnomers after all. The name we use in English  – Prague -  grounds the image more, and stems from the old Slavic root praga, which means, more prosaically, ford. So the English bring something more earthly to mind when they think of the city and speak its name. Prague’s founding legend connects the name wih the prophetess Libuše, who chose the ploughman P?emysl to be her husband and ruler of the ancestors of the Czechs. She apparently ordered Prague to be builtwhere a man hews a threshold of his house”. The threshold that is the river Vltava (wild water), which rises in the Bohemian mountain forest region to the south and joins the Elbe further north of Prague, flows through the city and coils around it like the blood flows through the heart. On both  sides of the river there  is a hill and a castle. The name Bohemia, which most people associate with this region comes from the  Boii, a Celtic people whose home it was some 200 years before Christ.

It was on a train from Munich that my German friend Markus and I rolled into Prague on a mid-October evening this year. Munich – a name redolent with significance in the modern history of the Czechs, for it was there in autumn 1938 that the British Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain did a deal with Hitler that in effect handed the Czechs over to the Nazi regime, by ceding to Hitler Bohemia’s natural protective borderland of the Sudetenland, which enabled the Nazis to annex the rest of Bohemia and Moravia with ease the following March. The Munich Conference thus opened the door to the outbreak of war in Europe in September 1939. Chamberlain had persuaded himself that he had bought ‘peace with honour’ by sacrificing the Czechs. The question of misplaced hopes of the west would be a theme in the conference in which  Markus and I were to participate, which was on the subject of the Rose Cross in Europe, hosted at the premises of the Anthroposophical Society in the Czech Republic. The same theme would also crop up throughout our visit. Both Germany and Britain seemed to be involved in our arrival, for not only did we arrive from Munich but we were ‘sung’ into Prague by a large group of inebriated football fans from N. Ireland who had filled our carriage at the border. It was only my third time in the Czech Republic since my first visit in 2004. A child of the Cold War generation, I still hardly know Eastern and Central Europe and I am more familiar with  Asia than I am with the other half of the continent in which I was born. Only now am I getting to know this ‘other Europe ‘ which also belongs to my cultural background as a European.

My accommodation was some way out from the centre of Prague, in a suburb that seemed to consist of many, many rows of large, grey and white, communist-era apartment blocks -  a stark contrast to the endless vistas of attractive, mostly fin-de-siècle and art nouveau  architecture to be seen in much of the city centre. I was introduced to the lady of the house, who lived in a sizeable flat in one of these blocks with her young 10 year old son and their gentle but enthusiastic Irish setter Billy. She immediately treated me to a warm meal and in somewhat broken English (alas, I speak no Czech) told me that both she and her son had been to England a few years ago and liked it a lot. They had stayed in Salisbury, in fact. That reminded me of my wife, who loves the city and its Cathedral, and it set off a train of thoughts…Salisbury Cathedral, built in the 13th century, had its superb spire added in the 14th, which was when a fateful Anglo-Bohemian connection was forged.

The Initiate Emperor’s Daughter

Much of the destiny of the Czech lands revolves around the figure of the King of Bohemia and later Holy Roman Emperor, Charles IV (r.1346-1378), a truly great figure of European history (illustration). According to the spiritual scientist Rudolf Steiner, Charles was the last initiated ruler of the Holy Roman Empire. His father, John of Luxemburg,  had fought King Edward III of England in the Hundred Years War at the Battle of Crecy (1346). Despite his blindness, and strapped into his saddle, John had ridden to his death in the thick of the battle. Edward the Black Prince, eldest son of Edward III,  was so impressed by the old man’s courage that he took for himself John’s ostrich feather device and his German language motto ‘Ich Dien’ (I serve), and they have been the heraldic device and motto of the Princes of Wales ever since. A most strange pattern of karmic consequences now began to weave between England and Bohemia, with French and German elements  somehow included in the tapestry. Edward the Black Prince was a paragon of chivalry and a great military leader but he could also be cruel and ruthless, and his armies plundered great regions of France in the Hundred Years’ War. He did not succeed his warrior father, however, for he died of illness in 1376 at the early age of 46, one year before Edward III. The Prince’s nine year old son, Richard,  on the death of his grandfather in 1377, became King Richard II (1377-1399), the monarch who heads Shakespeare ‘s great series of, mostly tragic, King plays. Five years later, in 1382, Anne of Bohemia, daughter of the late great Holy Roman Emperor Charles IV (d.1378) arrived in England to become Richard ‘s wife.

Ironically, in view of what would later result from the marriage, it was the Pope in Rome, then in dispute with his rival anti-Pope in France, who encouraged the Czech royals to arrange Anne’s marriage to the English king, who supported him, rather than to the French king who backed the Pope’s rival. The Earl of Salisbury was one of those who ferried Anne across the Channel. At the wedding in London in January 1382 the couple were both just 15. The English had hoped to get some money out of the deal; they were to be disappointed on that score. Anne brought no dowry, and a bad omen had occurred after she arrived in England: her ships were all smashed to pieces in a storm, and indeed, in 12 years of marriage, she produced no children, which was the main duty of a mediaeval queen. Yet her husband was devoted to her, and the people of England really took to her because she was indeed a genuinely good woman, who cared for the poor and defended the weak, making a number of very public intercessions to the King on behalf of subjects in trouble. She urged mercy for the rebels of the Peasants’ Revolt of 1381 even before arriving in England. Geoffrey Chaucer addressed his Legend of Good Women to her. Sadly, she died of plague in 1394, much loved at the age of only 28. So there were no great material benefits for England from Anne ‘s homeland, and no royal son from Bohemia grew up in England, only the heraldic device taken  on the battlefield from the old blind King John. But something very important indeed, a ‘child’ of sorts, a more important child than just another mediaeval dynast, did actually proceed from the marriage of Richard and Anne. The Bohemian court from which Anne came was cosmopolitan and influenced by an enlightened  ‘pro-feminine humanism’ (1) from the time of Charles IV. Through the Bohemian entourage of the well-educated Anne, who could read the Gospels in three languages (Czech, German and Latin), the teachings of John Wycliffe, the most significant of the early ‘protestant’  reformers, made their way back to Bohemia. Czech students  at Wycliffe’s University of Oxford also mediated his influence back to their homeland, as intellectual contacts developed between Prague and Oxford. In Prague, Wycliffe’s ideas fired the soul of Jan Hus and eventually, the first great European Protestant movement (the Hussites) which shook the Holy Roman Empire a hundred years before Luther.

Meanwhile, the character of King Richard II, who was devoted to his Czech wife (photo: Richard and Anne) despite their lack of children, took an unhealthy turn after her early death. He married again, this time a French princess, but his subsequent failures as monarch led directly to his deposal and murder in the coup of Henry Bolingbroke of Lancaster. Bolingbroke’s coup would eventually become the excuse for the Wars of the Roses that destroyed so much of the old aristocracy and led to the emergence of the Tudors and all that England became as a result, not least the first major European Protestant State. The roots of its emergence thus go back to the time of the marriage of Richard and Anne. With their era in mind, and those first pregnant cultural contacts between England and Bohemia, I spent my first night in that Prague apartment, built at a time when Bohemia had been ruled by communism – another philosophy that had come to it  – via a rather roundabout route  – from the West….

The next morning I looked out of the bedroom window in that Prague apartment to find, like Wenceslas (2), snow falling steadily – in mid-October! My host saw me to the tram stop. Having met up with my two comrades, Markus and Richard, not far from Prague Castle on its imposing hill, we made our way to an old, large cafe on the other side of the river. To get to it, we had to cross the famous mediaeval Charles Bridge, named after Charles IV, with its may statues on both parapets. On the other side of the bridge, we passed a large statue of Charles IV himself, who made such a great contribution to the cultural life of the Czechs and of all Central Europe, for he established Prague University, the first in Central Europe,  and   built  the wonder of Karlstejn Castle (of which more later). In 1356 he promulgated the Golden Bull which would determine the constitutional form of Central Europe for the next 450 years until Napoleon (3). The Bull ensured that the lands of Central Europe did not become a single state, like France, Spain and England; it was an act that would have profound historical consequences for the whole of Europe. (4)

Between imagination and repression

Behind the splendid statue of Charles was one of the most gigantic advertising posters I have ever seen. It covered the entire surface of a large 19th century building, about eight storeys high and was a giant photographic copy of that very same building, only in the middle of the poster and right behind the statue of the saintly royal hero of the Czech people, was an enormous bottle of the beer that the poster was advertising. This is one of the delights of Prague – the Czechs’ zany and irreverent humour. One finds bizarre architectural or decorative features all over the city, sometimes comic, sometimes esoteric and occult, or spooky and unsettling, provocative, challenging, but always imaginative.

This is a key to the city’s ‘bohemian reputation. The glorious and colourful art nouveau architecture prevalent in the city centre provides the visitor with endless fascination. Alfred Thomas’ book, A Blessed Shore, explains how the incongruous ‘Bohemian seacoast’ in Shakespeare’s A Winter’s Tale symbolizes the liberties taken by the Shakespearean imagination, uncovering a longstanding tradition of identifying Bohemia with, on the one hand, an artistic life and a people unfettered by the constraints of normalcy and, on the other, the forces of conservatism and repression. (5)

This was not just Shakespeare’s ‘imagination’; there is reality to that imagination, as one can still readily witness in Czech culture and society today. The light and dark of the various architectural and decorative images everywhere in Prague testify to the comic and tragic aspects of Czech history, the struggles of the people for personal and national liberation and their frequent suppression by internal and external authorities. The Winter’s Tale, says Thomas , works through the dialectic between the repression and dreams of peace and harmony that characterize English attitudes to Bohemia. Perhaps, however, that says as much about English people’s attitudes to their own society as it does about their views of Bohemia.

Happy to come in from the cold, though the snow by now had stopped, and pursuing the delightful ‘dialectic’ of imagination and earthiness, we spent an hour or two enjoying conversation and the kind of sophisticated coffees and cakes you’d be hard pushed to find in England. Then, Markus took us to the Emauzy (Emmaeus) Monastery, founded by Charles IV in 1347 to enable the Old Church Slavonic liturgy to be practised there. It is symptomatic that the Slavic region of Central Europe was christianised from two directions – from the west, Regensburg in Germany, by Latin Catholic clerics and from the southeast, by the saints Cyril and Methodius from Byzantium (mid-9th century), who first gave the Slavs the Bible in their own language. Over the centuries in Bohemia Rome had won out in the official religious competition with Byzantium but in founding the Emauzy, Charles IV sought to redress the balance somewhat in favour of the language of his people. Markus showed us the monastery’s beautiful murals, and explained the story of the monastery’s connection to the two great missionaries from Byzantium, Saints Cyril and Methodius, who played such a key role in the spiritual history of Europe; it was also they who had converted St Wenceslas’ grandfather to Christianity.

From Bethelehem Church to Malteser Square

Markus then took us to see the Bethlehem Church near the centre of the Old City where, inspired by the protestant ideas of John Wycliffe, Jan Hus had preached from 1402-1412. Unfortunately, it was closed, but just from the austerity of the plain and direct exterior, one could get a sense of what was then emerging  in Bohemia that would pose such a powerful challenge to the Church of Rome that so many in Central Europe then felt had diverged too far from the message and example of Christ.

The struggle that subsequently broke out in Bohemia was extreme and threatened to bring down the Holy Roman Empire. Through most of the 15th century Bohemia was in the vanguard of the changes in European consciousness as some 90% of the population converted to Hussite forms of Protestantism. Charles IV’s son Sigismund had little of his father’s social genius and struggled vainly to repress the new movement; in Bohemia and England, Sigismund and his ally Henry V fiercely persecuted the followers of Hus and Wycliffe. In the year of Agincourt (1415) Jan Hus  was burnt alive for heresy, but his pyre lit a greater fire that surged up throughout the 15th century. It was still burning 200 years later, when the Thirty Years’ War began (1618) and 27 Bohemian Protestant leaders by the victorious Catholics following the Protestants’ disastrous  defeat in the Battle of the White Mountain (1620) by the forces of the Habsburg Empire.

That defeat had brought to an end another attempted linkage between Bohemia and Britain. King James I (1603-1625), founder of Great Britain   and according to Rudolf Steiner, the greatest occultist of his day, had married his daughter Elizabeth to Frederick V, the young German prince of the Palatinate. Many Protestant hopes, too many in fact, were loaded onto this marriage. Some powerful Protestants in Germany and Bohemia hoped that James would support his daughter and her husband when they were invited to become King and Queen of Bohemia, and apocalyptic hopes were high for a great Protestant crusade that would put an end to Catholicism forever. Ill-advised, the young and naive couple accepted the invitation, and moved their court to Prague, but James did not stir. Frederick and Elizabeth, who had watched a performance of Shakespeare’s great romance The   Tempest on Valentine’s Day seven years earlier in London at the time of their wedding now had to witness the performance of their own tragedy as the Winter King and Queen of Bohemia who ruled for only a year before the armies of the Catholic Emperor forced them to flee for their lives. The Thirty Years’ War which followed devastated Bohemia; the population fell from 3 million to 800,000. The Jesuits took control in Prague, which became one of their main European strongholds. Czechs refer to the subsequent 200 years of Habsburg domination as ‘the Dark Age’. 1620 would not be the first time that Britain would hold back from coming to the assistance of the Czechs. The British failure to do so 318 years later at Munich arguably led directly to the outbreak of World War II and to 50 years of oppression for the Czech people.

After seeing the Bethlehem Church we had a prime opportunity to discover what was arriving in this heart of Europe from the West in our own times. The year before, we had been introduced to an Englishman who had been living in Prague since the fall of communism. He had been much influenced by the English conservative philosopher Roger Scruton, who, as it turns out, has long been based in Salisbury. This Englishman in Prague was a political lobbyist; he worked to ‘open doors’ for western companies and other institutions seeking opportunities in the former Communist bloc countries and especially in the Czech Republic and generally, to promote ‘western interests and western ways and values’ in the country. As a result, he had got to know the Czech establishment and political system rather well. We had been invited to drop in on him again.

But first, we went to a restaurant he had recommended.  It was in Malteser Square (Maltézské nám?stí), named after the Knights of Malta (the Order of St John, the descendants of the Order of the Hospitallers) who had a church there. Next to the church was the building that housed the Order’s official embassy to the Czech Republic, for the Sovereign Military Order of the Knights of Malta (SMOM), is, like the Vatican to which it is spiritually allied, a sovereign independent entity, with diplomatic status in over 90 countries! (6) Brass plates outside the embassy building declared that the property also housed the offices of bodies such as the AAUNI, Global Education Solutions, the Prague Society and its affiliate the innocuously named ‘Global Panel’. AAUNI, we later learned, is the ‘Anglo-American University’; Global Education Solutions is a body that arranges study abroad experiences for North American students, while the Prague Society and Global Panel turned out to be two organisations of extremely high level Atlanticist movers and shakers (7) and supporters of the ‘New World Order’ concept. They included IBM, Morgan Stanley, Commerzbank, Volvo,the American Foreign Policy Council, the Henry Jackson Society, International Crisis Group, and the governments of Canada and Holland; in other words, organisations whose heads congregate regularly at gatherings such as the annual Bilderberger meetings, where, ignored by the mainstream media, which avoids reporting on them, the agendas of ‘globalisation’ are discussed and coordinated to serve the political and economic interests of people one would not normally expect to be too well-disposed towards the Roman Catholic Church, and yet, here in Prague, they were all tenants together in Malteser Square. (8)

In his office, a little while later, the political lobbyist told us that “It all goes on in Malteser Square,” and revealed to us how these things are done: how with a word in this individual journalist’s ear here, and a suitably placed article there, one can destroy the careers of local politicians who stand in the way of large outside interests. When one begins to dig but a little into the connections between SMOM and the CIA for example during the Cold War, one is amazed to discover the depths of the linkages between Washington and Rome. The intrepid Knights of Malta quickly ensconced themselves into the nascent CIA in the late 1940s, which by the end of the 1950s was already showing many Catholics and SMOM members in its upper echelons. These Catholic connections in US intelligence rendered special services in the 1980s as Washington and the Vatican cooperated in their support of the Solidarity free trade movement in Poland – another example of how western agendas have influenced events in central and eastern Europe. (9)

Dwelling on the theme of the Knights of Malta, who reach back to the Crusades, when the Catholic Church was at the height of its power in Europe , put us in mind of Schiller’s unfinished play Die Malteser (The Maltese).(10)  He had wished to focus on the theme of spiritual nobility in man,  but abandoned Die Malteser after the ignominious surrender by the Order of the island to Napoleon in 1798, which made the depiction of the Order’s heroic defence of Malta  (1565) in his intended play seem out of place. However, there may have been more to it than that. Steiner observed that  

    …he tried to develop the Die Malteser, but he could not do it. He could write only a slight sketch, because his drama, in reality, contains something that, since the time of the Crusades, has been preserved in the various kinds of occultism, mysticism, and initiation science. Schiller went to work on this kind of drama, but to complete it he would have had to experience initiation. ….[Yet] Once it became known that Schiller intended to write a drama such as Die Malteser, there was a tremendous increase in opposition to him in Germany. He was feared. People feared that he might betray all kinds of occult secrets in his drama.(11)

Die Malteser, Steiner indicated, would have shown how it was necessary to act out of initiation knowledge if one were really to work in a creative and curative manner.

The Prague Metronome

There is something secretive and alluring about Prague which, ever since the times at least of Charles IV, seems to attract all these esoteric  and clandestine goings-on. Perhaps it has something to do with the spirit of that modern Czech motto: ‘Truth prevails’ and the question posed in the Czech national anthem: ‘Where is my home?’ The original 1834 version of the anthem’s text, written in an age of burgeoning nationalism throughout Europe , speaks of the Czech lands as ‘a paradise on earth’ but also of the Czechs as  ‘tender souls in agile frames, of clear mind, vigorous and prospering, and with a strength that frustrates all defiance.’  These words point to a persistent search for individual truth. Is not our spiritual home in the modern age to be found in the truth about who we really are? Does not the answer involve a quest into the inner depths of one’s own destiny, one’s culture and into human nature itself? At the heart and centre of Europe Prague seems somehow inextricably bound up with the light and dark of such questions.

Above the city, in Letna Park overlooking the Vltava and visible from afar, there used to be a giant statue of Josef Stalin. In its place in 1991, as hi-tech western capitalism took over from the communists, an enormous 30m high  metronome (photo) was sited, which constantly swings from east to west, from west to east ….though not exactly pretty, it seems a suitable symbol for the country’s east-west situation but I could not help feeling that it represents a new kind of tyranny – mechanical, binary, abstract.

In the 18th century Prague was a major centre for both Freemasons and Jesuits, who were busily infiltrating and excoriating each other like the CIA and KGB 200 years later. All this seemed echoed in what we learned in Prague about the battles going on today in the country between the representatives of western commercial and political interests on the one hand and, on the other, of former communist era apparatchiks and other opportunists now in positions of power in the government and  the State energy conglomerate -  the one group seeking to implant from the West a particular economic worldview in Central Europe, while the other group, a small section of Central European society merely out to enrich themselves.

Caught in the middle of all this are the great majority of the people of Prague and the Czech Republic. We were very conscious while we there of the fact that just at that time only a single Czech stood between acceptance and rejection of the Lisbon Treaty that would all but complete the European Union project. Ironically, the first to conceive of such a project had been a Czech, back in the 15th century. King George (of) Pod?brady (1458-1471) was a leader of the moderate Bohemian protestant group the Utraquists during the Hussite wars of that century. In a bid to make peace with the papal forces ranged against him, George came up with an idea that seems very ‘Bohemian’ – imaginative and in advance of its time, but ‘lacking somewhat’ in earthly reality:

He proposed a treaty among all Christian powers, with Germany (including, then, Bohemia), France, and Italy and its princes the founding members, but others, especially the Hispanic powers, joining later. The member states would pledge to settle all differences by exclusively peaceful means. There was to be a common parliament and other common institutions and supranational insignia. George couched the proposal in Christian terms (“Europe” is not explicitly mentioned) as a way to stop the “abominable Turk” who had conquered Constantinople in 1453. He sent Leo of Rozmital on a tour of European courts with a draft treaty to promote this idea. George hoped that the treaty would come into effect in 1464.(13)

Needless to say, the Pope was not impressed with this idea from ‘a Bohemian heretic’ ruler. 600 years later, we now had the opposite situation: the Vatican encouraging the formation of a single European State while another ‘Bohemian heretic’ was standing against it. Vaclav Klaus, the President of the Czech Republic standing up defiantly before all of Europe and saying, in effect, “the Emperor has no clothes!”  as all of the EU nomenklatura looked on in disbelief and horror. Somehow, it was a very Czech gesture. Europe needs people that can make this kind of gesture: the Czechs as the centrally-eccentric, truth-telling jesters at the Court of the Dark Blue King? Any society needs individuals who are capable of this, but the Czechs – from Jan Hus to Franz Kafka to Vaclav Havel  – seem to have a knack for it. Alas, Klaus’ rebellion did not last very long, and soon after my friends and I had left Prague, he capitulated and signed the ratification, declaring as he did so that it was a gloomy day for him, because he was conscious that his country’s sovereign existence was terminated by the Lisbon Treaty. We might have expected his capitulation; our English lobbyist acquaintance had warned us that Klaus and the British Conservatives were ‘dancing partners’, so to speak, and within hours of Klaus’ announcement, sure enough, David Cameron’s ‘cast iron guarantee’ of a referendum for the British people magically disappeared into thin legalistic air like an ephemeral paper tiger.


In the decades before the Thirty Years’ War, Prague had attracted a bevy of famous figures drawn to the city’s liberal, freethinking atmosphere. During the reign of Emperor Rudolf II (1576-1612) for example, the astronomers Johannes Kepler and  Tycho Brahe lived there (14), while the Welsh mathematician and occultist John Dee (1627-1608) spent the years 1584-89 in Bohemia with his scryer (seer) Edward Kelley, trying to interest the Emperor in his schemes. Dee is an important figure, not only as the original ideologue of the concept of the ‘Brytish Impire’ and of British colonisation of N. America, but as a cyptographer and mathematician whose work helped found the first English secret service; his code number was 007. His use of the occultic ‘Enochian’ script has influenced generations of students  of magic. That John Dee on his various trips to Central Europe had planted Rosicrucianism there from Britain was asserted by Frances Yates In her influential book The Rosicrucian Enlightenment (1972), which was the first scholarly work (in English) to establish Rosicrucianism as a serious subject for academic study. Yates’ argument, while stimulating in various ways, is seriously flawed and full of speculation, might have beens and possiblys – another example of a kind of misplaced hope carried from the West to Central Europe . President Woodrow Wilson of the USA, who many regarded as the ‘Messiah’ of his day,  brought another such misplaced hope to Europe in 1919 with his unrealistic plans for redrawing borders across the continent on ethnic and linguistic lines. Unfortunately, Tomáš Masaryk, the leader of the Czech national movement at the time, was very much influenced by anglo-saxon philosophy and Woodrow Wilson’s ideas. He supported western plans to break up the middle European community that was the Austro-Hungarian Empire into a collection of small independent states. Ethnic minorities were invariably oppressed by majority communities in such states.  Masaryk became the first President of the newly independent Czechoslavkia. Neville Chamberlain would offer more false hope in 1938.

On our second day in Prague we were taken on a trip by our hosts to Karlstejn Castle less than an hour’s drive from the city. It was built by Charles IV to house the imperial regalia, and the chapel wherein they were kept was and is a place of surpassing beauty and a treasure of European culture in itself. Having already been guided through the Castle’s church of the Virgin Mary, which featured some wonderful mediaeval murals that made a strong impression on the soul, we crossed a wooden bridge into the main tower and made our way up a large winding staircase with more magnificent murals portraying the initiatory path of the life of St Vaclav (Wenceslas), the path of his spiritual biography and martyrdom, and then – suddenly, we were ushered into the Chapel of the Holy Cross, where the regalia were kept. It was breathtaking;  we all quite spontaneously fell silent. We found ourselves in what seemed like a large golden dome, but in the Gothic style, its ceiling decorated with countless stars once made of Venetian glass but now all missing. The lower walls were of red jasper, the stone of Bohemia, framed in gold leaf, and above them a whole host of the most magnificent mediaeval portraiture, all the saints and great figures of the church, 130 in all, in superb condition, having been lovingly restored. Painted between 1360 and 1380, they were all from the hand of the same Master, Theoderic and just a few other artists. The paintings are so moving because they capture so directly that moment in European consciousness, in the 14th century, when the iconic style of the East was moving into the personal style of the West, and the faces hover indescribably and touchingly between the two moods, which seems so fitting for this land in the heart of Europe.

The Chapel of the Holy Cross at Karlstejn is one of those places like the Taj Mahal or Neuschwanstein Castle: no pretty picture does it justice, one has to go and experience with one’s own eyes and heart and be gazed upon by those paintings. Having entered into this spiritual panoply, so to speak, there in the centre, above the altar is the meaning of it all, the Master Theoderic’s small painting of the suffering living Christ – with eyes unusually open – rising from the grave. In their book Esoteric Bohemia – Karlstein, authors Jan and Tomáš Bon?k write that “one of the possible keys to the explanation of the chapel is the legend of St. Catherine” and “the mystical wedding of St Catherine and Jesus Christ”. Perhaps one could also say, the “chymical  wedding” of the soul with Christ, for one has passed from the soul space of the Church of Mary with its apocalypsis up the initiatory staircase of Vaclav, step by step, gradalis, to the goal of the quest, in the Holy Cross Chapel. The authors write that “a visitor fulfilled the hidden meaning of the chapel if, in his heart, he made the same vow that Catherine made to Jesus Christ in the said legend:

    My true King, today I pledge Thee  my purity and I promise  with my true and sincere heart as best I know how to serve Thee until I die.

This vow I did not make in those words as I did not know them; I was simply overcome by the spirit of the place, but it felt that this place belonged to the spiritual heart of the being of Europe. I felt deeply that I was standing in one of the cultural chambers of that heart and that the  past, present, and future of Europe were somehow present, watching in all those pairs of eyes  – and waiting.

The sky blue UN guru

But then came the time to leave that special space. After all this spiritual nourishment, it was time for material food at a local restaurant. Later that day, Markus told me he had noticed that the road leading up to Karlstejn, that treasure of European culture, was named ‘Sri Chinmoy road’. Who is Sri Chinmoy Kumar Ghose ? He was familiar to me, because back in the early 1970s he had been the Indian Hindu guru of two great western rock guitarists, Carlos Santana and John McLaughlin (photo below left), and had become the eastern ‘sage’ most closely associated with the United Nations.

At the invitation of the Buddhist UN General Secretary from Burma, U Thant (photo above right), Sri Chinmoy began conducting meditations at the UN in New York, wrote many paens of praise to the UN and became something of an ambassador for what he alleged were ‘the spiritual values of the UN’. Knowing of its origins in Anglo-American establishment circles and their aims for world government associated with it, others, including this writer, would have a very different view of the UN organisation as a utopian illusion. In later life, Sri Chinmoy Kumar Ghose became a controversial figure, accused of sexual abuse by former female disciples and of fraudulent claims about his weightlifting practices. This is the spiritual guru in whose name the road now leads to Charles IV’s Chapel of the Holy Cross. I later learned that in 2007 a group of professors at Charles University in Prague had nominated him for the Nobel Peace Prize, but he died that year before securing the prize.

Imagine my surprise then on our third, very cold day in Prague when I went to the bus stop near the apartment where I was staying and saw there on the bus shelter a large poster of Sri Chinmoy, sitting cross legged, eyes closed in meditation, and dressed in UN sky blue! I discovered that posters advertising Chinmoy’s meditation methods were all over the city and that he was a well-established figure on the alternative spiritual scene in this country which has more atheists and agnostics than any other in Europe, apart from Estonia. Along with Anglo-American business practices and German technology, ancient spiritual ideas from the East about transcendent oneness allied to illusory western concepts of world peace and world government are also seeking to cross the European threshold that is Prague. This too seemed to be symptomatic of the spiritual struggle and quest going on in the heart of Europe . As the Stalinist shadow from the East had faded, a different kind of patriarchal influence from the East, albeit a more benevolent, friendlier-looking one, was making itself felt. As Bolshevism had been seeded in Russia from the West, the Sri Chinmoy movement was seeding itself in Bohemia from New York, where Sri Chinmoy had lived for the last 40 years of his life.

I too had come to Prague from ‘the West’ , but my own hope is that the Czech people will be able to find their own way between the siren voices of the western Scylla and the eastern Charybdis. The giant mechanical metronome above the city of Prague continues to tick: east – west – east – west…but it seems to me that from St Vaclav to Vaclav Klaus, from Hus to Havel, from Wycliffe to Chinmoy, and from Dee to Chamberlain, Prague and the land of the Czechs have swung in the balance in the heart of Europe like a living pendulum of the European spirit.

When the conference on the theme of the Rose Cross in Europe began that third day after our arrival in Prague, I felt that it was truly in the right place.


(1) Anne’s Bohemia : Czech literature and society, 1310-1420 By Alfred Thomas, p.45
(2)   Saint Wenceslas I, Duke of Bohemia (907–935). In the High Middle Ages (c.1000-1300) there was great respect for the concept of ‘the righteous and pious King’. England ‘s patron saint, for example,  was for a long time St Edward the Confessor, who reigned as King (1042-1066) and was regarded as especially pious. Not long after Wenceslas’ murder by his brother Boleslav, a martyr’s cult grew up around him which was also embraced in England . Wenceslas is the patron saint of the Czechs.
(3) Bull – from the Latin bulla (seal), which was attached to especially important and solemn decrees, only sparingly issued by Byzantine and mediaeval monarchs and popes. Sometimes the seals had golden ornaments attached to them, hence the name.
(4) With the Golden Bull, in effect, the last initiate Emperor Charles IV ensured that Central Europe (the lands within the Holy Roman Empire) would remain a loose, mobile and ‘mercurial’ confederation of many multiethnic territories rather than the solid unitary centralising monarchies of the West (France, Spain, England) or the vast amorphous empires of the East (Russia, Poland-Lithuania and the Ottoman realm)

(5) http://www.thefreelibrary.com/ A Blessed Shore: England and Bohemia from Chaucer to Shakespeare. Ithaca : Cornell University Press, 2007

(6) The difference being that the Order does not possess territory like the Vatican . Like its mediaeval forebears, the Templars and Hospitallars, SMOM is supranational.

(7) See http://www.globalpanel.org/

(8) Most English-speaking countries do not recognise SMOM embassies

(9) See TIME magazine cover feature (Vol 139 No 8; original article 24.Feb 1991)  ‘The Holy Alliance’. For full text, see:

 http://www.time.com/time/magazine/article/0,9171,159069,00.html The so-called ‘colour revolutions’ of more recent years have provided further evidence of such agendas at work through seemingly innocuous western NGOs such as the National Endowment for Democracy.

(10) http://www.malteserkreuz.org/stories/storyReader$264

(11) R. Steiner lecture of 18 July, 1924

(12) e.g. Angels and Demons (2000), The Da Vinci Code (2003), The Lost Symbol (2009)

(13) George (of) Pod?brady  – wikipedia

(14) Tycho Brahe is buried in the “Church of Our Lady before Týn” on the Old Town Square

Terry Boardman

This page was first uploaded 27.1.2010