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The story of the missionaries from Thessaloniki

In 2013, the Czech Republic will be celebrating the 1150th anniversary of the arrival of the missionaries Cyril and Methodius to Great Moravia

The Great Moravian Empire is firmly linked with the names of the missionaries Cyril and Methodius. Although eleven centuries separate us from the time when they lived, their story has remained alive to this very day. Testament to this is also the fact that Cyril and Methodius are the main patrons of Moravia and Pope John Paul II declared them patrons of Europe in 1980. 

The Great Moravian Empire was a European super power at the turn of the 10th century, which dazzled the world of that time with its brilliance of wealth, power and remarkable cultural boom. After less than a hundred years, its existence was irreversibly extinguished, but it did leave the Czech lands with a priceless legacy: the first Christian shrine in our country. And it was Cyril and Methodius who stood at the birth of this.

This most important of anniversaries, which relates to the roots of history, education, culture and the beginnings of Czech nationhood, will culminate in celebrations to be held on 4 to 5 July 2013 in Velehrad, at which the participation of Pope is expected.

Two messages and two brothers

In 862, Prince Rostislav of Great Moravia sent a messenger to the emperor of Byzantium; he assured him that his subjects had renounced paganism and would abide by Christian laws, and because he wanted to extricate his country from German bondage, he also asked Michael III to establish a bishopric in Great Moravia. The Moravians, who at that time had for the very first time stepped onto the winding path that was top-level European diplomacy, also sent a similar message to Pope Nicholas, although he had no intention of encroaching on the Frankish sphere of influence and rejected the request. But the message to the Byzantine city of Constantinople was successful.

Legend tells that approximately a year later, two brothers Constantine (who later assumed the oblate name of Kyrillos – Cyril) and Methodius, scholars and monks who came from the Greek city of Thessaloniki, set out on the long journey to the unknown north.

From floodplain forests right to the peaks of the Beskids

Methodius and Constantine did not preach their faith in lofty and incomprehensible Latin, but in the gentle and beautiful Old Slavonic language, which the Slavs understood and which a few years later became the fully-fledged language of church services. Thanks to the missionaries, the flames of Slav literature, education and culture were fanned and the local people had their own writing and books before the majority of other European nations.

You can find evidence of their work in several places around the Czech Republic, and this does not by far concern only the famous pilgrimage site of Velehrad, where the first archbishop of the Pannonian-Moravian archdiocese St. Methodius was evidently based. The missionaries from Thessaloniki were also undoubtedly well acquainted with the fortifications in the Sadská uplands near Starý Město and Valy near Mikulčice, a beautiful fortified site with a palace and massive walls located in the bends of the River Morava, where teams of archaeologists have uncovered the foundations of twelve churches over the years.

Another remarkable place is Mount St. Clement, an ancient pilgrimage site in the Chřiby mountain range. It was precisely here that a monastery reportedly stood, which Prince Rostislav gave to the missionaries and their pupils so that they could lead a contemplative life, pray and work. And finally, one of the finest statues of the two brothers can be found at the summit of the mythical Mount Radhošť in front of the Chapel of St. Cyril and Methodius. According to legend, the first cross was erected on Radhošť by precisely these two brothers from Thessaloniki, after having knocked down the pagan idols there.

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