When you ascend from Mikulov to Holy Hill (Svatý Kopeček) and look out over the town and the chateau below, you may ask yourself why the inhabitants of long ago built a castle meant to protect a extensive region on the lower Chateau Hill and not up here.
This is a question no one can answer. Equally shrouded in mystery is the ancient history of this place as well as its name.
Originally this hill was called Tanzberg (Dancing) Mountain. Legend has it that the name comes from dance rites associated with pagan fertility and vegetation cults. Other legends say that witches danced here during covens on Walpurgis night.
Whatever the truth about the hill’s past, its name was changed in the 17th century thanks to Cardinal František Dietrichstein. As an expression of gratitude to God for overcoming the plague epidemic of 1622, he had the Stations of the Cross built on the hillside and the Chapel of St. Sebastian constructed at its apex. Perhaps the cardinal was also trying to erase associations with the former pagan rituals. Next to the Capuchin monastery in Mikulov, he also founded a Loretan chapel, a copy of the Holy Hut in Italy, above which the Church of St. Anne was built in the 1650s. This is where a statue of the Black Madonna found its home. Legends started to spread about its miraculous abilities to heal practically overnight, which attracted swarms of pilgrims yearning for a cure to Mikulov. For the pilgrims, a complex of houses was built in the town, and a collection box erected on the grounds near the church was quickly filled with donations from wealthier pilgrims.
Photos: Holy Hill near Mikulov (© Lubomír Stiburek), A pilgrimage to Holy Hill near Mikulov (Mikulov)
Holy Hill is a magical place. It has a special combination of natural surroundings – the location itself is a protected nature reserve where rare species of plants and animals are found – with ecclesiastical architecture and distant views of the surrounding area. Almost everyone who has climbed all the way up to the Chapel of St. Sebastian can confirm that one attains an unexplainable inner peace and perspective here. An opportunity to have a similar experience comes on the first Sunday in September each year, when Holy Hill comes alive during the traditional Marian pilgrimage. Girls and boys in traditional folk costumes and people young and old climb together past the fourteen Stations of the Cross – the oldest in the Czech Republic – to take part in the pilgrimage devotions at the Chapel of St. Sebastian. Accompanying them along the Way of the Cross to the summit each year is a copy of the Black Madonna of Loreto. The tradition began in 1865 and has so far been interrupted only during the Second World War.