Vreta Abbey was the first nunnery in Sweden, initially Benedictine and later Cistercian, and one of the oldest in Scandinavia. The exact year of the foundation is not known. The abbey was founded by King Inge the Elder of Sweden and Queen Helena on the orders of Pope Paschal II, which gives a date range for the foundation: Paschal became pope in 1099; the date of Inge's death is disputed, but probably occurred around 1105 or a little later. In the following decade King Inge the Younger and Queen Ulvhild made large donations to it.
Vreta Abbey was a house of Benedictine nuns until 1162, when it was turned into a Cistercian nunnery. The first Cistercian abbess was Ingegerd, sister of Charles VII. A second sister, Helena of Sweden, widow of Canute V of Denmark, entered Vreta as a nun after being widowed in 1157, and other members of the Swedish and Danish royal families were also here. In the 13th century, Princess Helena Sverkersdotter of Sweden were among its abbesses. Vreta Abbey has entered folklore as the scene during the 13th century of a number of prominent abductions of girls for marriages disapproved of by their families. It was a prestigious establishment, and the church is the burial place of kings Inge the Elder and the Younger, Philip of Sweden, Magnus II and princes Ragnvald (son of Inge the Elder) and Sune, plus according to an older source the latter's young nephews, Alf and Boleslaw Johansson. It served as a school for daughters of Sweden's ruling families and nobility.
The buildings burned down in the early 13th century, but were rebuilt, and a new church was dedicated in the presence of King Magnus Ladulås and Queen Hedwig in 1289. After 1527, as a result of the Reformation the abbey was forbidden to accept any new novices, but was otherwise treated very leniently. It continued in use as a school for daughters of the nobility and a retirement place for old noblewomen, and in 1529, the King allowed the last abbess, Sigrid Botholfsdotter (d. 1538), to buy it, and its activities continued undisturbed. In 1536 the King Gustav Vasa gave the abbey and its assets to his Roman Catholic mother-in-law Ebba Eriksdotter Vasa, the mother of the Queen consort Margareta Leijonhufvud, also a Roman Catholic; Ebba Eriksdotter spent her last years here and died in 1549. There were still nuns here in 1562, and the last two of whom, Brita Gisledotter and Kirstin Månsdotter, died in 1582.
The church continued in use as a Lutheran parish church and still stands today, distinguished by its possession of a medieval hagioscope. The remaining buildings were mostly allowed to fall into ruin. Between 1916 and 1926 the ruins were excavated, and large portions to the north of the church, which was itself restored between 1914 and 1917, remain visible. The finds, including an unusual wooden water pipe, are on display in the adjoining museum.
Apart from the church, the only monastic building completely preserved is the barn, although some walls were reconstructed in the 20th century. The stones from the former refectory were used to build the tower of Linköping Cathedral.References:
Ceský Sternberk Castle is an early Gothic castle which was constructed, named and still owned by members of the same family. Today it is a residence that bears a long historical and architectural heritage and represents an attractive tourist destination open to the public. It is considered one of the best preserved Gothic Bohemian castles.
The castle was initially built in 1241 by Zdeslav of Divisov, later called Zdeslav Sternberg. The development of new firearms in the 14th century posed an unexpected threat to the defensibility of the castle. Its 13th century architects hadn't foreseen the danger of long-range firearms and its reinforcement became a necessity. During this period the Ceský Sternberk castle's fortifications were improved through the construction in the north of a three-story tower, which was connected to the castle by a rampart. In 1467 the castle was seized by the royal armies of George of Podébrady. Later, the ruined castle was regained by Sternberk's aristocracy, who, by the turn of the 15th to 16th century, had reconstructed the castle, renewed its defensive system and expanded it with the construction of a new cylindrical tower in the south and the Dungeon in the north. The castle managed to survive the looting of the rebels in 1627, during the Thirty Years' War. With the death of Jan Václav in 1712, the Holicý branch of the Sternberg family died out and its ownership passed to other families, who in 1751 built the lower palace next to the surrounding wall.
The ownership of the castle was returned to the Sternberg family in 1841 when Zdenék of Sternberg from the Konopisté branch of the family bought it. It remained in Sternberg's ownership until 1949 when it was nationalized by the Communist government of the Republic of Czechoslovakia. After the fall of Communism and the Velvet Revolution, in 1992, Ceský Sternberk castle returned to Jirí's son, the count Zdenék Sternberg, the current owner of the castle.
Ceský Sternberk Castle was originally built as a Gothic castle. Eventually it underwent several periods of reconstructions and further fortification and the Gothic architectural features were in parts concealed by the new reconstructions. Especially the interiors of the castle were realized under the Baroque and Rococo styles. In 1760, the master Carlo Brentano performed the elaborate stuccoing and renderings of the halls' interiors. The castle offers a rare collection of 545 copper engravings, depicting the entire history of the Thirty Years' War. Also, historical weapons and hunting trophies are exhibited within the castle's halls.