One of the most beautiful places in Moravia (or perhaps in the Czech Republic all together) is Telč; a city with the Old Town listed at the UNESCO World Heritage List. One may find there amazing renaissance houses, old churches and a beautiful castle, and I definitively recommend you visiting this place.
But today I will not write about wonderful architecture of Telč; I would rather like to focus on one statue which is placed not in a very centre of the town, at the Na Baště street, close to one of the entrances to the castle gardens. At first glance one may assume that it is a statue of a holy bishop, but in fact it is a Czech abbot, Saint Procopius. The late-baroque sculpture is most likely by a local artist, Štěpán Pagan (1685-1739). The most interesting detail of this statue is undoubtedly the Saint’s attribute, that is a chained devil.
Procopius was born in the second half of the 10th century and died in 1053. He was a hermit, a co-funder and the first abbot of the Benedictine Sázava Monastery; interestingly, at first it was one of the main centres of the Slavonic liturgy and the most important centre of the Slavic book production. Many Slavic text were written there (or translated from Latin), but unfortunately, the centre collapsed by the end of the 11th century. The monastery remained Benedictine, but Slavonic liturgy was replaced with Latin.
The legend of St Procopius says that he had been seen ploughing the field with a chained devil; that is why the abbot has been lated depicted holding the devil on the chain and pressing him to the ground with feet.
Starting from depictions of St Procopius, we should point out that there were other abbots or bishops also depicted with the devil. And interesting example is a panel from the Fathers of the Church Altarpiece by Michael Pacher (ca. 1480, Alte Pinakothek, Munich), which is now identified as a depiction of the devil presenting to St Augustine the Book of Vices. However, in the past this painting used to be described as St Wolfgang forcing the devil to hold his Lectionary.
In fact there was indeed an episode with the devil in St. Wolfgang’s legend. Wolfgang was bishop of Regensburg and he lived in the 10th century. One day he decided to build a church and apparently used the devil to complete the construction. They made a deal that the devil will be able to take a first living being that enters the newly-built church, but of course St Wolfgang tricked satan and the first one to enter the church was a wolf. As a result the devil had to take the wolf instead of a human soul he counted on getting.
By the way, it is worth noticing that St Wolfgang made quite an eccentric choice on how to decide about the location of the church: apparently he threw an ax and choose to build the church in the spot where the ax landed. That is why when you see an image of a bishop-saint holding an ax, it is most likely St Wolfgang.
On the subject of the devil we may also mention St Dunstan, an abbot of Glastonbury and archbishop of Canterbury, who also lived in the 10th century. According to his legend, one day he pulled the devil by the nose with his blacksmith’s tongs, and that scene may be spotted for example in various English manuscripts.
It seems that the turn of the first and the second millennium was the time of brave abbots and bishops who knew how to tame the devil. The ones from the Central Europe (Procopius and Wolfgang) made also quite a practical use of their power, building a church and ploughing a field. And apparently those legends have not been entirely forgotten; the statues of St Procopius with the chained devil are rather popular in Czech Republic. We just have to start noticing them when we travel through the Central Europe.