Osek owes its unique and still vital monastery to the dedication of the monks and the vision of the abbots. Shortly after it was founded in 1098 in Citeaux in Burgundy, the Order of the White Monks became a driving force for Christianity and spread its knowledge of agriculture, forestry, water management, architecture and progressive craftsmanship throughout Europe.
At the invitation of Slavko the Great, chamberlain of the Kingdom of Bohemia and burgrave in Bilin, the Cistercians came from Waldsassen in the Upper Palatinate and founded the Osek monastery in 1196. The construction of the stone monastery began with the Romanesque abbey church, built between 1206 and 1221. The convent buildings, whose styles mark the change step by step from the Romanesque to the Gothic, followed. The east wing, with its famous chapter room, was built under Slavko of Hrabischitz, the grandson of the founder, who became the first Bohemian abbot of Osek.
The continual advancement of the Osek monastery ended with the Hussitic wars. The first sacking of the abbey occurred in 1421, only a few monks survived a second attack in 1429. From then on, the monastery led a meager existence, selling off more and more of its goods, until in 1580 - with only six monks living in the deeply indebted monastery - it was finally closed and became the summer residence of the archbishops of Prague for 46 years. Osek was returned to the Cistercians in 1626.
The Osek monastery reached its full potential following the Thirty Years' War. In 1650, Laurentius Scipio took charge and led the abbey through four very successful decades, laying the groundwork for centuries of prosperity and sustained influence in northern Bohemia. The church that had been burned during the war was restored and the workshops, dairies, and working quarters were rebuilt.
A large vegetable garden and orchard was laid out to the west of the monastery. The successor of Scipio was able to dedicate himself to improving the abbey from the stable, economically viable foundation that had been left to him. Benedikt Littwerig, abbot from 1691 to 1726 initiated the Baroque reconstruction, expansion and decoration that give us the image of the abbey that we have today.
The leading builders of the day, Giulio and Octavian Broggio, were won for the con-struction. Six years were needed before the detailed redesign of the church was completed in 1718. A prelature, brewery, li-brary, apothecary, and a first textile factory were added. Abbot Hieronymus Besnecker added the large Baroque gardens: in 1726, the abbot's garden in front of the east wing of the new prelature and in 1728, the convent garden south of the monas-tery.
Abbot Mauritz Elbel successfully defended Osek - one of only two Bohemian Cistercian monasteries - against the exerted reform attempts and the closings of monasteries by Kaiser Josef II in 1783. The abbot started the portrait gallery and the natu-ral science cabinet, had the abbot's room lavishly redecorated, and expanded the garden to this size it remains today.
The 19th century saw the monastery become a place of literature and science, of social and religio-political involvement and an economic undertaking that generated money from coal-mining, orchards and leases on its considerable agricultural holdings. In the years 1875 to 1877, under the abbots Sales Mayer and Ignác Krahl, the monastery was completely renovated and the gar-dens were redesigned in the landscape style. Under Abbot Theobald Scharnagl, the monastery survived both world wars and the reduction in its property holdings during the agricultural reforms of 1921. In 1943 Abbot Eberhard Harzer took over the monastery; together with the German monks, he was interned in 1945 and deported to Austria in 1946.
Salesians lived in the monastery until an internment camp was set up in 1950 for ordained priests, and in 1953, for Czech nuns of various orders. New Cistercian life returned to the old walls when the monastery was reordained after the collapse of Communism, and in 1991 - after a 46-year interruption - Bernhard Thebes became the 45th abbot at Osek. With the support of many people, he has dedicated himself, above all, to the revitalization of the Christian faith, the care of the homeless, and the renovation of the considerable historic structural fabric of the monastery.