The History of the Vault

In 1582 the first Duke of Courland Gotthard ordered construction of a church with basement for sarcophagi. The location of the vault was changed several times.

Vecā Jelgavas pils, skats no dienvidrietumiem. J. K. Broces kopija no 17. gs. otrās puses zīmējuma. Celtne ar trim lielajiem logiem - pils baznīca ar hercogu kapenēm
Old Jelgava Palace, a view from the southwest. J. C. Brotze’s copy of a drawing dating from the second half of the 17th century. The building with three large windows is the palace church and the vault

The church basement covered by the barrel-vault was about 9 metres wide. The first person buried in it was Duke Gotthard. His sons, who had died earlier, were taken to Jelgava from Kuldīga.

Kurzemes hercogu kapenes vecajā pilī. J. K. Broces kopija no Ferdinanda Vilhelma Zīdava atkārtojuma no Kristiāna Zīdava zīmējuma. 18. gs. 30. gadu sākums
The vault of the dukes of Courland in the old palace. J. C. Brotze’s copy made from F. W. Sydaw’s copy of C. Sydaw’s drawing. Early 1730s

The first demolition of the vault took place during the Great Northern War: in 1705 Swedish soldiers pulled the mummies out of the sarcophagi and stole the jewellery.

In 1737 the old palace of Jelgava was pulled down and the place was cleared for the residence of the Duke of Courland, Ernst Johann Biron. The sarcophagi were temporarily put in the shed. As soon as 1743 the vault was arranged in the basement of the south wing of the new palace.

In the first part of the 18th century the vault of the dukes of Courland  was for the first time considered as a monument of history and art. Amateur historian of Courland J. G. Weigandt wrote a reflection on the genealogy of dukes and added copies of all texts of the sarcophagi.

In 1820 the Courland gentry renovated the basement in the southeast corner of the palace and built a 16.5 m to 5 m space for the vault; the work was done from the charity funds.

In 1884 a fragmentary inspection of the vault was carried out, and the content of sarcophagi were examined and photographs were taken.  The jewellery was taken out of the sarcophagi and given to the Courland Province Museum.

From 1913 to 1914 the inventory of the vault was carried out by Dr. med. A. Raphael and the results were published in 1934.

Kurzemes hercogu kapenes 1913. gadā
The ducal vault of Courland in 1913

A cruel demolition of the vault took place after World War I – during the Bolshevik and Bermontian time in 1919.

In 1933 and 1934 the Board of Monuments organized renovation of sarcophagi, inventory, photography and description of sarcophagi, as well as renovation and enlargement of the vault. After that the vault was open to the public.

Kurzemes hercogu kapenes 1933. gadā
The ducal vault of Courland in 1933
Kurzemes hercogu kapenes 1934. gadā
The ducal vault of Courland in 1934

In July 1944 as a result of warfare the palace was destroyed. The vault was continuously devastated, demolished and plundered until it was closed in late 1940s.

Kurzemes hercogu kapenes 1973. gadā
The ducal vault of Courland in 1973

In 1973 and 1976 a detailed measurement, description and photography of sarcophagi were carried out by the staff of Rundāle Palace Museum.

Since 1987 the family vault of the Dukes of Courland is under the authority of Rundāle Palace Museum. Realizing the historical and artistic significance of the vault, it is now turned into a museum to preserve and maintain the vault in all possible ways, taking into account its natural decay. Maintaining the ultimate meaning of this peaceful place, the preservation and restoration of the coffins, sarcophagi and textiles, and conservation of the mortal remains are carried out.

Kurzemes hercogu kapenes 2014. gadā
The ducal vault of Courland in 2014



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