As we can assume, sometime after 1680 has been maturing the idea of the new earl Ferdinand Hroznata, baron of Kokorov, converting the abandoned and neglected rock core into a significant place of pilgrimage administered by Cistercian monks and creating thus a “sacre rappresentazioni” in the architectural pursuit of that time.
Unfortunately, we don’t know the real reasons which made the earl decide so. However, we know for sure that the Kokorovec family held St. Francis of Assisi in high regard and supported missionary activities. Additionally, we can’t exclude the influence of a terrible plague haunting the surrounding area at that time and the cult of ancient hermit St. Rosalia, praying to the Lord for help in ending this misery. Very likely is also inspiration from significant monuments and places in other parts of the world.
Unlike the latter ones, very certain is the spell of the place itself. The rock formation awakened surprise and looks of astonishment as though it was already a Baroque monument before any work began. It is picturesque and yet monumental, its vertical dimension stands in contrast with the flat valley bottom, and the eroded scraggy rock faces’ dynamics oppose the smooth water surface. We can suppose that before the disappearing in the reconstruction, the original local medieval rock interior, though not being very numerous, brought inspiration and stimulation to careful observers. Fascinating is the presence of two concepts: the lonely rock is a peculiar natural demonstration which plays out before the background of the surrounding landscape. Yet, at the same time, the rock – especially its top part – is the background for the finite architectonic demonstration. In the eyes of observers these two concepts visually melt into each other. .
The building operations meant significant changes for the rock’s appearance. Today’s visitor should clearly distinguish between the Middle Ages being represented by few relicts and the Baroque which formed the rock into its present character and is represented by the most established rooms. At that time were established not only the reclusion core with the church and cloister (with a courtyard) but also southern terraces with the depiction of the Stations of the Cross, with gardens and a vineyard to be added later. All these rooms and many more have a sense of spirituality and tell us about the admirable art of Baroque artists to connect a piece of work created by men with the environment created by nature – harmonious linking of opposites: a rational plan with amorphous matter .
The architectonic conception and the building operations are believed to have been led by the first monk, Konstatnin the master builder. After his death, painter Václav Rincolin became another monk on Sloup. Unfortunately, in 1708 the earl Ferdinand Hroznata died and his vision was never fully carried out. In 1710, earl Václav Norbert Oktavián Kinský, the highest emperor’s chancellor, the lord of Kamenice and Chlumec, the possessor of many estates in eastern and central Bohemia, bought the Sloup estate. Apparently, he did not share much of his predecessor’s spirituality and he hardly cared about completing the sacred place. Therefore, Václav Rincolin moved away, the construction work stopped, the bell and statue of the Virgin Mary the Painful were taken from the church “On the Rock” and placed in the new St. Catherine’s Church in the village. The conversion went on until Norbert Oktavián’s death in 1719, although in a different spirit. As a result of the period idealization of ancient rural simplicity and asceticism of early Christianity, a rather artificially arranged and religiously romantic hermitage with picturesque or even odd details gradually came into being. Until 1782, 4 hermits lived here, sometimes alone, sometimes two at the same time: Jakub Borovanský, Antonín Hölzel, gardener and optician Samuel Görner and weaver Antonín Müller. The aristocratic eremitage became already at that time a social attraction. Many an important visitor staying at the Sloup château (finished in 1733) has also visited the hermitage, and has climbed it either for the meditation’s sake or more likely as a distraction. The hermitage was abolished in 1782 by the Joseph II act, Holy Roman Emperor, as a part of extensive social and economic reforms.
The former hermitage became more and more a tourist attraction. The dwelling of the last hermit has been altered into a “visitor’s house” and has undergone other conversions caused by the aesthetics of the early Romanticism or the practical need because of the tourists’ presence (e.g. reconstruction of the eastern entrance resulting in its present form or building a fence). However, this reconstruction has not changed its Baroque character that has remained up to the present time.
Below the F.K. Wolf’s rock castle illustration from 1797, there is the name Alt Birgstein, reminding us of the sight’s medieval origin. Artists, scholars and enthusiasts have started to point their attention toward the Middle Ages, however, their perspective was considerably idealized. The very common and widespread myth of passed knight times had hardly anything to do with reality.
The noble family of Kinský, who owned the estate from 1710 until 1940, have greatly contributed to its significant development and flourishing. Concerning this matter, the most important personality was Jan Josef Maxmilián Kinský. After August František Kinský’s death, the estate was passed on his son-in-law, German noble man Emanuel Preysing. In 1945, the estate was nationalized and the rock castle was later declared a cultural site.