“Well then, why have we journeyed here in this peculiar way? For the landscape only? Oh no, we’ve come for the memories. We’ve set foot on an historic soil, of an immense value for us Czechs. We are in Kunvald, the cradle of the Bohemian Brethren, memory so renowned and cherished.”
Alois Jirásek “In Kunvald”
The settlement was established here in the second half of the 13th century. Major colonization was taking place in the region back then. In about the same time Ústí nad Orlicí, Rychnov nad Kněžnou, Žamberk, Německá Rybná and other villages and towns were founded. Similar to Žamberk, Kunvald was most likely established by German settlers. Yet this is not necessarily the truth. Even if it was founded by German settlers, it is clear Czech element prevailed as soon as in the first half of the 14th century, perhaps due to the influence of older Slavic settlements around.
The first written record of Kunvald is from 1363, related to the nomination of new priest Jan Petr from Česká Třebová for Nekoř parish. He was appointed by the lord of Žampach manor, and installed by a priest from Kunvald.
An important road led through Kunvald from Žampach, Litice and Potštejn castles to Kłodzko and Silesia. The village belonged to Litice manor from 1389, and it was probably divided into Upper and Lowe Kunvald from the very beginning.
The origin of the name is unclear, there are several explanations. It could be a name brought by the first settlers from their homeland. The neighbouring town of Žamberk was established at about the same time, its inhabitants coming from Lusatia, where there is an old town of Senftenberg (made into Czech Žamberk). Kunvald may have been named after a village or town of the same name in Upper Lusatia. The German name was Kumwald or Cunewalde, and it was also divided in Obercunewalde and Niedrcunevalde. The name could have been chosen by the locator or owner, too. It is often mentioned in relation to a knight by the name Kuna, who resided either in the nearby castle Suchá, or in Kunačice fortress. But this is rather a myth than reality.
Kunvald is a town of major importance for our nation, because group of followers of Petr Chelčický settled here in 1457 or 1458, and sounded a new Czech church: the Bohemian Brethren.
Compacts of Basel from 1437 acknowledged the communion under both kinds and the Czech Utraquist Church, but many people were unhappy about the results of the Hussite revolution. Various religious communities were emerging, usually grouped around a preacher. Such a group also formed under the pulpit of Calixtine priest and archbishop of Prague Jan Rokycana. Rokycana sent his followers in the 1440s or 1450s to Petr Chelčický. The latter was a yeoman in Southern Bohemia, arguing strongly against both the churches: Catholic and Calixtine. He condemned the general teaching of “three people” in his writings. He claimed that all people are equal in their rights, looking for salvation in their patient preparation for afterlife.
Jan Rokycana convinced his lord, the protector George of Poděbrady, to grant these followers a place where they could settle down and live a life of the first Christians. The protector allowed them to move to his Litice manor, Kunvald village. The place had been burned down and depopulated, therefore new settlers were welcome. The location play a role, too, because Kunvald was in the middle of nowhere, and from whichever direction you came, you could not see it from afar, and the new religious movement was rather lost from sight here.
The leader of the Bohemian Brethren at the beginning was its founder Řehoř Krajčí, nephew of Jana Rokycana. The first spiritual administrator was former Catholic priest Michal of Žamberk. For a long time he was the only Brethren priest. A number of inhabitants of neighbouring villages were soon joining Kunvald community. A new church was slowly forming from the small sect. When it grew considerably, it started to draw an unwelcome attention. The first persecution of the Brethren came already in the sixties. New king George of Poděbrady promised there would be no other church or heretic sect apart from the Catholics and Utraquists. Brother Řehoř, priest Michal and some other members were captured, and many of them tortured.
The Bohemian Brethren separated themselves from the Roman Catholic Church at the memorable synod in Lhotka near Rychnov in 1467. The first bishop was elected by drawing lots: Matthew of Kunvald. He was ordained by Michal of Žamberk, who had himself first been ordained by Stephen, the archbishop of the co-called Valden church. New persecution at the end of the reign of king George led to eviction of the Brethren from Kunvald, and the church moved to Mladá Boleslav and Litomyšl. Later, when noblemen and scholars were allowed to join the Bohemian Brethren, the church attracted many an influential and famous personality of the Czech Kingdom, gradually becoming the leading protestant church in Bohemia.