Thursday, March 20, 2014

St. Vitus Cathedral - Prague

St. Vitus Cathedral in Prague, Czech Republic, is the seat of the Archbishop of Prague and one of the magnificent church structures in the world. Its full name is St. Vitus, St. Wenceslas and St. Adalbert Cathedral and it has it all: A commanding view inside a castle on a hill overlooking beautiful Prague and the Vitava River; It is huge and varied on the outside with multiple spires, flying buttresses, some statuary and some wall paintings; The stained glass inside is some of the most beautiful I've ever seen, much of it very modern; and the richness of the inner decorations, particularly the tomb of John of Nepomuk is exquisite.  
The Vitava River in Prague.
St. Vitus Cathedral above the Charles Bridge and Vitava River.

View of the north side of the cathedral with flying buttresses lining the side.
View of the south side of the cathedral. The mosaic of the Last Judgement is above the portal at the bottom right (east end) known as the Golden Gate, the ceremonial entrance to the cathedral. 
East end of the cathedral, formed by small interlocked chapels that form the ambulatory. Flying buttresses overhead.

The rose window on the front of St. Vitus. At about 5 o'clock just outside the round window you can see the sculptures of architects Mocker and Hilbert. I have a close-up picture of them below. 

The two Gothic towers on the west end protrude above the building in the foreground.

In the 1800s, architect Josef Mocker continued the work of Josef Kranner who was commissioned to renovate and complete the cathedral. Mocker designed the two Gothic style towers on the west facade. The project was completed in the late 1800s by architect Kamil Hilbert. Mocker and Hilbert are portrayed on the facade just beneath the rose window. 
The mosaic of the Last Judgement, in triptych form, on the south facade was completed in 1371 at the request of Charles IV, king of Bohemia and Holy Roman Emperor (who is buried in the crypt beneath the cathedral). It is considered the most important exterior monumental medieval mosaic north of the Alps. In the center is Christ surrounded by angels and beneath him are six saints of the Czech lands. To the left the resurrected and the saved rise from their tombs, pale-skinned and bare. To the right the damned are pushed slowly to hell. Tusked blue devils lead the way to a black exit that emits flame. The mosaic is made up of 31 shades of one million pieces of colored glass, plus gilded tesserae. From 1992 to 2008 it was restored by the Getty Conservation Institute.

St. George slays the dragon. Located in front of the south gate. Cast in 1373 by two Romanian sculptors from Cluj at the order of King Charles IV for the marriage of his son, Sigismund of Luxemburg, to Mary of Anjou, daughter of the Hungarian king, Louis the Great. This is a copy placed here in 1967. The original is in the National Gallery of the Czech Republic.
A series of gargoyle pictures.

Inner views.

The altar.
There is a chapel dedicated to St. Wenceslas. St. Wenceslaus, the duke of Bohemia from 921 until his assassination in 935, is the subject of "Good King Wenceslas," a Christmas carol written in 1853. It tells the story of a king battling against bad weather to give alms to a poor man on the Feast of St. Stephen, which is the day after Christmas. Wenceslas was named a saint, posthumously declared king and is the patron saint of the Czech Republic. His relics are kept in the chapel. The lower part of the walls contain precious stones and paintings about the Passion of Christ. The upper walls contain paintings about the life of St. Wencelas and in the middle of the wall is a Gothic statue of St. Wenceslas. The chapel is not open to the public, but can be viewed from doorways. 
The Chapel of St. Wencelas. 
The statue of St. Wenceslas in the chapel.
Charles IV, was born a Wenceslaus, was crowned king of Bohemia in 1347, and was the first king of Bohemia to become Holy Roman Emperor, in 1365. Prague became his capital and he rebuilt it on the model of Paris, establishing the New Town of Prague. He established the University of Prague in 1348, the first university in Central Europe. Charles Bridge, Charles Square and part of St. Vitus Cathedral by Peter Parler were built under his patronage. He is regarded as the father of the country.  

John of Nepomuk, the vicar general of the archbishop of Prague, was tortured and thrown into the Vitava River from Charles Bridge on March 20, 1396 by order of King Wenceslas IV (whom I believe was the son of Charles IV). John had heard the confession of the queen and knew all the details of her life. When the king demanded to know the details and John refused, the dastardly deed was done. John is considered the first martyr of the Seal of the Confessional, which is the absolute duty of priests not to disclose anything that they learn from penitents during the sacrament of penance. St. John has an absolutely amazing, beautiful, silver tomb. In the late 1600s his tomb was opened and they found the disemboied living tongue of St. John. In 1973 scientists analyzed the tongue and determined that it was actually part of St. John's brain swelled with congealed blood which gave the red color and tongue-like appearance.
Tomb of John of Nepomuk
I don't recall ever seeing a more impressive tomb, except perhaps the marble tombs designed by Michelangelo in Florence.
Flying silver angels are held aloft with wire.

I'm glad it is not my job to take out the silver cleaner to keep these shiny.
Fun statues and other decorative pieces I enjoyed:
Angel spearing a demon?
Chimney sweep?
Cherubic angels.
Lots of odd lines and wavy patterns.
Wooden crucifixion.
A knight in prayer.
The same knight in prayer?
Painted coats of arms.

Alphonse Mucha, a Czech Art Nouveau painter and decorative artist, designed a stained glass window which was installed in the north nave in 1931. It was part of the Millennium Jubilee of the Czech patron saint St. Wenceslas, Duke of Bohemia. The middle shows King Wenceslas, who as a child was raised by his Christian grandmother St. Ludmilla, against the wishes of his pagan mother. They look upward in prayer, in gold and red tones of holiness and later martyrdom at the hands of kin. Above them, Cyril and Methodius, 9th century Christian missionaries to the Slavs, baptize a disciple. Below are women personifying young Czech and Slovakian people. To the sides are other episodes from the lives of Slav Saints.
Alphonse Mucha designed stained glass window. 
Saints Cyril and Methodius baptize a Slav. Below, St. Ludmilla and her grandchild, St. Wenceslas, in prayer.
Women that personify Czech and Slovakian people. They look like they are right out of the 1920s.
Other scenes from the lives of Saints Cyril and Methodius.
I love this depiction of St. Methodius. The strong and varied colors are fantastic.
Many other of the stained glass windows are from Czech artists of the early 20th century. They are distinctive and eye grabbing.

One of the panels from above.

A little bit of a different style, but still characterized by small pieces of glass.

These are a little more traditional. I love the color.


  1. Definitely one of my favorite cathedrals in all the world, and my favorite stained glass windows. They are spectacular. I love all the details you've captured in this post.

  2. Memorable stained glass windows. It's fun to read some of these details about the cathedral. You've got to feel sorry for John of Nepomuk and laugh a bit at those egotistical architects.