Monday, April 14, 2014

Church of Our Lady before Tyn - Prague

The Church of Our Lady before Tyn, also translated Church of Our Lady in front of Tyn and Church of Mother of God in front of Tyn, dominates the skyline near Old Town Square in Prague, Czech Republic. It is surrounded by tall buildings, but then looms up behind and above them, Godzilla-like.
Church of Our Lady before Tyn
Yet ironically, it is almost impossible to find. The entrance is on the west side through a narrow passage between the buildings in front of the church. We walked around the church at least once trying to find a way in, incredulous that the entrance to such a dominating structure could be so hard to find. Unfortunately, we never found it open and were not able to go inside. 
Tyn Church, viewed from the tower of Old Town Hall. The north tower (Eve) is to the left, the south tower (Adam) to the right.
Old Town Hall is to the left and Tyn Church looms up at the far end of Old Town Square.
The Tyn, which Our Lady is before, or in front of, is Tyn Courtyard, which was established in the 11th century as a customs office and trading center for foreign merchants. It is located behind the church and currently houses shops, restaurants and hotels and is often referred to by to its German name, Ungelt, which means "customs duty." 

The church was originally Romanesque and built in the 11th century for the foreign merchants visiting the Tyn Courtyard. It was replaced in 1256 by a Gothic structure. The current structure was started in the 14th century. The Hussites took control of the church in the 15th century and retained it for about two centuries, including the period when the towers and roof were still being built in the 1450s. George of Podebrady, King of Bohemia and only Hussite king, had his sculpture placed on the gable between the completed north spire, and the not yet completed south spire, below a huge golden chalice, the symbol of the Hussites. It replaced a Latin cross. The south tower was completed in 1511. In 1626, after the Battle of White Mountain, an early battle in the Thirty Years' War between the Bohemians and the Holy Roman Emperor and German Catholic League, the Jesuits, who took control of the church, removed the sculpture of King George and the chalice and replaced them with a sculpture of Our Lady with a giant halo, all made out of the melted down chalice. 
Our Lady and the giant halo on the gable between the two towers. 
The two towers are not identical. The smaller northern tower is called "Eve," and the taller southern tower is called "Adam." Legend has it that Tyn gave Walt Disney the inspiration for the Sleeping Beauty Castle.
The two towers.
Tokyo Disney. You can see how the towers of Tyn Church could have been inspiration for Disney. 

Sunday, April 13, 2014

Old New Synagogue - Prague

The Old New Synagogue in Prague, Czech Republic, is the oldest active synagogue in Europe. 
Old New Synagogue
It is situated in Josefov, the former Jewish Town which was demolished in the 1800s. A few older structures were allowed to stand. It was completed in 1270. Legend has it that it was built from stones from the Second Temple in Jerusalem which was demolished in 70 A.D. Angels transported the stones which are to be given back to Jerusalem later when a new temple is built there after the coming of the Messiah. When completed it was the second synagogue in Prague, so it was called the New synagogue and the earlier one was the Old synagogue. Later the Old synagogue was demolished and other synagogues built. The New synagogue became the Old-New synagogue. 

There are two big pillars inside in the main hall holding five-ribbed vaultng which is unique in Bohemian architecture. Other fun features are stone pews, the stepped brick gables on the outside, 12 grape clusters and vine leaf motifs above the entrance portal and 12 lancet windows, all of which represent the twelve tribes of Israel.  

Near the Old New Synagogue is a bronze statue of Moses by Frantisek Bilek. 
Moses with the Old New Synagogue behind him. 
It shows a kneeling Moses writing the name of Adam on a scroll symbolizing humankind for which he is responsible and for which he seeks the promised land. The sculpture was made in 1905, melted by the Nazis in 1940 during World War II and re-cast using the original plaster model and replaced shortly after the war in 1947. The strength of Moses is evident in the strong shoulders and powerful chest, but the weariness and weight of his calling is evident in the limp hand, slumped shoulder, face pressed to his arm and downcast face. 

Saturday, April 12, 2014

Church of St. James the Greater - Prague

The Church of St. James in Prague, Czech Republic, is also variously called the Church of St. James the Greater and the Basilica of St. James. It was originally built in the 1200s by the Franciscans, but partially destroyed by fire in 1689. It was then rebuilt in the 18th century in a Baroque architectural style with 23 altars. It is considered the most beautiful church in Prague. It is still attached to a Franciscan or Minorite (so called because some of the Franciscans are called the Order of Friars Minor) Monastery. The church is so high and so closely surrounded by buildings that it is impossible to get a good overall photo of the outside.
A picture from the internet gives a better perspective than I was able to find. St. James is the building in the background with the red roof.
My picture of St. James.
A picture from the other side, this one obtained from Wikipedia.
My picture shows a little more of the length down the side street.
A picture of the front facade, or as much of it as I could get.
The facade has three bas-reliefs with scenes surrounded by clouds and cherubs: one shows the apotheosis of St. Francis, another St. James the Greater surrounded by pilgrims and the third, the apotheosis of St. Anthony of Padua.  
The bas-relief of St. James surrounded by pilgrims, above the front entrance. I assume that the gold staffs are the equivalent of hiking sticks.
The apotheosis of St. Anthony of Padua.
The nave is the third longest in Prague and reaches a height of 98 feet. 
The first view of the inside is breath-taking. Color, shadow, height and depth assault your senses all at once. 

The nave was cordoned off, so we could not get much closer than the front entrance.
All of these niches along the walls contain altars.

A blurry image of the pieta above the altar. Note how small Jesus is compared to his mother.
An example of the ceiling painting.

One of the many altars.
Perhaps the most famous visitor to the church was a thief who attempted to steal jewels from a statue of Mary on the high altar. Mary grabbed his arm during his act of thievery and refused to let go. After the thief spent the night in the clutch of the Madonna, the Franciscan monks discovered him the next morning and had to cut off his arm to release him (or Lonely Planet speculates that the guild of butchers who frequented the church may have assisted in the removal). I assume that Mary, now satisfied, let the arm go so that it could be hung from the entrance to the tomb. If the arm of the man is over 400 years old, as reported, it dates back to the first church. That may not be too far-fetched as the old mummified arm looks like it has been through a fire. The arm stands as a stark reminder that thievery does not pay. 
The arm of the jewel thief, now attached to a chain and not Mary's hand. 
However, the arm is not the only reminder that visits to this church may last longer than intended. The church contains the remains of Count Vratislav of Mitrovice who was buried in an elaborate and beautiful tomb. For several days after the burial horrible sounds emanated from the tomb. The priests were concerned that the poor count's spirit could not find peace, so they sprinkled the tomb with holy water. Well, it turns out that the poor count was buried alive and when he awoke from unconsciousness, he tried his hardest to alert people on the outside to let him out - but to no avail. Several years later his tomb was opened and the inside coffin was damaged and the remains of the count were found outside it. Thankfully, the count's corpse remains inside the tomb and not found hanging next to the arm of the jewel thief. I guess this lesson is that riches may make your entrance to heaven faster than it might be otherwise. If the count's tomb was more modest, he might have lived to see another day.  
Count Mitrovice's Tomb, the picture obtained from here
James the Greater or James the Great was one of the twelve apostles of Jesus and a son of Zebedee and brother of John the apostle. He and his brother John were with their father by the seashore when Jesus called them to follow him (Matt. 3:21-22). He was one of three apostles to witness the transfiguration and the only apostle whose martyrdom is recorded in the New Testament. He was executed by sword at the request of King Herod Agrippa, a grandson of Herod the Great. James is the patron saint of Spain and his remains are said to be held in the pilgrimage site of Santiago de Compostela. 

Friday, April 11, 2014

St. John's Episcopal Church - Montgomery

St. John's Episcopal Church in Montgomery, Alabama was completed in 1855. It replaced a more modest brick structure which was completed in 1837. 
The modest St. John's Church in Montgomery.

This plaque refers to the first St. John's Church which existed prior to this structure.
The population of the region had increased greatly with cotton production and Montgomery was the shipping center of the region that produced more cotton than any other place in the world. Further fueling population growth was Montgomery becoming the capital of Alabama in 1846 (after moves from Tuscaloosa, which became the capital in 1826, Cahaba, which became capital in 1820, Huntsville, which held the state convention in 1819 and St. Stephens which was the first territorial capital in 1817). St. John's hosted a Secession Convention of Southern Churches in 1861 and was the church which Confederate President Jefferson Davis attended while the capitol of the Confederacy was in Montgomery. 
One of several reminders that Jefferson Davis attended church here. Another was on the side of a pew, but my photos of that did not turn out. 
Another distinguished member of the congregation.
Beautiful old baptismal font. 

These eagle lecturns remind me of my days as a missionary in England looking in the Church of England parishes. 
It was so dark inside that it was hard to get photos of the interior. 

I enjoyed the stained glass. These celebrate the sacraments of baptism and the eucharist. In keeping with its self-identity as a middle path between Catholicism and Protestantism, the Anglicans only recognize these two sacraments, as instituted by Jesus himself, instead of the seven in the Catholic church. The other five treated as sacraments by the Catholics, namely confession and absolution, holy matrimony, confirmation, ordination or holy orders and anointing of the sick, or unction, are regarded variously as full sacraments by some and as sacramental rites as introduced by the apostles without the full ordination of God by others.
I don't understand the symbolism here, but different than any stained glass I've noticed before. 
The symbol to the bottom left appears to be similar to the masonic compass and square and the bottom symbol looks similar to a lyre. 
The good Samaritan. A scripture that I don't recall seeing depicted in stained glass before. 
The Episcopal Church, also known as the Protestant Episcopal Church in the United States of America, was organized after the American Revolution when it separated from the Church of England. This was largely due to the requirement that Church of England clergy had to swear allegiance to the King or Queen of Britain as Supreme Governor of the national church. For obvious reasons, that was not acceptable to the residents of the newly minted states. In 2010, the Episcopal Church had 2,125,000 baptized members, all but 173,000 of those are in the U.S. There are Episcopal churches in Taiwan, Micronesia, the Caribbean,and Central and South America, but more than half of them belong to a diocese in Haiti. The state of New York has more than 200,000 members and the eastern states of Rhode Island, Connecticut and Virginia, and the District of Columbia, have the largest numbers of members per capita. The church is organized into dioceses and governed by a General Convention, but is highly decentralized and more like a confederation. There are over 7,000 parishes, each with a rector, elected by a vestry or bishop's committee within the parish. A group of parishes is organized into a diocese and there are 110 dioceses. The head of the diocese is a bishop. The General Convention has a House of Deputies with a president and vice president that preside at meetings. It meets only once every three years. The General Convention also has a House of Bishops which consists of active and retired bishops and meets regularly. The Presiding Bishop, elected from and by the House of Bishops, and confirmed by the House of Deputies for a nine-year term, is the chief pastor and primate of the Episcopal Church. The current Presiding Bishop is a woman, Katharine Jefferts Schori, the first female primate. 

It describes itself as "Protestant, yet Catholic." It has varying degrees of liturgical practice, from parish to parish, and each will often describe itself as Low Church or High Church. High Church, the majority of parishes, is inclined toward use of incense, formal hymns and more ceremony. Low Church, more rare, is simpler and may have elements such as informal praise and worship music. It has a Book of Common Prayer which contains most of the liturgies and reflects the theology for Episcopalians. 

To date, I've done posts on the following Episcopal Churches: Trinity Church  and the Cathedral of St. John the Divine in New York City, and Old North Church in Boston.