Cathedral of St. Vitus, St. Adalbert and St. Wenceslas - Prague Castle,Third Courtyard
Prague Castle,Third Courtyard
A Romanesque Rotunda of St. Vitus was founded by Prince Wenceslas I (later known as St. Wenceslas) before 935, possibly as his tomb chapel. The importance of the Rotunda grew after the body of Wenceslas was really buried – in 973 the Rotunda became the cathedral church of Prague bishops and eventually the most sacred place in the country as the cult of Wenceslas spread around.
In 1060 Spytihněv II replaced the St. Vitus Rotunda with a spacious basilica. Third church standing on the same spot, three-naved cathedral of St.Vitus, built in the style of post-classical Gothic, was founded in 1344 as the Prague bishopric was raised to archibishopric. Margrave of Moravia and the future Czech king and Holy Roman emperor Charles IV commissioned the construction from French architect Matthias of Arras, after his death in 1352 the project was altered and completed by Petr Parléř, ingenious German architect and sculptor of the late period of Classical Gothic era. Thanks to his original construction solutions and artistics ideas the St. Vitus Cathedral belongs to some of the most important European buildings of this type; based on Charles´ intentions, the Cathedral dominates the Prague Castle and in fact the whole Prague and became the spiritual centre of the whole country. Until his death (1399) Parléř managed to finish the remaining choir chapels (the first eight were made by Matthias of Arras), he created the vaulted ceiling of St. Wenceslas chapel and the triforium, he vaulted the choir and built the outside supporting system. It mainly due to the perfect system of side supporting pillars and columns that the pressure on the cathedral walls was reduced and they could be fitted with large and wide painted windows. The transverse nave and the church tower were not finished by Parléř – and as if he knew that his days are over, he closed up the choir with a provisional wall.
The construction team of Parléř continued to work on the Cathedral under the supervision of his sons until the outbreak of the Hussite Wars. They mainly focused on finishing and decorating the existing parts. The Cathedral reached approximately half of its current length then and it stayed that way for centuries until 1861 when renovation works were started off by J. Kranner, but the extension of the west part of the Cathedral with a transverse nave, three naves and the front side with steeples by J. Mocker didn´t take place until 1873. After Mocker´s death the construction works were completed by K. Hilbert in 1929, symbolically on the occasion of St. Wenceslas Millenium; since laying of the foundation stone almost six centuries have passed. The Cathedral has a base 124 m long, it is 60 m wide at its widest point and the main dome runs up to 33 m high.
From the outside the Cathedral building is dominated by a trio of steeples. The south steeple is almost 100 m high and was firstly built by Petr Parléř and then completed by B. Wohlmut in 1561-62. The Sigismund bell found inside was casted in 1549 by Tomáš Jaroš of Brno and with its diameter of 2.65 m and estimated weight of 13-17 tonnes it belongs to the biggest bells in Europe. The couple of steeples above the main face, 82 m high, are as the front face itself, part of the modern finishing of the building. The south ceremonial entrance into the Cathedral is adorned by the Golden Portal with a spectacular mosaic on the theme of the Last Judgement, created in 1370-71 from quartz and coloured glass. Fantastic impression is given by the supporting pillar system, best seen from the George Square. Apart from its practical function, it has a symbolic meaning too – it represents the God´s town with its towers, house gables, passage ways, stairs and railings. The gargoyles in the shape of monsters and devils have a two-fold sysmbolical meaning: they protect the Cathedral from evil powers and they remind all the believers to leave all tha bad in them outside.
The interior of the Cathedral unveils a myriad of cultural treasures, created between the Gothic era and the present time. The tracery vault by Parléř creates an overwhelming impression, being the first of its kind in Central Europe. Completely unique are the sculptural decorations of the triforium: you will find there among others 21 sandstone portrait busts of royal family members, archbishops and cathedral creators from 1375-85, made by Parléř workshop and put up there. Out of the total number of 24 chapels, full of valuable artefacts, the Gothic Chapel of St. Wenceslas is the most important one with a star vault by Parléř, valuable Gothic and Renaissance wall paintings and wall decorations made from polished precious stones. In the centre of the Chapel there is the tomb of St. Wenceslas. From the Chapel it is possible to enter through metal-wrought door into the Coronation chamber where the Czech Coronation Jewels are stored – the highest symbol of the Czech state: royal crown from the 14th century, a Gothic sword, the sceptre and the orb dating from the first half of the 16th century, coat and a stole from the 18th century.
Below the Holy Rood Chapel is the entrance into the royal crypt where the sarcofagi and coffin of Czech rulers and their family members are found – these included Charles IV, Wenceslas IV, Ladislaus the Posthumous, Jiří of Poděbrady or Rudolph II. Inside the crypt there are also excavations of the St. Vitus Rotunda and basilica foundations, the modest predecessors of the Cathedral. Even though these buildings have disappeared completely, the tomb of St. Wenceslas remained in the same place until present time – the location of the tomb with the shrine where the bodily remains of Wenceslas are buried precisely copies the location of the original tomb in terms of the ground plan.
The most important monument of the Renaissance period is the marble mausoleum, built in 1571-89 by Dutch sculptor A. Collin; the bodily remains of Ferdinand I Habsburg, his wife Anna and Maxmilian II Habsburg. From the Baroque features inside the Cathedral, the majestic silver tomb of St. John of Nepomuk on the south gallery stands out, created in 1733-36 by goldsmith J. Würth based on a design by J. E. Fischer of Erlach; with its weight of 20 tonnes it is allegedly the biggest silver object in the world.
Finishing of the Cathedral in the second half of the 19th century was helped by a number of prominent Czech artists, including M. Švabinský, A. Mucha, C. Bouda, F. Sequens, J. V. Myslbek, F. Kysela or K Svolinský. The Cathedral of St. Vitus, Wenceslas and Adalbert is the biggest and most significant church in Prague and the main church of Czech countries, considered to be a spiritual symbol and the centre of the Czech state. It is the cathedral church of Prague archbishop and one of the major tourist attractions in Prague and the whole Czech Republic.
Some major historical personalities buried in St. Vitus Cathedral:
Anna of Bavaria (wife of Charles IV)
Anna of Bohemia and Hungary (wife of Ferdinand I)
Anne of Swidnica (wife of Charles IV)
Blanche of Valois (wife of Charles IV)
Bořivoj II (Czech prince)
Břetislav I. (Czech prince)
Břetislav II (Czech prince)
Elizabeth of Pomerania (wife of Charles IV)
Ferdinand I Hapsburg (Czech king and Holy Roman emperor)
František Tomášek (Prague archbishop)
Jan Humprecht Černín of Chudenice (aristocrat)
Jan Očko of Vlašim (Prague archbishop)
Jiří of Poděbrady (Czech king)
Johanna of Bavaria (wife of Wenceslas IV.)
Charles IV (Czech king and Holy Roman emperor)
Ladislaus the Posthumous (Czech and Hungarian king)
Leopold Šlik (aristocrat)
Maria Amalia (daughter of Maria Theresa)
Maxmilian II Hapsburg (Czech and Hungarian king, Holy Roman emperor)
Matthias of Arras (architect)
Petr Parléř (architect)
Přemysl Otakar I (Czech king)
Přemysl Otakar II (Czech king)
Rudolph II Hapsburg (Czech king and Holy Roman emperor)
Spytihněv II (Czech Prince)
St. John of Nepomuk (saint)
St. Lucas the Evangelist (saint)
St. Vitus (saint)
St. Adalbert (saint)
St. Sigismund (saint)
Sternbergs (aristocrats, some family members)
Wenceslas I (Czech Prince)
Rudolph I Hapsburg (Czech king)
Wenceslas IV (Czech king and Holy Roman emperor)
Vratislav of Pernštejn (aristocrat)