St. Vitus Cathedral in Prague (Katedrála svatého Víta) is an amazing gothic church which has so many “the most” in its history, that I decided to share the facts about the construction and invite you for a virtual tour around the biggest and the most important religious institute in Czechia. And let’s start with the official name of the place: The Metropolitan Cathedral of Saints Vitus, Wenceslas and Adalbert.
The Cathedral is located in Prague castle and can be seen from very far destination. It has the following parameters:
- length of the central nave: 124 meters;
- length of the transversal nave: 60 meters;
- height inside: 33 meter;
- southern bell tower height: 97 meters;
- two western towers height: 82 meters;
- width of the Western facade: 38 meters;
- rose diameter (big round window): 10 meters.
History of St. Vitus Cathedral
But before going inside the cathedral, I would like share with you some facts about this building. The place where we today see the church used to serve as the basement for the first christian rotunda in Bohemia and Moravia. What is rotunda? It is the classic round church built in Roman style. I will show you one during the Early Birds city tour in Prague.
According to the religious traditions, churches could have been built only on the basis of the remains of the saints. So the duke Wenceslas got as a gift from the German king Henry I the right hand of St Vitus. It happened in the X century. Who is Saint Vitus? A young boy of 12 years old who was killed in Rome for his christian believes in 303. And since that times, tradition of sharing parts of Saint bodies was very popular. That is why Wenceslas (who also became Saint) decided to start the construction of the place for christians to pray. That was St. Vitus Rotunda, which dates back to 930.
But in 935 Wenceslas was killed by his brother because of the religious issues. The latter would not accept Christianity. The body of the duke was buried in rotunda and he became the first Saint person in Czechia. And at the beginning of the XI century the rotunda was replaces with a basilica of the size 70 to 35 meters.
Speaking about great architecture projects of middle ages we as usually recollect the name of Charles IV — the king of Czechia and great Emperor of Holy Roman Empire. His plan was to make of Prague one of the best cities in Europe. And the first reconstruction of St. Vitus in Prague plan began in 1344.
The First period 1344 – 1419
Charles IV was a very educated person with got contacts in various countries and spheres. It always helped him to pick up the best people for the projects. Thus the first architect to work on St. Vitus Cathedral was Matthias of Arras. He created a model of a gothic construction and managed to put the basement only. After 8 years of the work on this project he died.
It was Peter Parler, a 23 year old architect who continued the work. First years he was working according to the plans of his predecessor, but suddenly he decided to give some fresh air and introduced unique elements into the construction of the Cathedral. When Parler died, his three sons continued to work on the Southern tower, but Hussite Wards stopped the whole project until 1556 when the second period of St. Vitus was restarted.
The Second period 1556 – 1561
Second period of St. Vitus construction begins with the names of the Bonifác Wolmut and Hans Tirol. They faced the problem: after the great fire that took place in 1541 cathedral was a bit damaged. So on the one hand they had to build and on the other reconstruct. They managed to change the bells and the look of the southern tower into renaissance. Though lack of financial support from the royal family stoped the tandem from achieving the goal.
Than came estate uprising between 1618 and 1620. The rebels were destroying everything on their way. After 100 years another war took place in Prague. It was the war for Austrian Heritage. And as final dot during the thunder storm one lightening got into the southern tower.
The third period 1873 – 1929
The second part of the XIX century in Czechia was the time of national revival. And one of the essential things to do, was to complete finally St. Vitus Cathedral. Today it is hard to believe that such an important religious institute functioned being half constructed.
In 1859 a special commission was gathered to work on the schemes from the XV century left after Peter Parler. It was Josef Kranner who took the responsibility of works of the cathedral. He was mainly working on bringing the construction back to gothic style and finishing of the Western part of the building.
Exteriors of St. Vitus Cathedral
Exteriors of the Cathedral are very impressive. One can see various styles of architecture and just try to measure how much of energy and human power they needed to complete such a constructions. And looking at such old buildings, always consider one important fact: they did not modern tools and robots, to count, measure and carry things.
Southern facade and Golden Gate
The main entrance to the Cathedral used to be the Golden Gate. It was the idea of Peter Parler and he did them. In 1370 an amazing mosaic was made above the gate.It consists of over a million of elements. There we see Jesus and the six patrons of Czech lands: Prokop, Vitus, Ludmila, Sigismund, Wenceslas and Adalbert. Below there is Charles IV with his wife Elizabeth of Pomerania. In the right corner you can see the saved faithful people and denied sinners.
Another interesting element of the exterior is the gate with zodiac signs. There are 12 little sculptures reflection daily duties of the people of different zodiac signs. And this is really something special, because we all know from history that church never believed in astrology.
My friends, if a religious theme is out of your interests and you don’t plan to enter St. Vitus Cathedral, follow my advice and climb the bell-tower, which will be one of the most exciting experience of the whole you trip. You need to buy a ticket for 150 CZK and come to the tower around 9 a.m. to be the first to enter.
There are 287 steps above you and 97 meters of height. From the lookout which is located at the height of 57 meters you will see amazing panoramas of Prague. Going up the tower you will see the bells. The main bell is Sigmund the heaviest (16 500 kilos) bell in Czechia.
Most of the tourists visiting Prague see St. Vitus from western side of the Cathedral. And it is very impressive. First time I came there, I stood some 15 minutes with my mouth wide open from astonishment. There are two portals – right (St Wenceslas portal) and left (St. Adalbert). And above them there is the main attraction of the western facade – the rose. The two towers are of 80 meters high and fully reflect pure gothic style.
Inside of the Cathedral
Inside of the Cathedral you will get for free only to restricted area. To see all the interiors of St. Vitus you need to buy a ticket. But if you come on Sunday morning, hide you camera and tell the guards at the entrance to the church, that you plan to visit the mess. They will let you in for free.
The cathedral has the shape of latin cross with the side of 124 and 60 meters. There are 38 columns and 17 chapels. The main altar is as usually in the eastern part of the construction and dates back to 1868.
The rest of the most interesting places are:
- Habsburg mausoleum (with bodies of Ferdinand I and his wife Anna Jagiellon, their son Maximillian II buried);
- crypt (with 16 royal people buried there. The most famous areCharles IV, Wenceslas IV, Rudolph II);
- St. Wenceslas Chapel;
- Crown chamber;
- sarcophagus of John of Nepomuk;
- Wladislaw Chapel;
- Stained-glass window;
- wooden altar;
- picture “Legend about St. Vitus”
- Statue of St. Vitus.
This is just a brief description of St. Vitus Cathedral, its history, exteriors and interiors. If you have interest in the place and would like to see more, click on the link and book a private tour to Prague castle, which will help you to plunge into the magic atmosphere of this gothic church.