Sunday, October 16, 2016

171. Churches for the tourists in Prague ...

Religion in the Czech Republic was dominated by Christianity until at least the first half of the 20th century; since then it has steadily declined and today the Czech Republic has one of the least religious populations in Europe.

The Czechs gradually converted to Christianity from Slavic paganism between the 8th and the 10th centuries following the conversion and baptism ( by Saints Cyril and Methodius ) ) of  BoĊ™ivoj I, Duke of Bohemia, who was the first ruler of Bohemia to adopt Christianity as the state religion.

Then after the Bohemian Reformation of the 14th century, most Czechs  became followers of the Protestant Reformers until  the Habsburgs regained control of Bohemia ( from about the mid 16th century ) when they were forcibly converted back to Roman Catholicism. After which Christianity was the largest religion in the country, with virtually all Czechs being Christians until the 19th century. 

A decline in the number of Czech Catholics began after World War I and the breakup of the Austria-Hungary empire due to a popular anti-Austrian and anticlerical mass movement, and then the Catholic Church lost the bulk of its adherents during the Communist era and continues to lose in the modern, ongoing secularization. 

During the domination of the Roman Catholic church in the Czech republic, many fine churches were built and over the centuries have withstood wars and pestilence and the pollution of modern times.

St Vitus Cathedral - dominating the city skyline 

The seat of the RC church in the Czech Republic is the Cathedral Church of Saint Vitus. This grand Gothic edifice is situated within the walls of the equally grand Prague Castle. The present day church was founded in 1344 when the foundation stone was laid by King John of Bohemia. The Cathedral wasn't completed until nearly 600 years later ( ... following devastating fires and wars and reformations etc ... ) in 1929. 
 

Mass is still practiced daily in the church - before the hordes of bug-eyed tourists arrive
and on Sundays the cannon is celebrated in Latin ...



Having been warned to get there early in the morning, I was on the doorstep with entry ticket in hand an hour before advertised opening time ... but already the tour buses were pulling up and disgorging their fill out onto the pavements - not a pretty sight I assure you - and as I wandered through the building I could hear the endless chatter fast creeping up behind me - until I fled out the exit door in search of some less popular site ...




The grand organ loft swamped by those tour groups hot on my tail ...
 






 Window by Czech artist Alfons Mucha

Also in the grounds of the Prague Castle is the less crowded but eqaully beautiful 
St George's Basilica. This is the oldest surviving church building within the Castle.


Originally founded in 920, it was rebuilt in 1140s - following a devastating fire - 
and substantially renovated in the 17th century..


The building is no longer used as a church but now for art exhibitions and musical concerts.

During my time in Prague I popped my head inside the front doors of dozens of churches as I passed by on my daily wanderings - some were outstanding - all were interesting with their ornate Baroque and beyond decorations ...

 



One church I did visit that really impressed me was the Basilica of St Peter and St John - perched high on a hill overlooking the Valta River and much of suburban Prague - this church building was founded in 1070, but suffered a fatal fire 200 hundred years later. Since then it has been re-built over the years in a Gothic and, more recently, a neo-Gothic style.


 
The interior of this church is truly beautiful, with seemingly every square inch of the walls, pillars and even the ceilings covered with the ornate flowing Art Nouveau decoration of the Czech painter Frantisek Urban and his wife Marie Urbanova-Zahradnicka - in the style of Alfonz Mucha.
 


 






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Probably one of the most photographed church buildings in Prague - and featured in just about every "selfie" taken in this beautiful city - is the much-renovated-over-time 14th century Church of Our Lady Before Tyn situated in the Old-Town Square.


The square in front of the church is host to street food stalls, buskers, beggars, tour operators touting for customers plus hordes of hungry-eyed tourists with their hungry-lensed I-phones ... not a place to linger longer than necessary ...

 by night ...

 The Jerusalem Synogogue

And finally, a religious experience that I greatly enjoyed and one less crowded...

  ... also in the Old Town Square - the Church of St Nicholas ...

 ... a night time concert for organ and orchestra featuring the Camerata Pragenis Orchestra 
with Ales Barta on the organ - playing many favourites from Bach, Handel, Vivaldi and Mozart to an appreciative audience for over an hour in these stunning surrounds ...




And that's just a meare glimpse of church-life in Prague ...

Next blog post, I'll take you back to the Veletrzni Palac for an exhibition that absolutely blew my mind away ...