Larry's Maltese-Czech Society's Project

THE SAINT VITUS CATHEDRAL


The Saint Vitus Cathedral - "the crown of the kingdom" - is, both as an architectural achievement and in its relation to its surroundings, the culmination of the castle complex and of the Hradshin panorama, as well as of the whole city. Through the thousand years of its evolution it has undergone many changes, from the four-apsed rotunda of Saint Vitus founded about 925 by Prince Vaclav, later honoured as the patron saint of the land, who has his tomb in one of the apses, to the double-choired basilica of Ottonian type raised by command of Prince Spytihnev after 1060, and finally to the impressive "union of all the arts" which is the Gothic cathedral that arose under the rule of the House of Luxemburg.
The foundation stone of the Gothic structure was laid in 1344 by John of Luxemburg and Charles IV to mark the raising of the see of Prague to an archbishopric. The first architect was the Frenchman Matthew of Arras, who died in 1352. He was succeeded in 1356 by a young architect from Gmund (Swabia), Peter Parler. The iconographical programme of the building was probably formulated by Charles IV himself, who expressed his claim to the Premyslid heritage by having the remains of the kings and princes of that house transferred into the choir of his cathedral. The tombstones surmounting their graves are the work of the Parler workshop.
The St. Wenceslas chapel with the remains of the saint was conceived as the focal point of the building, its upper floor housing the crown jewels and the most important relics of the kingdom. At the lower triforium level a unique gallery of portraits was carved for the founder, his wives and son, his close relatives, church dignitaries and the architects too, all of whom have their "heavenly prototypes" in the busts of Christ, Mary and the many saints who occupy the upper level. By the dynamism of his forms Parler brought a new order into the cathedral as organism.
The linking up of the vaulting over the bays within an overall net-vault, the pendant keystones defying the laws of techtonics and the broken "baroque-like" cornice lines, all these are new elements testifying to the inventiveness of the architect and builder. After his death Peter Parler's sons carried on his work until the outbreak of the Hussite wars in the second decade of the 15th c. Unique in central Europe is the mosaic above the south porch representing the Last Judgement and executed by Venetian artists in 1370-1371. Towards the end of the l5th c. the royal oratory was built, under the direction of Hanus Spiess, with its naturalistic decor of branches.
Renaissance and mannerist art enriched the cathedral with a number of individual works, such as the paintings by the Master of the Litomerice altar (after 1509), the tombstone of Bohemian kings by A. Collin, the music gallery by Bonifac Wohlmut among others. In spite of the legend spread by Bohuslav Balbin that the man who would complete the building of the cathedral would also overcome the Turks, no further work was done during the baroque period despite some bold projects. The period following the ceremonial canonization of Jan Nepomucky in 1729 produced the silverwork sepulchre of the saint which is in the choir (Josef E. Fischer of Erlach and Antonio Corradini) and a series of paintings and statues adorning individual chapels. The main impulse towards completing the nave came with the founding in 1863 of the Union for the Completion of Saint Vitus Cathedral.
The initial purist design of Josef Kranner was continued by Josef Mocker and Kamil Hilbert. The nave was consecrated in the millenial year of Saint Wenceslas, 1929. The designs for the stained glass, the main doors and the altars of the new extension were the work of the foremost Czech artists including Max Svabinsky, Alfons Mucha, Frantisek Bilek among others. Through its centuries-long development the Saint Vitus Cathedral became the tangible symbol of the nation's identity, treasuring within its walls the most ancient tokens of Czech statehood, culture and history.

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