Monday, January 21, 2013

Good King Wenceslas Looked Out..........

So, the first time we have a “really late” report time (11:00 a.m.) and your editor, along with many others, were up and rarin’ to go at 7 a.m.  How does this happen?

St Havel Church, Prague
Perhaps we were all excited about the opportunity to experience the Prague Subway on our way to St Havel Parish to participate in the 12:15 Mass.  Yes, that must be it.  That, AND the fact that we were headed over the river to explore Prague Castle right afterwards……whooo – a real live castle!

St. Havel's Church was built between 1232 and 1239 in the Gothic style, but in the mid-17th century it was re-built in a more modern baroque style. Afterwards, it became part of the Carmelite monastery until the late 18th century leader Joseph II reformed it to its present day look. Konrad Waldhauser and Jan Milic once preached here and the Church is now considered one of the four most important churches of its time.  For the life of us, no one seems to be able to find out who St. Havel actually was, but he/she would be proud of this gorgeous church.  What you do not see in the photos are the incredibly uncomfortable pews (they must be from the 1200’s) or the fact that it was at least 50 degrees in the building.  We liked it.  A lot. 
Side pulpit at St. Havel

The Choir sang high above in the balcony – and the parish organist was welcoming to both the singers and to our organist, Andrew.  That’s always a nice way to start the day……  The noontime Mass turns out a good sized congregation, and most stayed after to hear the 30 minute “mini concert” the Choir provided.  Within that group we found a family who heard the choir sing “A Viking King” at the restaurant last night and liked it so much they came to hear more (seriously!) AND a couple from overseas who had breakfast this morning at  a table next to Scot Missling.  They  had a 2:00 flight but came to church instead.  Amazing.  Gratefully, they were not disappointed in their decision to miss their flight!

As we left the church, it began to snow and, oddly enough, the ancient city looked even more beautiful as the snowflakes grew in size and number.  What better than a walk in the snow?  So, off we went to find the coaches that were to take us to Prague Castle.
Greeting the guards at the gates of the palace
The Prague Castle, an ancient symbol of the Czech lands, is the most significant Czech monument and one of the most important cultural institutions in the Czech Republic.  It is believed that the origins of the castle were around 880 by Prince Bořivoj of the Premyslid Dynasty, and, according to the Guinness Book of World Records, the Prague Castle is the largest coherent castle complex in the world, with an area of almost 70,000 meters. It is a UNESCO World Heritage site, and consists of a large-scale composition of palaces and ecclesiastical buildings of various architectural styles, from Roman-style buildings from the 10th century through Gothic modifications in the 14th century.  Since the Velvet Revolution, the castle has undergone significant and ongoing repairs and reconstructions.

Exterior of St. Vitus Cathedral
St. Vitus Cathedral is the largest and the most important church in Prague. Apart from religious services the coronations of Czech kings and queens also took place in here. The cathedral is a place of interment of remains of provincial patron saints, sovereigns, noblemen and archbishops.

St. Vitus interior
The cathedral is the third church consecrated to the same saint on the identical site. About the year 925 Prince Vaclav I founded a Romanesque rotunda here which after 1060 was converted into a basilica with three naves and two steeples.  It was not until the latter half of the 19th century that the Union for the Completion of the Building of St. Vitus Cathedral began the repair of the original part and the completion of the building of the cathedral in Neo-Gothic style. The cathedral was solemnly consecrated in 1929. 

Situated in the chancel of the cathedral, in front of the high alter, is the royal mausoleum below which, in the crypt, there is the royal tomb. The chancel is surrounded by a ring of Gothic chapels. Czech sovereigns and patron saints are interred in some of them.
The choir was invited to sing in the center of the St. Vitus, and chose to do “Praise to the Lord the Almighty.”  Their music stopped tourists in their tracks and the sound reverberated through that massive cathedral for quite some time.

Monument to John Nepomuk
Two amazing things caught our eye during our tour.  The first was a solid silver burial site of Czech hero, John of Nepomuk.  Nepomuk is the national saint of the Czech Republic, who was drowned in the Vltava river at the behest of Wenceslaus, King of the Romans and King of Bohemia. Later accounts state that he was the confessor of the queen of Bohemia and refused to divulge the secrets of the confessional. On the basis of this account, John of Nepomuk is considered the first martyr, a patron against calumnies and, because of the manner of his death, a protector from floods.  Anyway, his “monument/burial place” is made up of several tons of silver and must be carefully polished/restored every March.  Must be quite a job.

St. Wenceslas Chapel
The other fascinating area we were able to see was the St. Wenceslas Chapel.  Its magnificent decoration and the different conception of its architecture emphasize its singularity as the central point of the cathedral with the tomb of the most important provincial patron saint. The facing of the walls, consisting of precious stones, and the wall paintings of the Passion cycle are parts of the original 14th-century decoration of the chapel.  In other words, this is the burial place of “Good King Wenceslas” of the Christmas tune we all know and love.  Who would have know……how cool was that?  (And of course we had to sing the song all the way down the hill……)

Free time tonight.  Free day tomorrow.  Then the overnight train ride to Poland.  See you again soon!

Czech Crown Jewels including the crown of King Wenceslas