Authentic Bohemian crown jewels on display at St. Vitus Cathedral
This week people have the rare opportunity to view the authentic Bohemian crown jewels which have been put on display at St. Vitus Cathedral along with a sacred relic – the scull of St. Wenceslas, the nation’s patron saint. They are being displayed on the occasion of the 30th anniversary of the founding of the modern Czech state.
St. Vitus Cathedral at Prague Castle, the seat of Czech kings, holds a priceless treasure: the Bohemian crown jewels which were used in the coronations of the country’s monarchs. The crown jewels are stored in a special chamber, which is secured with seven locks to which the country’s top officials have the keys. The collection is only displayed on rare occasions. In the course of the 20th century is was only shown to the public nine times.
The crown jewels include the crown of Saint Wenceslas, the royal orb and sceptre, the coronation vestments of the kings of Bohemia, a gold reliquary cross, and the sword of St. Wenceslas. The crown was made for the coronation of Charles IV in 1347, making it the fourth oldest in Europe. The royal orb and sceptre date back to the 16th century. It is believed that the originals, which lacked any precious stones, were considered too austere to adequately reflect the prestige of the Kingdom of Bohemia, so they were later replaced by artefacts made in an ornate, jewelled style that resembled the crown.
The royal crown is made from 22-carat gold and weighs close to 2.5 kilos. Petr Kroupa, who heads the Department of Heritage Protection at Prague Castle, describes the treasure.
"The crown consists of a headdress, which is composed of four parts. And in the middle of each part is a fleurs-de-lis. All the parts are set with large, precious stones –96 precious stones and 20 pearls, among them sapphires, emeralds, a ruby and an aquamarine. It is said that some may have belonged to Charles's first wife Blanche of Valois. Right at the top there is a gold cross inlaid with a sapphire, with a carving of the crucifixion of Christ.”
The cross was made hollow inside so that it could hold a sacred relic – a thorn from Christ's crown of thorns, which Charles IV managed to acquire. Around the cross is the Latin inscription: Here lies the crown of the Lord. There is a lot of speculation as to whether the thorn is still there. When the crown was last examined three months ago experts concluded that the cross is intact and so there is no reason to believe otherwise.
As many ancient treasures, the crown of Bohemia is also protected by a legend that says that any usurper who would dare to place the crown on their head is sure to die within a year. This legend was given added weight by the rumour that, during WWII, Nazi governor Reinhard Heydrich secretly tried on the crown. He was assassinated less than a year later by the Czech resistance.
The crown jewels are regularly inspected and maintained by the Belda family of jewellers who have had the privilege of looking after the crown jewels for more than half a century.
The Bohemian crown jewels are on display at St. Vitus Cathedral from Monday to Saturday January 21, from 9 am to 5pm. The exhibition is free of charge and people may take photos. A security check is required.