Czechs mourn their dead, personalizing a sea of crosses on Old Town Square

Photo: Michaela Danelová / Czech Radio

A year after the Covid pandemic hit the country, the Czech Republic has the highest number of Covid deaths per capita in the world. On the sad anniversary of the first Covid death-on March 22-  bells tolled around the country and close to 25, 000 crosses drawn in chalk appeared on Prague’s Old Town Square –one for each victim of the pandemic. Since then the square has become a place of mourning where people come to say a prayer and pay tribute to loved ones. 

The imposing historic square that has appeared in photos around the world, packed with tourists, or thousands of euphoric sports fans celebrating a hockey victory, now presents a very different picture. Its cobblestones, covered with a sea of close to 25,000 white crosses, bear witness to the tragic loss that has hit thousands of families –the loss of loved ones to Covid -19.

Photo: Michaela Danelová / Czech Radio

The crosses were the work of the anti-government movement Million Moments for Democracy as a silent accusation of the government for the high number of dead. However, people drawn to the square to witness the sight, started personalizing the sea of crosses by adding the name of a loved one, lighting a candle and a flower.

Granny Anna, Ondra, Milan, Eva, Daddy Josef, Šárka – the names of wives, fathers, sons, nephews and neighbours. Most visitors to the square come alone or with close family members. Marie, a young student kneels in tears as she chalks her grandma’s name next to one of the crosses and lays a tulip next to it. “It was a good idea” she says looking at the sea of crosses, “maybe this will make the deniers take notice and realize that things are really serious.“

Photo: ČTK/Kateřina Šulová

A middle-aged woman hesitates before picking a cross to write a name. She is here for an elderly neighbour who has lost her husband and is too frail to come herself. A young father with a small son chalk a name next to a cross together, stay a few minutes and leave. There are those who come to pay tribute to a relative from a different part of the country –write their name, light a candle and take a picture to send to close relatives in Karlovy Vary or Olomouc.

Photo: Michaela Danelová / Czech Radio

For some, personalizing one of the crosses on the most beautiful square in the country helps them to come to terms with the fact that, due to the coronavirus restrictions in hospitals, they were unable to say goodbye. For others who come to see the unbelievable sight for themselves, the sea of crosses helps to make real the death toll number that has become a regular part of the prime time news.