October 1, 1873: Neo-Gothic completion of St. Vitus Cathedral launched
Exactly 150 years ago, Prague Archbishop Bedřich Schwarzenberg laid the foundation stone for the completion of Prague’s famous St. Vitus Cathedral in neo-Gothic style.
The Cathedral of St. Vitus, Wenceslas and Vojtech at Prague Castle, a spiritual symbol of the Czech state, was founded in 1344 on the site of a Romanesque rotunda.
King John of Bohemia laid the foundation stone for the new cathedral and construction continued during the rule of his eldest son and heir to the throne Charles IV.
However, the lengthy construction process was interrupted in 1419 by the Hussite Wars and the church remained unfinished for many centuries. It was not until the second half of the 19th century that the completion of the shrine in neo-Gothic style was initiated.
The Prague Archbishop Bedřich Schwarzenberg, who laid the foundation stone for the completion of the cathedral 150 years ago today, played an important role in the process.
Apart from the efforts of the Archbishop of Prague, the cathedral owes its present majestic appearance to the enthusiasm and generosity of the people of Prague. Rich and poor, nobility and simple folk all contributed. It was similar to the fundraising effort for the National Theatre.
There were several proposals for the completion of the cathedral, not only in neo-Gothic style. In the end, Josef Kranner’s design – which was sensitive to the original Parléř architecture –won. However, Kranner did not have time to complete the work and was replaced by Josef Mocker, who was more ambitious in his plans. His project did not please the Prague conservationists, who criticised him for “an insensitive approach” to the work of the Old Masters. Present-day expert opinion is more conciliatory. For example, art historian Mojmír Horyna believes that Mocker underlined the uniqueness of the Prague temple with the western facade.
Be as it may, today St. Vitus Cathedral is one of Prague’s most beautiful landmarks and one of the most photographed buildings in the world.
Its construction took nearly 600 years and was completed in 1929. Its impressive interior boasts the beautifully decorated St Wenceslas Chapel with the tomb of St Wenceslas, the crypt where Czech kings are buried, and the Crown Chamber, where the Crown Jewels are kept.