Photo taken by Dennis Jarvis.
St. George’s Basilica is located in Prague Castle on the eastern side of St. Vitus Cathedral. It stands apart from the rest of the architecture that surrounds the structure for many reasons. The two most important would be its rich history and various styles of architecture. Even looking at pictures one has a gut feeling that nothing should match, yet somehow it all flows together to create a beautiful masterpiece.
The church has had a very unique and complex history and this is seen the numerous styles of architecture at play. It all started with the founder, Prince Vrastislav I. Prince Vratislav I of Bohemia established the church in 920 A.D. and it became the second church located in Prague Castle. Only a few years later in 925 A.D., Prince Vratislav’s grandmother, Princess Ludmila, was murdered and her remains were laid to rest in the church. Ludmila is now considered a saint because of her efforts to convert Bohemia to Christianity. Almost 50 years later, in 973 A.D., the church was enlarged and reconstructed by the Benedictine nuns.
Prince Vrastislav styled the building as Romanesque because of his Christian faith and to honor Saint George of Lydda, a prominent military saint. Romanesque style has many key elements. One of the most important is the time period a structure is built. Romanesque buildings were usually built during the dark ages and led into the beginning of the Gothic style. This style is characterized by thick walls, round arches, sturdy piers, groin vaults, large towers, and decorative arcading. Most structures are symmetrical and orderly with a focus on simplicity. The original architecture has been lost to time, but some have tried to restore this Romanesque style without impeding on the “newer” architecture.
For over 150 years the church stood tall through wars and drastic changes in the monarchy. In 1142 however, a fire broke out and destroyed a major portion of the structure. Some of the restoration included rebuilding the main apse, as seen above, and adding the two white steeples to the outside, shown in the first image. The narrower steeple is known as Eve and the wider southern tower is known as Adam. It was restored shortly after in a more Gothic style. Gothic style’s elements include stone structure, large expanses of glass, clustered columns, sharply pointed spires, intricate sculptures, ribbed vaults, and flying buttresses.
The church stood tall for another 400 years until another fire broke out and the restoration started but this time used a Renaissance style. Renaissance style is considered to reuse the classical style of Romanesque with a focus on symmetry and order. Between 200 and 300 years later, an Early Renaissance doorway was added, a copy of a Late Gothic relief of St. George, and the west façade was added. Only a few years later was the Chapel of St. John Nepomuk added to the southern side by František Maxmilián Kaňka. He was an architect whose primary goal was to reconstruct palaces and castles of Bohemian noblemen. He primarily used the style of Baroque. Baroque’s elements include curving forms such as oval shapes, concave and convex forms that make walls seem wavy. When he worked on the restoration of the basilica, he added the red facade that makes the structure stand out. And in the last 200 years, the original Romanesque appearance was restored during renovation with some unspecified modifications.
Throughout all these drastic changes and rebuilding, Ludmila’s final resting place remained. It was never destroyed by the fires, nor by the wars that raged around. Today, it is known as the second church ever established in Prague and only parts of the original church have been preserved. It is the oldest church in Prague that still remains after more than 1,000 years. It also not only functions as a museum but also as a concert hall. It is open to the public to explore the rich history of this unbelievable work of art and we will most likely be visiting St. George’s Basilica on May 29 when we visit Prague Castle.
Prague Castle. (2019). St. George’s Basilica. Retrieved February 17, 2019, from https://www.hrad.cz/en/prague-castle-for-visitors/objects-for-visitors/st.-georges-basilica-and-convent-10333
Prague City Tourism. (2019). Prague Castle – St George’s Basilica (Bazilika sv. Jiří). Retrieved February 19, 2019, from https://www.prague.eu/en/object/places/8/prague-castle-st-george-s-basilica-bazilika-sv-jiri
Prague.FM. (2015, March 15). St. George’s Basilica. Retrieved February 19, 2019, from https://www.prague.fm/13535/st-georges-basilica/
Welcome to Prague. (2019). The Basilica of St George. Retrieved February 19, 2019, from https://www.welcometoprague.eu/The-Basilica-of-St-George