Saint Vitus Cathedral :: Prague, Czech Republic
Prague Castle in the Czech Republic is home to one of the most famous Roman Catholic cathedrals in Europe, Saint Vitus Cathedral. Not only is it an amazing example of Gothic architecture, it is also the largest and most important church in the country and contains the tombs of many Bohemian kings. The cathedrals full name is St. Vitus, St. Wenceslas and St. Adalbert Cathedral. The original church, also named St. Vitus, was a Romanesque rotunda founded by Wenceslaus I, Duke of Bohemia in 925 and stood at the same location as the present day cathedral. The present day cathedral was founded in November 1344 when the Prague bishopric was raised to an archbishopric. It was intended as a coronation church, family crypt, treasury for the most precious relics of the kingdom and the last resting place/pilgrimage site of patron saint Wenceslaus. Construction on the cathedral spanned hundreds of years and was not truly completed until the early 20th century when the Union for Completion of the Cathedral of St Vitus in Prague was formed in 1873.
The official entrance to the cathedral is on the west side of the building, it is also the newest, built at the turn of the 19th century. This side of the cathedral features two tall towers and the famous Rose Window, one of the most beautiful examples of the stained glass craft in Prague. The previous main entrance to the cathedral is known as the Golden Portal and features a large mosaic above the entrance that was created by a Bohemian glass factory with Italian artists assisting. The mosaic depicts The Last Judgment, where Jesus is surrounded by angels and the kneeling St. Prokop, St. Zikmund and St. Vitus as well as St. Wenceslas, St. Ludmila and St. Vojtech. The southern side of the building was built during the features a Renaissance Bell Tower which is home to Zikmund, the largest church bell in the Czech Republic.
The interior of the cathedral is quite spacious and features a variety of intricately adorned chapels illuminated by the light going through amazingly designed stained glass windows depicting various sacred scenes. The cathedrals most famous chapel has got to be the St. Wenceslas Chapel which was created in the 14th century by Charles IV to honor the memory of the Czech patron saint. The lower parts of the walls are decorated with over 1300 semi-precious stones and paintings about the Passion of Christ while the upper part of the walls display paintings about the life of St. Wenceslas. These paintings were created between 1506-1509 by the Master of the Litoměřice Altarpiece, a famed Bohemian painter active in the International Gothic style. Currently the chapel is not accessible to the public but can be viewed from the doorways. Another amazing work of art to enjoy is the ornately decorated tombstone of John of Nepomuk, located opposite of the John Nepomuk Chapel. It is truly a sight to be seen. In front of the cathedrals main altar you will see the path to the royal mausoleum where Bohemian kings were buried and consists of the tombstones of Ferdinand I of Austria, his wife Anna of Bohemia & Hungary as well as the Holy Roman Emperor Maximilian II.
Currently there is no entrance fee to visit the cathedral. From November through February the cathedral is open Monday – Saturday from 9AM to 4PM, Sundays from 12PM to 4PM. From March through October it is open Monday-Saturday from 9AM to 5PM, Sundays from 12PM to 5PM. The Bell Tower can be visited during good weather but be aware you must climb 287 steps to reach the top, and those ancient tower stairways can be a little intimidating.
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