Church of Our Lady before Týn

Tyn Church, Prague

Close to the mediaeval merchants’ courtyard known as the ‘Týn’ (the word comes from the same root as the English word ‘town’), the gothic masterpiece of the Church of Our Lady dominates the Eastern side of Prague’s Old Town Square.

Building on the site of an earlier Romanesque structure, the 14th-century architects Matthew of Arras and Peter Parler bequeathed to the city one of its most memorable landmarks. The building’s most notable feature, a pair of extravagantly-topped steeples, was added much later: the slender northern tower in the 1450s; and its broader twin, to a design by Matěj Rejsek, in 1511.

In 1679 a lightning strike necessitated the rebuilding of the main vaulted roof; but the disaster must have seemed trivial compared with the church’s already stormy history at the centre of a Europe torn by religious schisms. A bastion of protestantism from the 1420s onwards, the church lost its golden Hussite chalice at the end of the Thirty Years’ War, when the Catholics replaced it with the glittering Madonna which still decorates the gable today.

Inside the triple-aisled church, the main attraction is the grave of the Danish astronomer Tycho de Brahe, whose highly accurate observations provided the foundation for his protégé Johannes Kepler’s argument that the planets move in elliptical orbits.