Cathedral Church of Saint Vitus

Saint Vitus Cathedral, Prague

Founded on 21 November 1344, Saint Vitus’s Cathedral in Prague Castle is the work of generations of master builders. The east end (to the right of this picture) was built by the French architect Matthew of Arras, who was summoned from the papal court at Avignon to undertake what would become one of the great gothic churches of Europe, modelled on the cathedral at Narbonne.

When he died in 1352, the reins were taken up by the then 23-year-old Peter Parler (Petr Parléř), who began work on the transept and the tower (1367) as well as the adjacent ‘Golden Gate‘, commissioned by Charles IV in 1370 as a ceremonial entrance to the tomb of Saint Wenceslas.

Saint Vitus Cathedral interior

Parler was also responsible for the magnificent first-floor triforium, which features busts of the imperial family (including Charles IV and his parents, John of Luxembourg and Elizabeth of Bohemia), a number of archbishops, and the two original architects themselves. Parler’s work was completed by his two sons, Václav and Jan Parler, and a third master builder, known simply as Petrilk.

The Hussite wars put an end to construction, and it was to be another 500 years before plans were made for the building’s completion. ‘The Cathedral … is a melancholy object on the outside – left with unfinished sides like scars’, remarked the English novelist George Eliot, visiting Prague in 1858. In fact, major work was about to begin: Josef Kranner spent most of the 1860s extending the nave, and Josef Mocker commenced his splendid neo-gothic west end in 1873 – it was finished only after his death in 1899 by Kamil Hilbert.

The West End, completed in 1929, is dominated by an exceptional rose window by František Kysela. Following the tradition begun by Peter Parler, the designers and architects were themselves memorialized in stone, appearing in two bas-relief groups in the lower spandrels of the rose window.

Kysela himself is portrayed alongside the art historian Zdeněk Wirth on the left-hand side; on the right, the two principal architects, Kamil Hilbert and Josef Mocker, pore over their plans. The sculptor responsible for these witty additions was Vojtěch Sucharda, son of the more well-known Stanislav.

Alfons Mucha’s magnificent stained glass window on the life on Saint Wenceslas (1931)