Charles Bridge: Saints Cyril and Methodius

On 3 September 1890, a powerful flood washed away three arches of Charles Bridge. Two eighteenth-century statues by Ferdinand Maxmilián Brokoff toppled into the river and were smashed to pieces. Enough was salvaged to be able to re-create Brokoff’s St Francis Xavier,  an identical copy of which went up in 1913. But it was not until 1928 that attention turned to the space formerly occupied by St Ignatius Loyola.

In that year, the Ministry of Education and National Edification made a donation for a new statue. With the tenth anniversary of the Czechoslovak Republic in mind, they chose to replace the founder of the Jesuits with a subject more national in spirit: Saints Cyril and Methodius, the ninth-century theologians who introduced Christianity to the region.

Having arrived in Greater Moravia in 863 AD, these missionary brothers directed the first Slavic translation of the Bible, employing a standardized form of a dialect spoken in their native Thessaloniki. The language is known today as Old Church Slavonic, and the religious texts that the brothers translated were rendered in so-called Glagolitic script, the ancestor of what we now call (after the saint) the ‘Cyrillic’ alphabet.

The project was awarded to the sculptor Karel Dvořák in 1928. On its completion, a full ten years later, his statue became (as it remains today) the last wholly original commission for the bridge. It was finally unveiled on the 590th anniversary of the foundation of Charles University.

Dvořák’s strongly-composed group is dominated by Saint Methodius, his hand raised in blessing. Below him, Saint Cyril presents to a group of converts a newly-translated bible and a model of a romanesque rotunda — probably intended is the church of Saint Clement in Levý Hradec, the earliest Christian church in the Czech lands. The figures receiving these gifts with outstretched arms represent the people of Bohemia, Moravia and Slovakia.