Prague Part V: St. Vitus Cathedral

St. Vitus Cathedral

(St. Vitus Cathedral)

Look to the west from anywhere in Prague and you simply can’t miss it: St. Vitus Cathedral and it’s many spires sprouting into the sky above the massive walls of Prague Castle. Though easily mistaken by the first time visitor as being a part of the castle when viewed from a distance, St. Vitus Cathedral is in fact an entirely separate entity despite being contained wholly within the walls of the castle complex.

Overview of St. Vitus within the Prague Castle complex

(Overview of St. Vitus within the Prague Castle complex)

The full name of the cathedral is St. Vitus, St. Wenceslas, and St. Adalbert Cathedral, but rest assured no one calls it by that mouthful. The present day structure is actually the third cathedral on this site. The first was built circa 925, a Romanesque rotunda done on a much smaller scale. In 1060 a larger Romanesque style church was constructed, but as the population of Prague grew it was clear that only a grand scale cathedral would do.

Towers and spires on the eastern facade

(Towers and spires on the eastern facade)

Front view toward the main altar

(Front view toward the main altar)

View to the rear

(View to the rear)

St. Vitus as we know it today was founded in November 1344 in the high Gothic style prevalent in that age. As with so many of the great cathedrals of Europe, an immense span of time followed the beginning of construction until something like completion. Two main architects were involved. The first was a Frenchman named Matthias of Aras, but when he died in 1352, only a small portion of the cathedral hed been erected. The project was then taken over by Peter Parler, only 23 years old. He finished the parts already designed by Matthias, then proceeded to work in his own quite different style.

The organ loft

(The organ loft)

Just one of many spectacular stained glass windows

(Just one of many spectacular stained glass windows)

But even Parler never lived to see the place completed. After his death his sons continued the work, albeit slowly. It wasn’t until sometime in the 1500’s that the cathedral was finished in something like its current form. But we can all be thankful they kept at it, as St. Vitus is today one of the outstanding examples of medieval Gothic architecture in all the continent. It has all the elements you could want in a grand cathedral: soaring, vaulted ceilings, massive bell towers, exquisite stained glass windows and lots of them, paintings, sculptures, heavily bejeweled burial vaults. You name it, they’ve got it.

More windows

(More windows)

The interior light is magical

(The interior light is magical)

Silver burial vault

(Silver burial vault)

A panorama of stained glass

(A panorama of stained glass)

We spent a good hour or more just standing, sitting, gawking and picture taking inside. I climbed the bell tower, which features one of the best vantage points of all Prague and got lots of great shots. The exterior is just as wonderful as the interior. I especially liked the dozens of spiky spires that adorn the roofline.

Back outside in the sunshine

(Back outside in the sunshine)

Arch detail

(Arch detail)

Spires in the sun

(Spires in the sun)

The clock tower

(The clock tower)

Outside in the spacious courtyard, tourists mill about, queueing up for photos. Uniformed castle guards parade past at regular intervals. There’s a fountain which on a windy day like we experienced, will blow spray randomly and at great distance around the courtyard, surprising passersby with a unexpected shower.

Bird's-eye view from the clock tower

(Bird’s-eye view from the clock tower)

The twin spires of the front facade

(The twin spires of the front facade)

Panorama of Prague seen from the clock tower

(Panorama of Prague seen from the clock tower)

If you’ve brought a lunch with you, the courtyard is not a bad spot to hold an impromptu picnic, that is if you don’t mind sitting on the flagstones to do it. After all, how often are you going to have the chance to eat lunch in the shadow of an awe-inspiring giant like St. Vitus?

Whether you’re an architecture buff or not, St. Vitus Cathedral is a can’t miss spot on your Prague itinerary.

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