The Church of St. Nicholas which is also called the Saint Nicholas Cathedral stands for the most famous Baroque church in Prague. This sight of historical interest was built between 1704 and 1755 on the place of a former Gothic church from the 13th century which was dedicated to Saint Nicholas as well. St. Nicholas Church is situated in the centre of the Lesser Town Square and a visitor can admire one of the Dientzenhofer’s supreme achievements. Be enticed by the most impressive example of Prague Baroque!
About St. Nicholas Church in the Lesser Town
If you are asking for directions, reference to “St Nicholas Church” is not clear enough to people who know Prague. We have three churches of St. Nicholas – and two of them even by the same architects! Although the one I will tell you about is perhaps THE St Nicholas Church – it is the biggest and the best known. It is one of the most important Baroque monuments in Prague.
Just for the sake of completeness, where do the other St Nicholas Churches stand? One is at a corner of the Old Town Square (next to it is also the Franz Kafka House). Peculiarity of this church is that it was incorporated into block of other houses. However, later some of the houses were torn down and now there is a wide passage from Kaprova Street to the Old Town Square. The last one stands in Vršovice. St Nicholas must have been extremely popular by early 18th century – all three churches in Prague devoted to him were built at the same time!
The monumental St Nicholas church standing and Malostranské náměstí (Lesser Town Square) was ordered by Jesuits who established a large complex of buildings at the place. It was such an important undertaking, that the foundation stone was laid by the Emperor Leopold I himself!
The church was built by members of Dientzenhofer family. This artist dynasty has left many other monuments in Prague – including St Nicholas Church in the Old Town Square – as well as the whole Czech Republic.
The construction started in early 18th century and took several decades – and even two generations of Dientzenhofers were not enough! The second Dientzenhofer, Kilián Ignác, died in 1751, few years before the completion of his and his father’s masterpiece. The last master-builder was his son-in-law, Anselmo Lurago – whose work is the tall tower of the church.
The plan for St Nicholas Church itself was ambitious. It gives an impression of a mass of stone in motion – abandoning the straight lines of the previous Rennaissance period. The aim was to arouse awe in the hearts of the people looking at it – either outside or in the church.
It was a custom in Baroque period to decorate the churches – sometimes to the extreme. The decorations of St Nicholas Church have been preserved so we can now admire the vast frescos (by Jan Lukáš Kracker and – within the dome – by František Xaver Palko) and numerous sculptures (mostly by Ignác Platzer) as well as many paintings by various authors including Karel Škréta. The artwork is compounded by the clever use of light and shadows inside the church.
Monumental church deserves also a monumental organ. The one in St Nicholas Church has 4 000 pipes. Some are 6 meters long! Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart played this organ in 1787 and shortly thereafter, his Mass in C major was first played on this instrument.
The Jesuits had only two decades to boast with this great church. In 1773, Emperor Joseph II and Pope Kliment XIV dissolved their order. St Nicholas Church became the main parish church of the Lesser Town. Luckily, no major disaster has touched the church since then which means that its rich decorations and artwork within it are almost unchanged.
Today, the church is a place of Mass, but you can also visit it as tourists (ticket costs about CZK 70). There are also concerts in the church which you can also attend.
In the tower, you can also learn a bit about more recent history. Even before the completion of the whole church, the Lesser Town became the owner of the tower. There were watchmen who had to look for fire or approaching enemy. During the Communist regime, the secret police (StB) had a post in the tower to monitor the Embassies of the United States and Yugoslavia. An exhibit is now dedicated to such activities of the Communist secret police.
Visiting the St Nicholas church is very impressive experience which is very hard to describe but believe me you won’t regret it! Buy now our ultra all-inclusive Prague tour and visit this magnificent city!