by lefever on November 12, 2010
Prague is different than Paris in that the church style is predominantly Baroque in Prague (and most of Czech) rather than Gothic. Gothic started in France with Abbot Suger at his hybrid style church, St. Denis. From there, the Gothic Style spread throughout France as the “new” style, eventually being adopted elsewhere in Europe and finally evolving into what was called International Gothic. The Italian Style replaced Gothic as the fashion and eventually the zealously decorative Baroque was the rage.
Where France tended to be a bit more elegant, Czech seemed more aware of the physical and material aspects of Christian thought. Congregant culpability felt in response to the crucifix is here at a peak.
The crucifixion was painted and sculpted and not always with graceful Messiah, but a battered Jesus, his flesh and blood more obvious, his body palpable and soft, his suffering considerable.
Not to say there are not various styles in the Czech Republic. It is varied. The older churches reflect the fashion of the time. St. Vitus in Prague, St. Vaclav in Olomouc, St. Barbara in Kutna Hora, Sts. Peter and Paul in both Prague and Brno are all Gothic (or neo-Gothic in the case of Brno, remodel from a Romanesque origin). These were also the Cathedrals and the royal church of the kings or regents of the area.
But, death is not hidden away in Czech. The reminder of it is present.
Being alone in Czech in Winter, I was reminded of this in subtle ways, from hardship carved in the faces of the elderly, the quality of the thick gray air and muddled light, the rain filtering through leafless trees splatting the cold stone, the plague of graffiti defacing properties, the unrelenting smokers, so many buildings in disrepair, the economic times, my empty pockets…
In Sedlec, Kutna Hora, is the “Bone Church.” The very small, All Saints Church, is filled by the dead, decorated within with bones exhumed from the cemetery grounds without. Death is present (and in this case a tourist attraction).
The bones that were removed from the ground to make room for victims of the plague were arranged in 1511 by a half blind Cistercian monk within the ossuary of All Saints Church. In two piles, skulls of the dead rest beneath large crowns that hang from aged blue vaulted ceilings, a promise of Heavenly freedom.
Other bones were meticulously arranged in 1870 by a wood carver and form a macabre decorum of Catholic Liturgical objects, royal coats of arms, a chandelier… all in all, an estimated 40,000 dead are crafted into an experience in which to contemplate the mystery of our lives.
The mystery of our deaths.
“ ‘ONLY MYSTERY enables us to live,’ Lorca wrote at the bottom of one of his drawings he did in Buenos Aires: ‘only mystery.’ “
~ Edward Hirsch quoting the poet, Lorca, from his book,
“the demon and the angel” (searching for the source of artistic inspiration)