Perched magnificently above the River Vltava in Prague lies the spectacular St. Vitus Cathedral, a spellbinding masterpiece of French Gothic architecture whose dramatic spires dominate Prague’s fairytale skyline. The St. Vitus Cathedral is the largest and most important church in the Czech Republic and its chapels, frescos, tombstones and sensational stained glass make it one of the most incredible churches I have ever seen. Its construction took over a thousand years and its origins date back to the end of the 9th century during the formation of the Prague Castle, one of the largest ancient castle complexes in the world.
The first stones of the foundation were laid in 1344 upon an earlier 9th century altar that had been dedicated to St. Vitus. Emperor Charles IV who inspired many of the great buildings and beautification of Prague wanted to make a grand medieval cathedral within the palace grounds and hired architect Peter Parler to work on the church. Parler worked on it for 46 years until his death in 1399. Unfortunately not much work occurred for several centuries after Parler’s death, leaving the cathedral half-finished until a resurgence in the desire to complete it consumed the national psyche of the re-emerging nation. For the next several decades, a mix of architects, artists and sculptures worked on the church giving it a rather asymmetrical, piecemeal appearance. An opening ceremony for the church was held in 1929 to commemorate the millenium of St Wenceslas. Yet it still took until after WWII for the cathedral to be fully completed. Despite its chaotic past and building, St. Vitus Cathedral is a magical place and a must-see for any visitor to Prague.
As you walk through the castle gates, you will quickly realize that it is impossible to get a sense of how large the St. Vitus Cathedral is given it’s location. It is literally smushed within the buildings of the third courtyard of the Prague Castle and it takes numerous photos to get an appreciation for its sheer dominating size and grandeur.
When you enter the Cathedral the first thing you see is its magnificently high cathedral nave. It stretches up as far as your eyes can see and is so impressive, it takes your breath away. As you stand inside, you feel so stunningly small.
Once your eyes adjust and you lower your head down from looking up, the next thing you will see is the absolutely gorgeous mass of stained glass windows. On a sunny day, the colors literally jump through the glass and its effect is mesmerizing.
The stained glass windows were not part of the original design of the church. Parler had intended on using clear-glass Gothic windows however I can’t imagine how disappointing that would look. These brightly hued windows were created by famous Czech Art Nouveau artists and each one tells a story.
Once outside, I stood in the courtyard and got a good view of the side of the cathedral. I tried capturing it from different angles but could never get the entire structure to fit inside my viewfinder. I waited for the right moment when the sun peaked out of the clouds and captured the St. Vitus Cathedral aglow.
If you go:
The St. Vitus Cathedral is located in the Prague Castle complex. We chose to visit before the noon Changing of the Guard at the Prague Castle and were able to miss the long queues to get inside. Depending on your time, allow anywhere from 30 minutes to an hour to tour. For more information, visit the St. Vitus Cathedral official website here.
Sources: I included a very brief summary of the history and building of the St. Vitus Cathedral from two main sources, “The Rough Guide to Prague” 2015 edition) and the “Discover Prague Guide).
Great post!! When I was in Prague and visited the Cathedral I witnessed the changing of the guard! It was absolutely amazing!
Thanks! Glad you enjoyed the post. Yes Prague is a wonderful place!
It’s absolutely incredible Nicole. They certainly don’t make churches like they used to! Such breath taking intricate beauty, so much history and grandeur in the making … thanks for sharing this with us.
Thanks Miriam! Glad you enjoyed the post. 🙂 Yes the churches of Europe are just amazing. I am in awe of their architecture and what it took to make them. I read the entire Pillars of the Earth 1,000 page book and it was so fascinating to learn about the effort involved in making these medieval churches!
Oh Nicole, that is one of my all time favorite books! Believe it or not, I actually took it away with me on our honeymoon! ♥♥
Wow, great minds think alike don’t they Miriam? I loved the book too. I love really long books. Have you ever read “Cutting for Stone”. That is another fascinating read that is about 1,000 pages.
No I haven’t. Who’s the author?
Here it is Miriam. I read it before I went to Ethiopia and it was really a great book!
Thanks Nicole, will check it out.
Beautiful windows. I’m a lover of stained glass and always love looking at them in any church or cathedral I go to. These ones are so vibrant.
Thanks so much for stopping by and the comment! Yes it is funny as I’m not a church goer but I love to visit different churches and religious buildings when I travel. The architecture and beauty is so stunning.
Prague is like no other European city, because it was not bombed during the war. I have been there twice and yes it is magical. The paintings on the buildings could be in museums, but then Prague could be considered an open air museum.
Yes that is why Prague is so well preserved. Also what amazes me after being in Bucharest, Romania is that in Prague so much has been left as is and restored while in Bucharest huge sections of the Old parts of town were torn down during Communism and ugly concrete block apartments were put in their way right in the center of town.
Wow the colors in the windows glass are breathtaking! Beautiful!
Yes aren’t the colors stunning! I wish I could have captured them better as it is hard with the lighting inside the church. But they were unreal. 🙂
Prague has such a huge effect on me, its to the point that I cry every time I see a post about it and think about how its probably going to be a full year until I can myself. BUT at least it’s not two years, right? Thank you for sharing such beautiful photos.
Yes Prague is such an incredible delight! One reader said it is like a huge open-air museum and that is so true. You will be thrilled to go. Another blogger I read is going in two weeks. You should check her blog out. It is called “Hike, Bike Travel”. I am sure she will have some amazing pictures and stories. 🙂
Aaahhh!!!! Thank you so much for that suggestion I’m going to follow her now!
Wonderful! Here blog is fantastic especially if you like hiking. 🙂
Nice pictures! in and around the cathedral was for me the prettiest spot in Prague
Thanks! Yes I loved the cathedral so much and walking up to the Prague castle was pretty amazing as well seeing all the terra-cotta rooftops! Such an outrageously gorgeous city!
Great photo, Nicole. The architecture is amazing. Love those weather vanes and the towers. 🙂
Thanks Sylvia! This church is just surreal. It is so massive and so ornate. I loved it.
Breathtaking! I love stained glass, and your photos are beautiful.
Thank you so much Rachel. I do too. It was really hard to get a good photo inside with the lightening but they still turned out well. In person, the windows blew me away.
We were lucky enough to live in Prague for almost 4 years…such a beautiful place and I have fond memories of many visits to the castle and church with my photography club. Definitely a photo worthy place and I love the detail you’ve captured!
Wow four years! That sounds wonderful! I will have to check out your blog as I bet you have many fantastic photos!
The history and the breathtaking architecture in other countries is spellbinding. Those stain-glass windows are amazing and, as always, your photos are stunning.
Thanks LuAnn! Yes it was spectacular!