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).