A plague chapel and Prague's oldest church: 5 tips for Night of Churches 2024

Tonight's event will see churches across the Czech Republic open normally inaccessible sacred spaces for free or a donation.

Expats.cz Staff

Written by Expats.cz Staff Published on 07.06.2024 11:57:00 (updated on 07.06.2024) Reading time: 3 minutes

In the Czech Republic on Friday evening, June 7, hundreds of churches, chapels, temples, and prayer rooms will open their doors to visitors this evening and throughout the night as part of the annual Night of the Churches event.

This year, over 1,850 locations have registered for the event. Parishes and church choirs have organized around 7,700 program items, including concerts, lectures, and exhibitions. Last year, 454,000 people attended the event, nearly half a million before the Covid pandemic.

During the Night of the Churches, visitors can explore spaces usually reserved for religious services and meet local church community members. The Night of Churches tradition began in Vienna in 2005 and has been held in the Czech Republic since 2009.

In Prague, noteworthy events on the accompanying program include stone painting for children, tasting of mass wines, and a swing band concert in a monastery garden.

An architectural rarity

The Gothic Chapel of the Virgin Mary in Prague’s Old Town Hall, an architectural rarity in Bohemia, boasts Gothic tracery windows and stone adornments. Built by Petr Parléř in the 14th century, it served as a sanctuary for city council meetings, prisoner rites, and royal masses. Despite facing destruction in the Hussite wars and deconsecration by Emperor Joseph II, it underwent significant renovations in the 19th century, including a neo-Gothic altar by Josef Mocker. Damaged during World War II, ongoing repairs saw its restoration, with restored elements returning in 2018. Now part of the Old Town Hall tour, it hosts occasional services and events.

Prague's oldest known church

St. Vavřinec in Staré Butovice, now part of Jinonice, is among the oldest churches in the greater Prague area, possibly dating back to the 11th century. The first written record dates to the mid-13th century. Its original Romanesque features include a semicircular glass apse, with restoration in 2005 revealing Romanesque windows and block masonry. The church has seen multiple reconstructions over the centuries to expand its space. The wooden bell tower from the 16th century is notable, housing the Vavřinec bell, which is still used for services. Situated in the Prokop Valley, the church retains a rural charm amidst urban sprawl, offering visitors a glimpse into ancient Butovice.

A 'plague chapel' in Žižkov

The Church of St. Rocha, Šebestián, and Rozálie, located in the Olšany Cemetery in Žižkov, was constructed between 1680 and 1682 as the Plague Chapel. It served as a final resting place for victims of the plague epidemic in Prague. Despite its imposing presence at a busy intersection, few realize it's regularly open for religious services. Situated in the oldest section of Olšan Cemetery, the church boasts unique architectural features and furnishings from the late 19th century. A reconstruction in 2005-2006 added new elements, including an altar and entrance door.

A storied church with a view

The Church of St. Matěje, built in the 18th century atop a prehistoric settlement, holds ancient legends dating back to 971, chronicled by Václav Hájek from Libočany. According to legend, Prince Boleslav II founded the church in gratitude to St. Matthew, who saved his life from a bear guarding the graves of Ctirad's warriors. In modern times, the church is renowned for its gingerbread manger, drawing visitors nationwide.

Paintings by Jiří Anderle adorn the interior, adding to its allure. The church is a testament to centuries of history and myth, attracting pilgrims and art enthusiasts. A tower tour with a sprawling view will take place on Night of Churches.

Castle chapels and churches

The Hradčany district near Prague Castle has a number of churches within walking distance of one other making it a good starting point for the event. From the Church of Our Lady Queen of Angels (where the Loreto Chimes will ring out) to the majestic Cathedral of St. Vitus at Prague Castle, which will host organ concerts and more, you can find a list of those in the area here.

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