Prague’s wooden Church of St. Michael ‘virtually destroyed’ by fire, the cause is unknown

A collection will be started to fund the restoration of the 17th-century landmark structure

Raymond Johnston

Written by Raymond Johnston
Published on 29.10.2020 11:15 (updated on 29.10.2020)

A fire has virtually destroyed the 17th-century wooden Saint Michael Church in Prague’s Kinsky Garden. Photos posted on Twitter by firefighters showed that the three towers were reduced to a burnt framework and much of the main rooms were damaged as well. The cause of the fire in unknown. No injuries were reported.

Prague City Hall spokesman Vit Hofman said that the city would be announcing a public collection for the restoration of the landmark structure.“City Councilor for Culture Hana Třeštíková (Prague Sobě) has initiated the creation of a public collection for the restoration of the church,” he added.

The fire was reported at 3 pm and was under control within an hour. The shingled roof of the building partially collapsed, and the structure burned to the beams. The church, a protected landmark, was moved from what is now Ukraine to Prague in 1929.

“The church was hit by the fire in full scope,” the firefighters said shortly after arriving at the scene.

“The church has been virtually destroyed by the fire,” they said later in the afternoon.

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Images shared by the fire brigade showed that the upper part of the main tower and two smaller towers have crumbled.

Luděk Prudil, the commander of the Prague Fire Brigade said the firefighters had to take several liquid propane gas (LPG) tanks out of the church and cool them down, but one of them was already on fire.

Firefighters sounded the second level of alarm, given the number of units that intervened at the fire. Firefighters from four professional and two volunteer units took part.

The fire was completely out by 6:40 pm. “The site was checked by a thermal imager for hidden outbreaks. An on-site inspection will take place in the evening,” firefighters said late on Wednesday.

The extent of the damage and the cause are under investigation, according to Prudil.

After the first report of a fire was received, firefighters intervened on the spot with 10 cars with a tanker and one with a ladder. Thick smoke rising from the site could be seen from as far away as Vinohrady.

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Ukrainian Ambassador to the Czech Republic Yevhen Perebyjnis said on social media that he was shocked by the news of the church fire. “It was transported to Prague from the territory of Ukraine and is thus one of the connecting 'bridges' between Ukraine and the Czech Republic,” he said, calling for an investigation and also the building’s restoration.

The church is located on a steep hillside in a heavily wooded area of Kinsky Garden (Kinského zahrada), a park that connects with Petřín hill. Prudil stated that the response to the fire was complicated, since water had to be brought to the building remotely.

The wooden church is part of the collections of the Ethnographic Museum, which is also located in Kinského zahrada.

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The church originally stood in the village of Velké Loučky near Mukachevo in what is now Ukraine, but was part of Czechoslovakia before World War II. The structure was dismantled, transported and rebuilt in Prague in 1929.

Smoke rising from the Church of St Michael / via Raymond Johnston
Smoke rising from the Church of St Michael / via Raymond Johnston

When the building was moved in 1929, it was completely taken apart and the pieces were mraked and numbered. The parts were then carried on four railway wagons. The transfer was financed by the National Museum with support of the Education Ministry. The reassembly of the church was supervised by the vicar of Medvedovce, a large town near Velké Loučky.

The timbered church was more than 14 meters long and is about 8 meters in width. The main tower was over 17 meters tall. The two smaller towers were situated above the aisle and above the choir. All three tower structures were painted white, green and red to symbolize faith, hope and love. The steeples had a square ground plan, several terraced roofs, onion shape domes and crosses on their very tops.

Chuch of St Michael before the fire / via Raymond Johnston
Chuch of St Michael before the fire / via Raymond Johnston

This is not the only wooden church to burn recently in the Czech Republic. In August 2017, a historic wooden church in Guty in the Frýdek-Místek region, which dates from the 16th century, burned down. The fire caused damage of around 20 million CZK. The Regional Court in Ostrava sentenced three young men from the Ostrava and Frýdek-Místek regions to prison for setting the church on fire for 3.5 years, eight and nine years. A replica is being installed on the site of the church in Guty.

In April 2002, the flames destroyed the wooden church of St. Catherine in Ostrava-Hrabová, also built in the 16th century. The fire, which probably arose as a result of a fault in the electrical installation, caused damage for about 20 million CZK. In 2004, it was replaced bay a copy.

The Libušín cottage in Pustevny in the Beskydy Mountains also burned down from the wooden listed buildings. The building from 1899 designed by Dušan Jurkovič was destroyed by flames in March 2014. After the restoration, it opened to the public this year during the holidays.