Prague’s Loreta will chime a Christmas tune for the first time in a century

The 27-bell carillon can be programmed like a music box, but until recently it played just one tune.

Raymond Johnston

Written by Raymond Johnston Published on 08.12.2021 13:34:00 (updated on 08.12.2021) Reading time: 3 minutes

A Christmas song will be heard near Prague Castle throughout the festive season. The automated tune on the 27-bell carillon at the Loreta will be changed for only the second time in a century, with the title of the Christmas song to be heard from Dec. 24 to Feb. 2 still remaining a festive surprise. The last time the bells rang out a carol was at the end of the 19th century, when the carillon’s melodies were changed regularly.

Special holiday tours of the Loreta and adjacent Capuchin monastery will also take place. Tickets for the tours are available online. The new song, which will play several times a day, will be heard for free by anyone near Loretánské náměstí.

“We would like to contribute to the spiritual mood of Prague residents and visitors alike by offering them an alternative experience to the frenzied shopping and pre-Christmas hustle and bustle,” Loreta's collection curator Markéta Baštová told ČTK.

Prague's Loreta. (Photo: Wikimedia commons, CC BY-SA 3.0)
Prague's Loreta. (Photo: Wikimedia commons, CC BY-SA 3.0)

The bells of the Loreta were first heard on the feast of St. Wenceslas in 1695. They were donated by a wealthy Malá Strana merchant named Eberhard of Glauchov. Austrian bell and cannon maker Claude Fremy cast the bells, though one has been replaced due to damage. The playing mechanism was assembled and connected to the clockwork by the Prague watchmaker Petr Neumann.

The carillon, which has a range of two and a half octaves, can play an automated pre-set tune every hour, or can be operated using a keyboard for concerts.

The pre-set tune was changed in May 2020 after about 100 years. Instead of the song “Tisíckráte pozdravujeme tebe” (We Greet You A Thousand Times) people now hear the Baroque melody “Maria, Maria, nad slunce jasnější” (Maria, Maria, Brighter Than The Sun). In the 18th century, the songs changed 10 to 12 times a year, depending on the holidays and the seasons.

The pre-set tunes are recorded on metal rails that are read with wooden pegs, similar in principle to a music box or player piano, albeit slightly more complicated. The technology for making new rails was lost over time, and has only recently been rediscovered. This is why the tune did not change for a century, until last year.

Holiday music was played using the keyboard in concert mode throughout that time, but it was not programmed as a regular chime.

Live music from the carillon will also take place several times during Advent, and there will also be trumpeting on Dec. 25.

Tours of Baroque Nativity scenes, the Capuchin monastery, and the Loreta will take place on Dec. 11–12, Dec. 18–19, and Dec. 23–24, starting in the Capuchin monastery next to the Loreta.

Normally inaccessible parts of the Capuchin monastery will be open. Visitors will not only get a close look at the monastery's Nativity scene with life-size figures, but also the paradise courtyard, the large refectory, the former pharmacy, and the monastery garden that extends to Nový Svět.

Santa Casa at the Loreta. (Photo: Wikimedia commons, Balou46, CC BY-SA 3.0)
Santa Casa at the Loreta. (Photo: Wikimedia commons, Balou46, CC BY-SA 3.0)

The second part of the tour focuses on the Loreta and its Christmas motifs. The Loreta, for example, has a full-size replica of the Santa Casa, the house where, according to Christian tradition, St. Mary was told that she would give birth to Jesus.

Construction on the Loreta complex began with the Santa Casa in 1626, which became a pilgrimage site. The complex was later expanded, and its current appearance dates from the first part of the 18th century. It was designed by famed father-and-son architect duo Kryštof Dientzenhofer and Kilián Ignác Dientzenhofer.

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