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Stained Glass Colors and Churches in Prague

timv's picture

Rambling blogging and reminiscences follow, mostly triggered by Blake's comment on stained glass colors. It got me thinking of the glass in St. Vitus Cathedral in Prague, begun in the 14th century but not completed for almost 600 years. It was finally finished during the prosperous times of the First Republic which lasted from 1919 to 1939, and much of the stained glass was executed by proud Czech Alphons Mucha, best known for his Art Nouveau poster work and especially for his innovative use of text and titles. Good bio here:

Alphons Mucha was born in Bohemia in 1860 and moved to Paris in 1890 where he became the star of the poster-art movement under the patronage of the Sarah Bernhardt. After World War I he returned to Czechoslovakia and founded a slavic arts and crafts movement which combined elements of art nouveau with classic national themes.
Mucha is probably best known for his exceptional posters, which include unusual calligraphic lettering which provides excellent source material for unique typefaces. Mucha's style is virtually synonymous with French Art Nouveau and he is one of the most imitated artists and designers of all time. Mucha's work was so widely immitated by artists like Maxfield Parrish, Leon Bakst and artists of the German Jugenstil movement that it is sometimes hard to tell where his work ends and the imitations begin.

Like I said in the earlier posting, I'm not all that strong on graphics and the visual arts, but Mucha seems like a good guy to know. If you have a font called something like "Bernhardt" or "Metro," that's where the name comes from.

And St. Vitus Cathedral got me to looking for online information about the remarkable Our Lady of the Snows church, which I happened onto by accident in 1990 while walking around and trying to find my way back to my hotel. From the outside, it isn't apparent that it's anything other than an ordinary neighborhood parish church. But it's something altogether different on the inside, not least because it's a significant part of an unfinished Gothic cathedral with a ceiling more than 110 feet high, the tallest in the city. It had been started at about the same time as St. Vitus but only the main choir was finished when a revolution scuttled the project. It sat in ruin for a century and a half before the Franciscans turned it into a lovely working--albeit very oddly shaped--parish church, which it still is.

Looking for info on Our Lady of the Snows, not even sure after 17 years if I was recalling the name correctly, I found this very nice blog entry from Radio Prague about "an instance of how an afternoon in Prague can work itself up into something special, even from a dull start."

I was enjoying this freeze-frame movie in stone when I became aware that the church was filling up. Not the usual tourists, but the little old ladies who seem to be produced exclusively to inhabit drafty pews or to kneel in dark confessionals. Good Friday! Of course. A service was about to start. I decided I would stay. The trains were once an hour, after all. When the place was nearly full, in came a most beautiful young woman - led by her guide dog. She was wearing the most wonderful woolen jacket. It was of mossy colours in many hues. A dull claret-coloured silk scarf perfectly complemented it. All this was strange, as poor blind people are so often dressed by someone else whose taste never seems to match them. Here was a girl from the Hollywood movie version of her own life.

The three old dears, who were patently regulars, who shared my pew were beside themselves with benign curiosity as the young woman, having deftly manoeuvred herself to a chair, began to unpack a large, plain black back-pack which she was carrying. By oft experience she did this with the ease of the sighted, unpacking first a bed for her dog, then a blanket. She was obviously aware of the cold stone floor she'd otherwise be subjecting her faithful companion to.

The dog took its ease, and the service started. The priests and their retinue were fourteen strong, standing in the chancel like extras waiting for direction - awkwardly and unrehearsed - as the cross made its solemn round of the building. Listening in a foreign language seems to stretch the time, and I was busily trying to work out just how many Stations of the Cross there were... could there be as many as 14, I worried? Or just a dozen? It dragged. The light began to fade on the altarpiece, but I was determined, when it all ended, to compliment that wonderful girl on her colours. If she couldn't see in the mirror, then I'd do it for it her. Just this once, then disappear into the street.

But as Station 12 completed, I managed to make out the announcement of the priest that now Mass could begin! I didn't think I could survive another hour, so I slipped out. So much for my resolve to compliment the blind girl.

It turns out that Our Lady of the Snows and the Hotel Adria where I stayed were in fact originally part of the same Carmelite convent, many centuries before. I never knew that. The hotel was in a fabulous location, right in the center of Wenceslas Square (as in the Good King) where everything was happening in that time between the Velvet Revolution of 1989 and the country's first free elections in over 50 years. It wasn't a four-star hotel then, but it also costs a lot more than $20 a night to stay there now.

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