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History of the Minorite Monastery of St. James

The Church of St. James the Greater (also the Elder) and the Minorite monastery, are both located opposite the Ungelt exit, in Mala Stupartska and Jakubska street. The church was established by King Wenceslas I. in relation to the establishment of Prague Old Town in 1232. Its construction could be also related to the fact that in 1212 the remains of St. James were brought to Bohemia.

The church and the monastery belong to the most interesting sights of Prague which combines architectural styles starting from Gothic to the culminating Baroque. This historical spaces were, except for educational and musical activities, closed to the public.

Present monastery, however, comes from the later period. In 1319, John of Luxembourg began to build elongated basilican aisled building with long and high presbytery and two frontal towers. This is the third longest church in Prague. The gothic monastery was completed by Charles IV. in 1374. During that times the height of the vault was 30 metres so it was the longest church in Prague after St. Vitus Cathedral and Church of Our Lady of the Snows. Belonging to the largest holy sites in Prague it was used as a location for many ceremonies, as well as funerals. In 1311 (or 1309) the first wedding reception for John of Luxembourg and Elisabeth Premyslid was held there as well as his second wedding reception around 1337, this time with french princess Beatrice. Later on, Charles IV. ruled from the monastery as a Margrave of Moravia. He dispensed privileges to the people of Prague, in 1392 provincial court met here and in the years 1411 and 1414 church authorities negotiated with Hussite representatives here. In 1378 body of Charles IV. was exhibited here on a beautiful catafalque while surrounded by five hundred candles and in 1577 Emperor Maximilian II was temporarily buried here, too.

The building was modified into Baroque style by architect Jan Simon Panek after the fire on 1689. This modification was completed in 1702. The interior changes were completed between years 1736 - 39. This whole adjustment got rid of the gothic shapes in exterior. But still the original church plan reminds the post-classic Gothic of the 1st half of 14th century.

The earliest sculptural work in the church is a late gothic polychrome sculpture of Pieta from 1500. The sculpture stands on the main altar which was rescued during the fire in 1689. Next most valued piece of art is a beautiful baroque tombstone of the highest Czech chancellor Jan Vaclav Vratislav from Mitrovic. This tombstone was built between years 1714 – 1716 and designed by Viennese architect J.B. Fischer from Ehrlach. Tombstone is situated on the left side of the aisle. Another memorial - a plate from 1615 hangs under the northwest tower (unfinished). It commemorates the butchers' guild which succeeded in saving the church from devastation and even on two occasions - in 1420 of invasion from Passau and in 1611.

Organ from 1705 can be seen in the organ loft. Church of St. James is also famous as a concert hall which hosts organ concerts.

Different legends bind to the church of St. James: the statue of Virgin Mary standing at the main altar used to be considered as a miraculous statue. For this reason it was always covered by gifts. Once, a thief let lock himself in the church so he could steal these gifts. Right at the moment he wanted to take the cord with ducats, Virgin Mary´s hand caught thief´s hand and hold it till the next morning so he was revealed at the crime scene. The abbot asked the statue wether to cut his hand. After this question, statue relieved thief´s hand so the abbot decided to cut it and from that time till now on this hand hangs on the chain inside the church. The thief was sent to the jail and after his release, he asked to become the lowest servant in the monastery.

Another legend bounds to Vaclav Vratislav from Mitrovic. He had a dream about his death but he came to life again. Therefore, he insisted that his death will be ensured with a heart puncture with a needle. However, this barber who loved him and who was supposed to stab him could not do it. When earl was buried, he really seemed to be dead but he came to life in the tomb as it was predicted in his dream. He knocked on the tombstone with the coffin lid but in vain. When monks realised it and removed the tombstone, they found his body lying dead beside the coffin with his face expressing horror.

On March 20, 1974, Pope Paul VI bestowed Old Town Church of St. James the Greater (also the Elder) the second honorary title Basilica smaller.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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