Jan Hus, Bethlehem Chapel (Betlemska Kaple)

Jan Hus, Bethlehem Chapel (Betlemska Kaple) (6)

One of the most important characters in the history of Prague is, without doubt, the reformist cleric Jan Hus. He left his mark in many places around the city and for centuries has been venerated as a martyr of the Czech people. The Bethlehem Chapel is one of the places where they most loyally reproduce his ideas.

Born to a poor family of Bohemia, Jan Hus became one of the most relevant theologians of his time due to his condemnation of opulence and corruption in the Church. At the same time, Jan Hus’s followers, called Hussites, became a surprising military force led by Jan Zizka. They even managed to defeat the Pope and Catholic emperor’s troops and crowned a king who supported the Hussite cause.

The critics of Jan Hus had the ear of the Pope in Rome, and he had him excommunicated. In 1412, Wenceslas IV expelled Jan Hus from the city. Nevertheless, convinced of the validity of his ideas, he went to defend them at the Council of Constance, where he was imprisoned. One year later he was judged and found guilty of heresy. He died burnt at the stake in 1415 but, even today, people continue to pay homage to his figure.

The Bethlehem Chapel that you can visit today is a faithful reconstruction of the one Jan Hus used to preach in. The original chapel was destroyed in 1768 and its restoration was not realised until after the Second World War, when the Communist authorities decided to rebuild it. To do so, they based their work on the original illustrations that can still be seen today.

Jan Hus preached here before a congregation of 3,000 people between 1402 and 1413. Among those who went to hear him there were workers, craftsmen and small businessmen. They identified with Jan Hus’s sermons, in which he explained the need to return to the practices of the Gospel and, above all, the poverty of the Church. It is no surprise that he was so successful since a large proportion of the inhabitants of Prague were low-ranking clerics who lived with great simplicity.

For Jan Hus, it was very important to preach in Czech and that the congregation would be able to understand the sermons. He also laid great emphasis on popular canticles, which he adapted to sing during the masses. The Hussite movement ensured that the canticle took on great importance in Bohemia, which later was home to important composers, such as Smetana or Janacek. Jan Zizka, the military leader of the Hussites, used canticles to encourage the troops during the battles against the armies of the Pope and the emperor.

In line with the ideas of Jan Hus, the Bethlehem Chapel is sober and austere. On the walls, several pictures recall the opulence of the Church and the death of Hus. The walls have also been decorated with texts by Hus, discovered in the 20th century during the reconstruction works.

After the victory of the Catholics in the Battle of White Mountain, in 1620, the Bethlehem Chapel passed into the ownership of the Jesuits.

Outside is the house where Jan Hus lived, to the right of the chapel.

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