Church of Saint James (Sv. Jakub)

Church of Saint James (Sv. Jakub) (19)

The church of Saint James is the tallest city church in Prague after the cathedral of Saint Vitus. It was built between 1335 and 1374 in the dominant style of the period, Gothic. Nevertheless, if you visit it today you will see that the only Gothic part remaining in the church is the actual structure.

Why is this? A fire, supposedly started deliberately by the men of King Louis XIV, destroyed the church of Saint James in 1689. Three years later the reconstruction process of the interior began, led by Jan Simon Pánek. But the tastes of the period had changed a lot by then and the entire interior was ornamented in Baroque style.

On the façade and over the portico, the artist Ottavio Mosto created an imposing sculptural group that represents Saint Francis, Saint James and Saint Anthony of Padua, surrounded by lots of winged cherubs. The whole piece, which has a rather overelaborate appearance, is in reality formed of very simple sculptures. Ottavio Mosto was considered as the leading figure in starting Baroque sculpture in Prague, since he brought to the city the forms that he had learnt from Bernini in Rome.

In the redecoration of the interior of the church 20 side altars were added where some of the best painters of the period were involved, such as Jan Jirí Heinsch or Peter Brandl.

The ceiling of the church of Saint James was painted by Frantisek Maximilian Voget and represents the life of the Virgin and the mystery of the Holy Trinity. Its light colours give a warm air to the inside of the church. The altarpiece on the main altar is dedicated to Saint James and was made in the 18th century. Although, in reality, the altarpiece takes on a secondary role due to the startling frame that decorates it and which is the work of the Tyrolean Matthias Schönherr.

The length of the central nave gives a great sensation of perspective and makes one’s view go towards the main altar and towards the vaulting. There is no lack of Solomonic columns or tall pillars with gilded capitals.

In a side nave, to the left, you will come across the tomb of Count Vratislav of Mitrovice. It is well worth taking a few moments to look at it, since it is considered the best Baroque sepulchre in Bohemia. It is the result of the joint work of the architect Fischer von Erlach and the sculptor Ferdinand Brokof. The latter was the author of some of the statues on Charles Bridge. The experts point out that the best part of the sepulchre is the figure of Kronos, identifiable by the sand clock. However, regarding Count Vratislav of Mitrovice, it is said that in reality he was not dead when he was buried, since some years later his body appeared seated, instead of reclining, when the tombstone had to be removed.

This is not the only curiosity of the church of Saint James. On the right of the entrance is a mummified arm that is more than 400 years old. The legend says that its owner was a thief who entered to rob the treasures of the main altar. The statue of the Virgin, on seeing what he was about to do, grabbed him by the arm with such force that it was pulled off.

Another interesting point is the magnificent organ, which dates from 1702. It is not surprising, then, that organ concerts and Christmas masses are held in this church.

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