Saint Nicholas of Malá Strana (Sv. Mikulás)

Saint Nicholas of Malá Strana (Sv. Mikulás) (40)

Malá Strana Square is not one, but several squares, since it is divided by the imposing church of Saint Nicholas, which with its imposing size, draws all eyes towards it and attracts many visitors.

Where you now see this lavish church once stood a Gothic church, which dated back to 1283. After the Catholic victory in the Battle of White Mountain, Ferdinand II of Hapsburg awarded this church to the Jesuits, who reformed it in a Baroque style, employing the talent of the whole lineage of architects to do so.

The works began in 1653 and at the end of the 17th century the east, west and north part had been completed, designed by Domenico Orsi de Orsini and Carlos Lurago. Despite the work of many artists, Saint Nicholas of Malá Strana is considered as the key work of the main authors of Prague Baroque, the architects Christoph and Kilian Ignaz Dientzenhofer, father and son respectively, and Anselmo Lurago, son-in-law of the latter. The Dientzenhofers were never able to enjoy the sight of their complete work, since both of them died before the church was finished.

The façade and the nave are thought to be the work of Krystof Dientzenhofer, between 1793 and 1717. The façade has a curvilinear form full of elegance with a statue of Saint Paul, made by John Frederick Kohl. In the nave, the oblique positioning of the columns stands out, providing a great sensation of rhythm.

Kilián Ignac Dientzenhofer made the choir and the cupola between 1737 and 1752. It was Anselmo Lurago who added the bell tower in 1755 and directed all the interior decoration, commissioning the best artists of the time, with which the work was concluded. In the 20th century, the church of Saint Nicholas was subjected to a profound restoration process in order to repair the damage caused over centuries by dampness and the climate.

Once inside the church, your eyes will be flooded by an explosion of gold. This is no surprise since it is a Baroque church that wishes to celebrate in all its details the triumph and splendour of Catholicism.

For example, in the cupola, at a spectacular height of 70 metres, shines out the fresco titled “The celebration of the Holy Trinity”, produced between 1752 and 1753 by Franz Palko. One of the demands of this artist was that no-one see his work until it was completely finished. One of the Jesuits from the church could not resist the temptation and they say that, as revenge, Franz Palko painted his face on one of the fishermen in the fresco.

The pulpit is the work of Richard and Pete Georg Prachner and dates from 1765. It stands out for not having any steps and for its decoration, with gilded cherubs.

In the four corners of the transept are the statues of the fathers of the church, made by Frantisek Ignác Platzer in the mid-18th century. They are Saint Basil the Great, Saint John Chrysostom, Saint Gregory Nazianzen and Saint Cyril, busy in their task of killing the devil with their staff.

Also by Platzer is the copper sculpture of Saint Nicholas, to whom the church is dedicated. It is placed in the main altar and below you will see a painting of Saint Joseph by Lukas Kracher, author of the fresco in the nave. The sculptures in the side chapels are almost all works by Platzer.

Do not forget to look up to appreciate what is still today the largest painting in Prague, measuring 1,500 square metres. It is of the “Apotheosis of Saint Nicholas”, a succession of scenes from the life of the saint, produced by Jan Lukas Kracker using the technique of incision in the plastered fresco. Through this technique the work can be given a great liveliness. The same author was responsible for the wall paintings of the main nave.

This church houses a large Baroque organ on whose stool sat one of the greatest geniuses in the history of music. It was Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart himself who played here during his stay in Prague in 1787. On the news of his death in the utmost poverty, some 4,000 congregated in Saint Nicholas to pay homage to him.

When you are inside the Baroque and cheerful interior of Saint Nicholas, and if your visit is on a not-too-busy day, you can close your eyes and try to recall some of Mozart’s most famous tunes. If you are able to concentrate, it will be almost like going back to 18th-century Prague.

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