Anyone who is interested in Baroque art and architecture, should definitely visit the St. James Church near the Prague Old Town Square. It is the most beautiful Baroque church in Prague, a splendid large building and the longest Prague church after the St. Vitus Cathedral at the Prague Castle.
History of the St. James Church
The church was built for the Minorites monastery in 1232. Prague Old Town was founded at the same time. The church was rebuilt in Gothic style in the 14 th century and it became a place of funeral ceremonies of Czech kings. When Charles IV. died in 1378, his body was exposed there in a beautiful catafalque, surrounded by 500 candles.
Prague was occupied by French troops in the 17 th century and they intentionally caused a fire, which destroyed a large part of the Old Town, including the St James Church. The ruins of the church were rebuilt in Baroque style in 1689 by architect J. S. Panek (Pannetius).
The decoration of St James Church is impressive. The frontage stucco reliefs were made by Italian Ottavia Mosta. The large interior of the church has Baroque tribunes above the side naves. There are 23 altars altogether.
You can see many valuable works of art in the church, for example the painting “St. James Martyrdom”, made by V. V. Reiner, at the main altar. There is a series of paintings by Petr Brandl from the 18 th century.
Horror story of the church
The most valuable work of art is the Baroque tombstone of the Supreme Bohemian Chancellor Jan Vaclav Vratislav of Mitrovice from 1714 – 1716, designed by Viennese architect J. B. Fischer of Erlach. There is a horrifying story related to the tomb. The chancellor wasn´t really dead when he was buried there and he awoke in a coffin. People could hear him banging on the tombstone, but they thought it is some supernatural phenomenon and they just sprinkled the place with a holy water. Nobody got the idea to open the crypt. The chancellor died there several days later. Another person was buried in the tomb after few years and when the monks opened it, they found the chancellor´s coffin wrecked and Jan V. V. of Mitrovice lying aside, with a horror look in his eyes.
Story about the hand on the wall
Another story is related to the Virgin Mary statue at the main altar. It was believed that it was miraculous and people donated gifts to the statue. A thief once wanted to steal the gifts, but the statue grasped his hand and he couldn´t get out. He was found there in the morning. Nobody was able to disengage his hand, so it had to be cut off. Then the statue dropped the hand spontaneously. The Minorits hanged the hand on the wall as a warning and it can still be seen there, wizened and blackened.
St James Church has great acoustics, therefore concerts of church music are held there nowadays.