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Basilica and convent of Saint George (Bazilika a Kláster Sv. Jirí)

Basilica and convent of Saint George (Bazilika a Kláster Sv. Jirí) (33)

The basilica and convent of Saint George are two of the oldest buildings in the architectural complex of Prague Castle. Their religious function was always closely linked to political power and still conserves a faithful testimony to history.

The basilica of Saint George was founded in 912 by Prince Vratislav. There is nothing remaining of that simple wooden structure, since it was destroyed by a fire and rebuilt later in 1142 in Romanesque style. The memory of Romanesque is conserved in the ground plan of the basilica and the painting decorating the vaulting, a fresco called “Celestial Jerusalem” that dates from the 13th century.

Years later, in the 17th century, the façade was built with the statues of Vratislav and Mlada, the first abbess of the convent of Saint George. Much closer to our own times, between 1888 and 1917, the interior of the basilica was completely restored.

The basilica of Saint George has two imposing and identical towers on either side. In contrast, the interior is more sober in style.

One of the most curious parts of this church is its chapel, where the first abbesses of the convent are buried. The crypt is covered by a vault that rests on columns with singular cubic capitals. Over the altar you will see a sculpture of Saint Bridget with her entrails full of snakes and lizards. They say that this macabre vision was sculpted by a stonemason as punishment for having committed a violent act against the church. In reality it is a Baroque sculpture that aims to symbolise vanity.

The basilica of Saint George also houses the chapel of Saint Ludmila, made in the 15th century by the workshop of Peter Parler, constructor of the cathedral of Saint Vitus and Charles Bridge. This chapel honours the memory of the first Czech martyr, widow of a prince in the 9th century, who died at the orders of her daughter-in-law while she was praying. It is usually closed to the public.

The inside of the basilica also recalls its founder, Vratislav, who died in 926. Close by is the tomb of a later ruler, Boleslav II, surrounded by an imposing Baroque grille.

The chapel of Saint John Nepomucene was added to the complex in 1718 and has a beautiful sculpture of Ferdinand Maximilian Brokof, author of some of the statues on Charles Bridge.

Alongside the basilica stands what was the first convent in all Bohemia. Founded in 973 by Prince Boleslav II, it was a convent of Benedictine nuns whose first abbess was Mlada, Boleslav’s sister.

The position of the abbesses was of particular importance at that time, since they were the ones who had the privilege of crowning the queens of Bohemia. Abbess Mlada is remembered in the history of Prague for being the one who obtained permission from Pope John XIII to create a bishopric in the city.

The convent of Saint George, with a double cloister, has been reformed and rebuilt several times throughout its history, just like the basilica. For centuries it stood out as a cultural centre producing manuscripts that are today conserved in the Clementinum, in the centre of the Old Town.

It was closed in 1782 and turned into a military headquarters. In the 20th century, it was once again restored and given its current function as home to the collection of Bohemian Baroque art of the National Gallery.

This was a particularly rich period for Czech art. During the reign of Rudolf II the Mannerist school was also of great importance, as you will be able to see in some examples here. The majority of the pieces on show were the property of the church and they feature many biblical references or statues of archangels and saints. The permanent collection, on the first floor of the convent, houses veritable marvels that make any visit, however brief, well worth the effort.

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