The highest church in Prague, with 34 metres high vault, Our Lady of the Snows was supposed to be the second largest religious monument in the kingdom, right after the St Vitus Cathedral. It was never completed on that scale. Still, it is very large and it may also pride itself on the largest- 29 metres high- altar in the capital. It is also known for its tombs, where many important Czechs rest.
This church’s unusual name has, since it was founded in 1397, always been explained by the following story. In the 4th century, Virgin Mary has appeared in a Roman merchant’s dream and told him to build a temple on the place where snow will lie the following morning. The merchant was confused, since it was in the middle of hot summer. Still, as he woke up in the morning, he found the Esquilinum hill covered in snow. Following the request, he had the Church of St Maria Maggiore built on the site. The famous altar of Our Lady of the Snows carries a painting which relates to the legend.
Since 1397 up until 1542, the church belonged to the Carmelitan order. At the beginning of the 15th century, it was the place where Jan Zelivsky used to preach. One of the spiritual leaders of this Czech reformation movement was also buried on these premises after being executed in 1422. As the movement disintegrated into bloody chaos (there’s quite a debate about this in Czech Republic), local monks were, as in many other monasteries, slaughtered and the building damaged.
Its decline slowly went on until the year carmelitans left for financial reasons. The building was taken over by the Franciscans. Neither they could afford expensive repairs. The church was falling apart, until finally reconstructed at the beginning of the 17th century, thanks to generous donations. It is a cruel irony that one of the major donors, Marshall Russworm, was to be buried in the tomb of the church only a year after he helped it get back on its feet- after being executed for alleged murder.
Unlike many other churches and monasteries, this one survived the times of Josef II, the anti- clerical reformer, who reigned toward the end of the 18th Century. It was closed down in 1950 by the Communist regime and re- opened more than forty years later.
It is accessible form the Jungmann square, a few steps away from the Wenceslas square and close to the Mustek metro station of the line B. You leave the metro through the exit which carries the name of the square. You will have the “Národní třída” street right behind you. Go to the right and through the courtyard. It’s a bit more complicated, for it is not visible from the neighbouring squares due to many tall buildings around. Being at the spot, it’s also nice to have a look at the Franciscan gardens (“Františkánské zahrady”) next to the building complex, since they form a sort of seclusion in the middle of a very busy part of the city, possibly the busiest one. It’s one of the places in the centre, which offer peace where one hardly expects it- using their position of being away from the stream.
It’s interesting to imagine what would have the place looked like had the church been completed. According to plans, it would fill up much of the square- what we may see now is only a fragment.
Jungmannovo namesti 18, Prague 1