A Guided Tour of St. Vitus Cathedral's Incredible Stained Glass
St. Vitus Cathedral is one of the most astonishing churches in the world, and as such is filled with some of the most incredible pieces of art from across Europe. The best piece of art can be seen all over the walls. The stained glass windows of St. Vitus Cathedral are some of the most transcendent works of art which blend religious history and powerful human emotion.
We start the tour of Stained Glass by looking back at the rose window on the north-west entrance. From here we will move clockwise throughout the church. A map of each of the piece can be found at the bottom of this post for your reference. For a full guided tour of the Cathedral click here!
1. The Creation Rose Window
Starting at the front of the Cathedral, take a look up at the Rose Window set into the western frontispiece. This was created by Frantisek Kysela in 1925 and took over two years to be completed. The inscriptions on the stained glass tell the story of creation as told in the Bible. The outer circle says, "in the beginning, God created the earth and the earth was empty. And deserted, darkness lay above the world, and the divine spirit floated above the world."
The inner circle says, "initially there was a word. The creation of angels." From right to left, clockwise, each petal of the rose represents a day of the week and the parts of the earth which were created upon those days. God sits at the top of the rose window. Looking down upon his incredible creation. The shape of the rose window resembles the shape of the earth and the blues and greens caught within the design look like an image of earth from space.
2. Chapel of St. Agnes or the Bartoň-Dobenín Chapel
Up until 1989, this Chapel was known as the Bartoň-Dobenín Chapel. Josef Bartoň was a nobleman, knighted by the Emperor in 1912 and whose wealthy family of textile merchants were significant donors to the construction of the Cathedral. The window in the chapel depicts the Bartoň family praying. The images represented reflect the psalm from the bible which state, "Blessed are the adversaries who suffer for righteousness; Blessed are you when they curse you, rejoice and rejoice, for the reward is abundant in the heavens." All the blessed and repentant figures in the scene are dressed in the most exquisite clothes, and unlike many of the other designs in the church, the clothing here seems to be the focus. Because the patrons were a part of the textile trade, this is no doubt not a coincidence. During the communist regime, the image of the donors were covered by a wallpaper as they were known opposers to the current government. When St. Agnes was sanctified in 1989 the name of the chapel was changed to St. Agnes Chapel.
3. The Schwarzenberg Chapel
This chapel is named after the Schwarzenbergs family, a noble family who had established themselves in Prague since 1172. Designed by Karel Svolinsky in 1929, the scene depicts two stories regarding the life of Isaac. On the right we see Hagar, the mother of Isaac when they were banished to the wilderness but rescued by God. The scene on the left illustrates God asking Abraham to sacrifice his son, Isaac, but seeing a ram, Abraham sacrifices it instead. Both of these stories are about sacrifice for your children. At the bottom of the glass window are the Schwarzenberg wives who kneel, thanking god for their children. In the lower part of window, in the centre, you can make out the Schwarzenberg family crest.
4. The New Archbishop Chapel
The most distinguished of all the stained glass windows in the Cathedral is this piece designed by Alphonse Mucha in 1930. This can be found in the New Archbishop Chapel. It is an allegory of Christ blessing the Slavic Nations. Mucha was born in Ivančice, Moravia (now the Czech Republic) and dedicated his life and art to preserving and teaching people about Slavic history. The piece features the preachers St. Cyril and St. Method. St. Cyril and St. Method were two Byzantine Christian brothers who came to the Slav nation and devised the Glagolitic alphabet, the first alphabet used to transcribe the Bible so the people of Bohemia could read it. Even after their deaths, their pupils continued their missionary and were seminal in creating the Christian world in the Czech Republic.
St Cyril can be seen in the centre panel on the left holding a large bound bible. On the right St. Method is seen baptising the heathens with holy water. Below them is an old grandmother, this is St. Ludmila with her grandson, St. Wenceslas. On the left and right panels, we can see the story of Christianity being brought to the Slavic people. On the left, scribes work tirelessly to transcribe the bible. Mucha's influential work of art, The Slav Epic tells this story in even more details and is well worth checking out if you're in Prague and interested in the history of Bohemia.
5. The Chapel of St. Sigismund
This piece of stained glass looks like it belongs on an Alexander McQueen dress. The patterns both on the figures and behind them are stunning in their colours and appearance. We see St. Wenceslas, Wolfgang and Johanna.
6. The Chapel of St. Anne
This chapel is named after St. Anne, the grandmother of Jesus. Anne was married to Joachim of Nazareth, a descendant of David. The couple was childless as they gave all their time and money to the poor. When they arrived in Jerusalem, they were rejected by the church because their childlessness was interpreted as a sign of divine displeasure. Joachim fled to do his did penance in the desert, and there he fasted. After 40 days, an angel appeared to him and promised him a child. Despite her old age, Anne gave birth to Mary, the soon to be Mother of Jesus. The children of older women, who were thought to be barren, are thought to be destined for greatest, perhaps because of this adage.
In the stained glass window, we see a charming rendering of the royal family tree of David. Jesse of Bethlehem, the father of King David, is seen at the bottom. From his heart grows a tree whose branches hold his forefathers. At the top is a giant blooming flower from which the Virgin Mary sprouts up from. Above her, are is four petals surrounding a cross. Inside the flower petals are a Winged Man, a Lion, an Ox and an Eagle. These are the symbols for the evangelists of Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John. This stunning work of art was created by Jan Swerts in 1877 and is my favourite piece in the entire cathedral.
7. The High Altar
Moving down to the Southern transept, we see the enormous stained glass dramatic scene of the Last Judgement. This was designed by famous Prague artist Max Švabinský.
In the central part of the window, we see the regal figures of Christ, the Virgin Mary, St. Adalbert, St. John the Baptist and St. Jacob. The colours in this window are stunning. The emerald greens look like rich grassy fields, shining in the sunlight. In the lower left, you can see the figures of Czech kings who were buried in the royal tomb inside the St. Vitus Cathedral. On the left, we have Ferdinand I and Rolph II. In the centre Ladislav Posthumous and George of Podebrady. And on the right the illustrious St. Wenceslas IV and Charles IV. They are dressed in handsome finery and praying at the feet of Jesus. Below them are the figures of Archbishop Jan Očko of Vlašim and the four wives of Charles IV.
Above is the figure of Christ. A choir of angels holding horns announce the arrival of the Last Judgment. At the very top in the centre, you can see the gleaming St. Wenceslas crown incorporated into the tracery. Below the crown, there is a bright golden bell, representing the giant carillon in the tower. In contrast to the King and Queens on the left, the lower right side of the piece depicts the horrors of the Last Judgement. The Archangel Gabriel stand there selecting who are the sinners and who are the saved. In his hand, he holds a mighty, glimmering sword. The rebrobates are sent to hell and are seen falling to their damnation in the fires of purgatory.
8. The Old Archbishop's Chapel
The design of this stained glass was created by Josef Mocker and František Sequens. Mocker worked on the ornamentation and patterning, and Sequens focused on the figures. Two people were needed for this majestic piece of artwork. You could stare at it for hours and constantly be discovering a new hidden scene or favourite embellishment.
The window focuses on Saint John of Nepomuk. Saint John of Nepomuk is one of the most popular saints in Bohemia. He was drowned in the Vltava river because he would not break the Seal of the Confessional and was put to death by another Bohemian Saint, St. Wenceslas. Because he was drowned, he is considered a protector from floods and drowning. On either side of him are two angels in robes with mirroring green and red drapery. In the left window, we have the Apostle Thomas and on the right the Apostle St. Jan. All three of the top figures are set against an Gothic architectural backdrop.
9. The Chapel of St. John the Baptist
The Chapel of St. John the Baptist is a study in architectural drawings and ornamental patterns and less of a focus on figures. In the middle was have the image of the Virgin Mary flanked by St. Antonín Poustevník and St. John the Baptist. The rest of the glass is decorated with delightful geometric flowers and even the image of exquisitely ornamented windows in windows.
10. The Chapel of Our Lady
This Chapel is dedicated to the Virgin Mary. The decoration throughout is fantastical. Flowers, leaves, quatrefoils shapes and highly embellished tracery gives the window outstanding presence even in such a wondrous Cathedral. The Holy Trinity is represented in the center window. God holds his hands open and a white dove flies above. In front is Jesus on the cross, bright white rays of sunlight burst from behind the trio. On the left dressed in azure robes is the Virgin Mary, her gaze looking down in sadness at Jesus on the cross. On the left window, we see St. John the Baptist holding a cross with a scroll which reads, "Repent-you, neared for the Kingdom of the Heavens".
11. The Reliquary Chapel
Charles IV considered this chapel to be the most precious. In the central window, we see the Virgin Mary with baby Jesus in her arms. On either side of her are kneeling angels, their wings coloured in all different hues, making them look more like birds than angels. Below the holy family, we can see a choir of Bohemian Saints Vojtech, Dorothy and Beno. On the left window we have Andrew the Apostle, Agnes of Bohemia, Saint Vitus and Jan Sarkander and on the right St. Apostle James the Elder, Saints Alois, St. Alphonsus, and Frantisek of Paula. This is another piece designed by Josef Mocker and František Sequens from 1877.
12. The Chapel of St. Jan Nepomuk
This window was designed by Josef Kranner, Rudolf Müller and Petr Maixner in 1870. The window is set in front of the precious relic of Saint Adalbert of Prague housed in the alluring gold and silver gilded reliquary. With such an impressive treasure in front, the stained glass windows behind are more restrained. The three windows tell the story of the life of St. John of Nepomuk. In the center we see St. John with King Wenceslas as a boy, a stirring image since the two were once so close but in the end, it was St. Wenceslas who would put St. John to death. On the right we see St. John giving alms to the poor and on the left, he is seen blessing the Queen Sophia of Bavaria, the spouse of Wenceslaus.
13. The Mary Magdalene Chapel or The Wallenstein Chapel
The Wallenstein Chapel features a single central pane by Josef Mocker and František Sequens. It centres around the image of Saint Mary Magdalene washing the feet of Christ. Beneath them are the apostles Bartholomew and Matthew. While a smaller window, take a moment to study the geometric ornaments at the bottom of the window. Although completed in 1877, they have a very art-deco feel about them that significantly predecesses that period of art history. Perhaps an early influence to what art-deco would become.
14. The Chapel of St. Andrew
Although Rose Windows only usually appear along the nave, here we see a smaller, yet no less lovely, version. In the center of the curved rosette, we see the figure of Christ, his left hand out in a blessing pose and an open book in the right. Standing amongst a group of columns below are Saints Matthew, Barnabas, Stephen, Lawrence, Luke and Mark.
15. The Southern Window
The Southern Window, adjacent to the famed St. Wenceslas Chapel, is an incredible tryptic. The colours in this piece seem otherworldly. They are so powerful and intense. A triad of rainbows. In the centre, we see the figure of Jesus, falling into the arms of his maker. This is the depiction of the Holy Trinity: the father, the son and holy spirit, symbolized here in the form of a dove. The dove is surrounded by a glorious ray of light which draws your eye in and doesn't let it go. Jesus' face is surprisingly emotive considering it is made of glass, without the intricacies of paint. Surrounding the figure of Jesus, if you look closely into the traceries, are the tools which were used when he was martyrized. To the left, we have the northern window. Here, the Virgin Mary is dressed in Royal purple and honoured with the crown of St. Wenceslas. On either side of her are the kneeling figures of blessed St. Mlada and St. Ludmila. Below Mary is Spytihněv I, the first historically documented Bohemian ruler and husband of St. Ludmila. In his hands, he holds a model of a Roman Basilica, which he built in her honour. On the right, we see St. Wenceslas and St. Vitus on their knees. In the centre is Charles IV who is also holding a model of a Gothic Cathedral.
16. The Thunov Chapel
The Thunov Chapel features a sparkling blue window with a modern design despite being created in 1929. It represents the Psalm 126-5 which declares, "Who sows in tears, will harvest in joy." Inside the window frame are different risks which provoke sorrow; floods, hail storms, fire, death and natural disasters. The concept here is to teach the public that tragedy may befall us, but only through sadness can we genuinely appreciate happiness and joy.
At the top of the window, is a clear image of an enormous eye overlooking those below. This is representative of the Lord's eye looking out over the Justified. Below the eyes are three quatrefoils with different saints inside. On the left is St. Florian, fighting fires with his staff. In the centre, we have St. Krystof, with his cane, breaking the waves of the ocean. On the right, we see St. Barbara proving her valour with a victory against the earth. These saints are seen to be there to help protect the justified against the ills that might befall them.
17. Chapel of the Holy Sepulchre
Another of Karel Svolinsky's incredible contemporary pieces is this window design featuring purple, red and pink glass presenting the 'Works of Mercy'. There are two main categories of Mercy; corporal and spiritual. The Corporal works of mercy are; To feed the hungry, To give water to the thirsty, To clothe the naked, To shelter the homeless, To visit the sick, To visit the imprisoned, or ransom the captive and to bury the dead. Spiritual Works of Mercy is to instruct the ignorant, to counsel the doubtful, to admonish the sinners, to bear patiently those who wrong us, to forgive offences, to comfort the afflicted and to pray for the living and the dead. Each of these acts of mercy is thoughtfully represented in each frame of the window. The flowing natures of glass design adds a sense of movement to the entire piece which gives it that sense of modernity despite being over a hundred years old.
18. Chapel of St. Ludmila
In the Chapel of St. Ludmila we can see the impressive images of the St. Ludmila, the Holy Spirit and the twelve apostles. The holy spirit is seen as a white dove in the centre, flying up towards the Jesus, dressed in a red habit. The dove is illuminated with yellow, white and red light which reflects off the figures below. The twelve apostles kneel below,. their hands folded in prayer. Their bright flowing robes rippling against the power of the spirit taking off above.
St. Ludmila or Ludmila of Bohemia is frequently seen throughout the Cathedral. Saint Ludmila married the first Duke of Bohemia, and they had a son, Vratislav. She and her husband were one of the first couples who converted to Christianity when it was brought to Bohemia. Vratislav married young and had another son, Saint Wenceslas. Vratislav died soon after his son was born, so Ludmila acted as the regent for Wenceslas until he came of age. Despite being his grandmother, she acted more like a mother to him and brought him up to be a good Christian. But good deeds did not go unpunished, and when Wenceslas' mother Drahomíra became jealous of Ludmila's influence over her son, she has Ludmila murdered by two noblemen. Saint Ludmila was canonized shortly after her death. Wenceslas never forgot his dear grandmother, and as such, she is a very big part of Czech Christian history.