Home of Bohemian Religious Reformer
What was one of the few major European cities to avoid massive damage during World War II? If you guessed Prague (Praha in the Czech language), you are absolutely correct. Prague is a beautiful city that has been called the town of a thousand spires because of the large number of churches that dot its landscape. The red tile roofs that are common make the city very impressive from the hill that is home to the Prague Castle.
If you are a church nerd like I am, Prague is definitely a city that you would want to check out if you have the opportunity to visit Central Europe. St. Vitus and Our Lady of Tyne are two of the more famous churches in town. However, from a historian's point of view, one of the most historically significant churches in Prague is the Bethlehem Chapel. Bethlehem Chapel was the home of Jan Hus, a fifteenth-century Bohemian reformer who questioned the Pope. For his troubles, Hus received the punishment deemed proper for heretics--a barbeque--Hus himself was the main course. Protestants consider Hus a forerunner of Martin Luther with his criticism of the papacy, and he is considered a national hero to the Czech people.
Today, tourists can visit the church and take a tour for an admission fee of 50 Czech crowns (just over $3 USD). Tour guides can offer information on the church and its importance in a variety languages that include English, Czech, and German. Some of the artwork, shown in the sidebar, is indicative of the life of Jan Hus and the struggle that he had with the Roman Catholic Church that led to his execution.
The chapel itself is not an overly imposing structure, as the images in this post show. In Hus' day, over 3,000 people would crowd into the church and stand while Master Hus preached his sermons. Hus himself lived in the building, and his room now houses some of the museum exhibits. One of the more interesting features of the structure is a well that sits on the main floor of the sanctuary, as shown in the attached picture. Emperor Joseph II actually had most of the building demolished in 1786, but in the 1950s, the building was rebuilt utilizing the remains of the original structure. The local university uses the building from time to time during the year, but its initial intent is not commonly experienced. Preachers such as Hus do not speak here on a regular basis.
From a historical standpoint, Bethlehem Chapel is a great visit in Old Town Prague. It is not the most impressive structure. St. Vitus and Tyn are more visually appealing. But, if you are ever in the Czech Republic, it is definitely worth your time for its historical significance (as are many other interesting sites). Happy travels!