Exploring Prague's glistening (and empty) churches

Soaking in the glittering Catholic heritage of an atheist nation

Prague, capital city of the Czech Republic, has many nicknames––among them, "The Heart of Europe," "The Golden City," and "The City of a Hundred Spires." No matter what moniker it goes by, the city's beauty is undeniable, from the glittering Vltava River that runs through it to the historical Prague Castle that overlooks the hillside, and can be seen from the Charles Bridge. The city's biggest treasures, however, are in its cathedrals and churches—Prague owes much of its heritage to Holy Roman Emperor Charles IV, a Catholic king who did not fail to commission religious architecture and ostentatious iconography throughout the city. It's ironic, then, that the Czech Republic has one of the highest, if not the highest, rate of atheism in the world.

Why is this significant? This provides the historical junkie with several questions to mull over while giving lovers of art and architecture buildings just as glittering inside as they are outside. Though they are, for the most part, empty. The possibility for exploration is limitless.

Prague's rich religious history is ingrained in the architecture of its houses of workshop––whether you admire the aesthetic or the questions these empty temple represent, here's a list to get you started in traversing the most beautiful churches in the Mother of Cities.


St. Vitus Cathedral

E.R. Pulgar

Located at Prague Castle and taking up as much space if not more on the city's gorgeous skyline, visiting this jewel of Gothic architecture kills two birds with one stone as far as must-sees are concerned. The inside is as grandiose as the outside, and features art from several different periods, including cameo statues of the architects among the saints and angels and an Art Nouveau window designed by legendary Czech artist Alphonse Mucha. Founded in the year 930, the cathedral was first used in the 12th century, but was not completed until 1929. This jewel of Prague's cityscape has both history and beauty, and its proximity to the castle complex (complete with royal gardens and restaurants with a view of the Old Town) makes for a day full of adventure. This one won't be as isolated an experience, but can you say you've been to Prague if you haven't been to the Prague Castle complex?

The Church of Our Lady Victorious

E.R. Pulgar

This beautiful church is near the Charles Bridge gateway that leads to Malá Strana, Prague's Lesser Quarter. Built in the Baroque style—the first of its kind to be built in Prague—the real draw here if you're not as interested in 15th century architecture is the legendary Infant Jesus of Prague, a wax icon of the baby Jesus robed in luxurious gowns and an air of mystique. Held in high-esteem by tourists and believers alike, the figurine comes with a storied history that's as entrenched in the city as it is the church itself; despite its enduring global popularity, the church is typically sparse, allowing for free roaming between the marble columns, the basins of holy water, and the legendary figure of the Infant.

St. Jilji Church

E.R. Pulgar

This hidden gem, lost amid the alleyways near the Old Town Square and two of the other temples on the list, is a jaw-dropping find. The 13th century cathedral has several panels of saints, as well as golden sculptures of sacred triangles and a high roof that seems to extend upward forever, providing fantastic acoustics for regular classical concerts—I can guarantee you that few moments in your life will be as ecstatic as hearing Bach's Toccata and Fugue in D Minor on a church organ, the iconic beats vibrating off Czech church walls. Despite having no heat, the church still gets packed for shows in the colder seasons, and blankets are provided for concertgoers. This best kept secret was also used as one of the shooting locations for Miloš Forman's Oscar-winning Amadeus; go in, and see for yourself what inspiration lies in store.

St. Nicholas' Church (Old Town Square)

E.R. Pulgar

Not to be confused with the other two St. Nicholas churches in Prague, this Baroque gem holds court over the Lesser Square, and stands out because of its green roofs. The church also boasts tower access with an unbeatable view of the square itself and the nearby former Jesuit college, as well as the sparkling Vltava River. The inside is less expansive than the others on this list, but your eye will immediately be drawn to the crystal chandelier and golden detailing on the walls. Like St. Jilji's, this church also has ties to Mozart—he played organ here during one of his several visits to the city. Indulge in both music and architectural history, and don't forget to make a trip to the top.

Church of Our Lady Before Týn

E.R. Pulgar

Impossible to miss, the centerpiece of the Old Town Square is a looming presence of Gothic architectural beauty. The entrance is hidden away amidst a few shops, which makes entering the church proper a bit of an intimidating experience. Get past the tunnel of modernity, and come out the other side greeted by high ceilings, a stunning yet simple white palette, and an interior both imposing and welcoming. Art history nuts will rave about the central altar, which features paintings by legendary Czech Baroque painter Karl Škréta, an appropriate decision after the inside of this Gothic gem was reworked in the Baroque style. Two other large draws are the tomb of astronomer Tycho Brahe and the oldest working organ in Prague—despite having so much to see, the church enjoys wide space even when in service, and tourists are free to wander as long as they are quiet and respectful.


The best part? Prague has so many winding alleyways that you're likely to find a new, golden cathedral to wander into—maybe one that's not even on the list.

For a short-list of more of Prague's cathedrals, churches, and monasteries, click here.

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