The missing Marian Column of Prague


The Marian Column in the Old Town Square, Prague – engraving by Ludwig Richter, c. 1841

Recently the Friends of Czech Heritage posted this report:

‘There is a movement to replace with a replica the Marian Column that stood for over 260 years from 1652 in the Old Town Square in Prague. The column was erected shortly after the Thirty Years’ War in thanksgiving to the Immaculate Virgin Mary for helping in the fight against the Swedes. Many Czechs came to connect the column with the controlling rule of the Hapsburgs over their land. At noon its shadow indicated the so-called Prague Meridian, which was used to check the solar time.

Nearby, the Hus Memorial, a large sculptural grouping by Ladislav Šaloun, was unveiled in 1915, some 500 years after Jan Hus was burned at the stake for heresy. For three years the two monuments stood in the same square, the older one seen as a symbol of Hapsburg Roman Catholicism, the newer one as a memorial to the Czech lands’ Protestant heritage, stretching back to the 15th century.

After the declaration of independence from the Austro-Hungarian Empire and the formation of Czechoslovakia in 1918, a crowd pulled down the Marian Column; no criminal charges were ever pursued following its destruction.

In 1990 an organisation was formed to rebuild the column, and the statue of the Virgin Mary has been sculpted in readiness. There is no objection from officials to the replica column being constructed, but this has not yet gone ahead.

Surviving columns in the Czech lands include the Trinity Column in the middle of the small square in front of St Nicholas’ Church in Malá Strana, Prague. It was erected to thank the Virgin Mary for ending the plague that raged in Europe in 1713/14. The most famous column is the Holy Trinity Column in the Upper Square in Olomouc, Moravia. This monument, also built shortly after the plagues of the early 18th century, is exceptional because of its scale, rich decoration and unusual combination of sculptural material (stone and gilded copper).’


The destroyed Marian Column in Prague, 1918


The Jan Hus monument in the Old Town Square, Prague

A while ago I wrote a post about Olomouc and its Holy Trinity Column. When I was in the Czech Republic in May I saw several of these columns, which are usually described as ‘Plague Columns’ – or sometimes ‘Marian Columns’ if they are crowned with a statue of the Virgin Mary. As well as two in Olomouc, there was one in Nový Jičín and another in Uherské Hradiště.


Marian Column, Lower Square, Olomouc – built between 1716 and 1723, to commemorate victims of the plague


Central Square, Nový Jičín


Marian Square, Uherské Hradiště

Recently there was a fascinating programme on BBC TV presented by the architectural historian Dan Cruikshank, who lived in Poland as a boy.  He told the story of the reconstruction of the Old Town of Warsaw which had been almost entirely razed to the ground in World War II. Visiting Warsaw a few years ago, somehow it felt strange to me to be walking around what appeared to be well-preserved medieval and Baroque streets and squares whilst knowing that they were mostly constructed in the mid-twentieth century. And of course there are many places with a similar history – Dresden, for example, and Peterhof and other palaces in St Petersburg.  I can understand the national and local pride and determination that lead a people to want to reconstruct their beloved cities and spectacular buildings . But I’m not so sure of the logic behind replacing a single destroyed monument, such as the Prague Marian Column.

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In the Old Town Square, Warsaw. 2006

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In the Old Town, Warsaw. 2006

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