St Vitus Cathedral is the most prominent and important Catholic Church in Prague, not only because of its long history and architectural splendor but also because it is the residence of the Archbishop of Prague.
It is situated within the Prague Castle complex and although the cathedral can trace its history back to the 900s, it was not the first church to be built on the site. The first structure was built by Wenceslas I in 925.
The cathedral was named after St Vitus because it was claimed that Wenceslas obtained the arm of St Vitus as a holy relic from Emperor Henry I.
Today's cathedral contains strong gothic architectural features. Its construction began in the 1400s under the orders of Charles IV. It took many decades to complete and was not completely finished until the early 20th century.
Several factors contributed to the long delay including a major fire in 1541 and the Hussite War, which lasted for over 30 years. As a result of this long delay, its final appearance is a mixture of different architectural styles including baroque, renaissance and gothic.
The final major work saw the addition of the western part of the cathedral, and included two strikingly visual tall towers and the beautiful stained glass Rose Window, which depicts the biblical creation story.
Towards the south of the cathedral are the Bell Tower and the Golden Portal. The Bell Tower was created in 1396 by Petr Parler, although he died before completion. It contains Prague's biggest bell, which is elaborately decorated with pictures of Ferdinand I and Anna of Bohemia. Visitors, if they wish, can climb nearly 300 stairs to the top of the Bell Tower and view the bell.
The Golden Portal or Golden Gate is a beautifully decorated bronze door engraved with scenes depicting the history of the cathedral and St Wenceslas. Above the portal are scenes from the Last Judgment. It was through this gate that royalty entered for coronation ceremonies.
One of the most spectacular features of the cathedral is the Chapel of St Wenceslas, patron saint of the Czech Republic, which was once again constructed under instructions from Charles IV in the 14th century. It is built over his burial site and is ornately decorated with over a thousand precious stones.
The magnificent cathedral was used for a variety of purposes throughout its history including coronations, which were held here up until 1836 and burial crypts of prominent religious identities and Czech royalty. They are located below the mausoleum in front of the high altar.
The cathedral was also used to house valuable items such as the crown jewels, which are now stored in the Crown Chamber and also historically significant artifacts.
A visit to Prague would not be complete without seeing St. Vitus' Cathedral.
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