As well as the Bethlehem Chapel there are a few other reasons for visiting this area. You may be interested in Jan Hus hence you want to explore a place where he once preached. You may be looking for a good location for eating outside or you might be looking for a recommended 100% Gluten Free restaurant. So lets dive in.
The Bethlehem Chapel
The location is associated with the Czech Reformation or in other words, people 100 years before Luther who did not see eye to eye with the Roman Catholic Church and were trying to change things. On May 24th 1391 two fairly important and hence wealthy local people (Wenceslas Kríž and Hanuš of Milheim) founded the Bethlehem Chapel which when finished would have a capacity of 3000 people. It was Wenceslas Kríž who donated @800 square metres of land for the chapel and a building to be used as a student dormitory. One of the provisions was that whomever gave the sermons here had to do it in Czech, not Latin as was the norm at that time. The guy who took the job was Jan Hus. Apart from him, probably the most famous visitor to the Bethlehem Chapel was Queen Sophia, the young wife of King Charles IV but these were secretive visits.
You can read more on the Jan Hus post where you’ll find out that the Pope excommunicated him in 1412 during the Council of Pisa and demanded that the Bethlehem Chapel be demolished. The city council refused.
The chapel was damaged during the Hussite Wars and again at the end of the Thirty Years War @1648. As Catholics now consolidated their power the chapel became the property of Jesuits until they were kicked out of the city around 1785. Then it became the site of an Engineering School until the 1830s when the building was deemed unsafe and demolished. Records show that the residential housing existing on the site from 1837 until 1948 had made use of the original chapel exterior walls.
Again it’s one of those strange occurrences in that you don’t expect a regime in the Communist era to spend any money on a religious building and definitely not knocking down houses in the process. But in 1948 that’s exactly what they did. The Bethlehem Chapel was rebuilt to it’s full capacity and was listed as a National Cultural Monument when it was formally opened on July 5th 1954. It hosts exhibitions and classical concerts during the year but the highlight is the ECUMENICAL ASSEMBLY held on July 6th.
In July 2015 they added the stainless steel plates to the front of the building so for a full explaination of what that is all about check the Za Pravdu post.
The University Connection
Another place where Czech language was being used for preaching in the 14th Century was the Charles University so it’s not surprising to find that Jan Hus was a common link. He studied and taught at the university and was rector in 1409. The street that connects Bethlehem Chapel with the Charles University Library at the Klementinum is named after Jan Hus (Husova). Earlier I mentioned the “Engineering School” was here after 1785. It was a faculty of the Charles University split off to become the Prague Polytechnic which is now known as the Czech Technical University. It’s a strange fact but since 1993 this university contributes to the upkeep of the building and uses the Bethlehem Chapel as their ceremonial hall for graduations.
On January 16th 1997 Czech Astronomer Miloš Tichy discovered asteroid 90892 and that has since been permanently named “90892 Betlémská kaple” (90892 Bethlehem Chapel).
You should visit (opens at 9am, summer months closing at 6-30pm or winter months an hour earlier) or there’s a Virtual Tour of the hall to whet your appetite.
If you’ve done any of my walking tours then chances are I’ve recommended you to come to the square to eat if the weather is nice. At the time of writing there are outside eating options for Czech food at the “Svejk” and Italian food at “Oliva Nera” and “Al Riso”. Note that Al Riso is also a 100% Gluten Free restaurant. The Svejk restaurant is actually located in the building owned by Wenceslas Kríž. It was here that he owned a shop and behind the shop was the student dormitory.