Church of Our Lady Before Tyn
If you read about the Tyn Courtyard then it won’t surprise you too much to learn that the original church was built in front of that place, hence the name “Before Tyn”. As with many historic places it’s undergone many changes over the last 900 years. Yes that’s right we are talking of one of the few places in Europe with almost a Millenia of history. You can’t miss it if you are on the Old Town Square but the only trouble is finding the front door.
Way Back in Time
We’re going so far back now that paper records no longer exist and even experts can only speculate “within a decade or so” as to when the construction of the original church began. The first date agreed on is 1135 when a Catholic Romanesque-style Church was consecrated in the name of the Virgin Mary and as Romanesque churches were quite simple to build it’s expected that construction began some 10 or 15 years before. It had not yet acquired the “Before Tyn” label and was one of four Catholic parish churches in the Old Town. It had at least one bell tower because that was recorded during the time of John of Luxembourg in 1310. Records show that both a church and a hospital stood in the same place. It’s a bit “chicken and egg” because if the hospital was built first then the church was added for obvious reasons. Historically though, existing churches with more educated people and nuns were more likely to treat people so in this case I lean in favour of Church first and hospital later.
Not So Far Back in Time
Experts still debate this but at some time around 1350 construction began on the new Tyn Church in the fashionable Gothic style that enabled them to build high and is pretty much what you see today. The first architect was Matthias Arras and later Peter Parler (same guy who did the plans for the Charles Bridge and ST Vitus Cathedral) and records show this church was functional by the year 1407 (or at least the Chapel of ST Ludmila was functional, the roof would take another 50 years to finish). It was still Catholic but was now the main parish church in the Old Town and a mere 300 metres from the Royal Court. By this time the land in front of the old church had been sold and built on which is why the Church of Our Lady Before Tyn is set back from the Old Town Square by about 50 metres.
From around this time the Hussite wars saw it become Utraquist (a kind of Presbyterian). In the mid-15th Century under the reign of George of Podebrady, the Gothic roof, the north tower and much of the front facade were completed. George had his own bust and a gilded gold chalice (Hussite symbol) installed on the facade (fun fact – although his body is entombed at Prague Castle, his heart was buried in the Church of Our Lady Before Tyn). The south tower was finished in 1510. If you are into Astronomy then Tycho Brahe was buried here in 1601 (just to the right of the altar).
1618 saw the outbreak of the Thirty Years War and in 1620 Prague fell under Catholic control. They were quite accommodating and reasonable……only joking (read about the 1621 memorial). In 1623 the bust of George of Podebrady and the chalice were removed. Three years later the bust was replaced by the statue of the Virgin Mary that you see today and the chalice was melted down to form the halo around the statue. It’s been Catholic ever since. In 1679 the old Gothic Knave (the roof) burned down and was replaced by the current Baroque version. The north tower was also damaged by fire in 1819 and was not repaired until 1836 (note the clean block work). Both towers are 80 metres high.
Church of Our Lady Before Tyn – Present Day
People often call it a cathedral but in Czech it has the title of “Chram” which is a basilica. It’s open every day except Monday and any special religious days. You take an anti-clockwise route inside plus absolute silence must be obeyed whilst in the Church of Our Lady Before Tyn and no photos/videos are allowed. Postcards are available. You enter via the Old Town Square side via the passage under the arches. More detail and tips for exploring the church are included in the Old Town and Jewish Quarter Walking Tour.