Secrets of the ST Vitus Cathedral Doors
Literally thousands of people every year will go to Prague Castle and find that ST Vitus Cathedral is closed for some reason. They’ll take some pictures of the facade and move on without having taken a closer look at the doors. This is a pity because those doors tell the entire history of ST Vitus Cathedral in it’s different forms from Rotunda to Basilica to the present day Cathedral.
The doors explain why three saints are connected with it. They recreate historic events from the past and even show you what 16 of the main historic characters actually looked like. If you want some pre-reading then first read about the legend of ST Vitus and how part of him arrives in Prague. Then read about ST Vitus Cathedral and how it has evolved over a thousand years. This post will explain the purpose of each door and some selected detail.
Of the three saints associated with ST Vitus Cathedral the least known is ST Adalbert who was the second bishop of Prague and died a martyr in Prussia in the year 997. So from the top it shows depictions of him blessing the nation and on the door itself you see his education, an historical event, the blessing of ST Stephen and at the bottom his death at the hands of Prussian pagans (pictured above).
Saint Vitus gives his name to the Cathedral and this door depicts from the top, the presentation of his relic (the forearm) to Wenceslas Duke of Bohemia. Then on the door itself depicts the construction of the original Rotunda, the moving of the ST Vitus relic into the Rotunda, the founding of the Basilica which replaced the Rotunda and at the bottom, the consecration of the Basilica. Note that this door has small busts of people either side. If you look at the depiction of the founding of the Basilica (pictured above) then the head on the left is Matthias of Arras (the original architect of the Cathedral as you see it today) and on the right is Petr Parler who carried on the work after the death of Matthias but neither of these men were alive at the founding of the basilica.
This door depicts events and characters after 1344 i.e. the year Prague was recognised as an Archbishopric and construction of the cathedral began. At the top it is “Arnost of Pardubice” who was bishop of Prague who has just been elevated to Archbishop and at the top you have King Charles IV formally presenting the ST Vitus Relic to Arnost, the first Archbishop of Prague. On the door itself from the top is Charles IV and his son in the workshop of Matthias of Arras, then it’s Petr Parler moving the stone block (pictured above), then it’s a guy called Vaclav Michal Pesina who in the 1840s began the drive to fund and complete the Cathedral and finally at the bottom, the consecration of ST Vitus Cathedral in 1929. On the right side of this door are four busts. The bottom three are Josef Kranner, Josef Mocker and Kamil Hilbert who were the architects responsible for the completion of the Cathedral.
This door depicts scenes from the life of ST Wenceslas (Good King Wenceslas) the Czech Patron Saint. At the top Wenceslas leads knights into battle. On the door itself it shows his education by his grandmother ST Ludmila, next is again ST Wenceslas leading troops to victory, then it’s ST Wenceslas preparing the mass wine from the castle vineyard (pictured above) and finally at the bottom, his death at the hand of his younger brother.