pondělí 13. července 2015

The Saint Wenceslas Church in Bohnice

There are not very many Art Nouveau churches in Prague at least not in comparison to the number of gothic and baroque ones. As Art Nouveau churches were built at the turn of the 19th and 20th century they are mostly situated in what were the peripheries of the city at the time, such as Liběn or Smíchov .

The interior.
One of the few is Saint Wenceslas Church in the Bohnice Psychiatric Hospital. The hospital is really a small and very pleasant self-contained town at the edge of a panel housing estate. It was  founded in 1912 and constructed in the years leading up to WWI  and  after .At the time it was one of the most modern psychiatric institutions in the Austro Hungarian Empire. The entire complex is laid out in vast enclosed parkland with patient wards, staff accommodation, utility buildings and even an animal farm .Most of the more than 100 buildings are in the then fashionable Art Nouveau style.
 The church which was actually built after WWI in 1919 is right in the centre opposite the main entrance. Fairly imposing but austere it bears a slight resemblance to the infamous Hotel Internacionál across the river in Podbaba.
On entering the church my first impression was that it was one of the few “minimalist” Art Nouveau interiors I had seen. This might in part be due to the primary intentions of the builders who wanted a somewhat sombre  building for the patients but  a lot might have to do with the communist defacing of the church in the early 1950’s. Much of the rest of the interiors decorations were either taken away, vandalised or lost.
The entrance to the church is flanked by sandstone statues of Saints Cosmas and Damian the patron saints of the doctors’ guild. Higher up on the front façade are tile mosaics depicting St. Wenceslas with a bible educating peasants and St Ludmila giving bread to the poor bread. As the entire complex was planned at the height of Czech efforts for independence, the ideals of the Czech national revival are present everywhere in the church, hence the two patron saints. One can only imagine what was on the original stained glass windows which were used at target practice in the 50's.

Saint Wenceslas at work

Image courtesy of:http://www.atlasceska.cz

The patriotic theme continues inside with images of Slavic evangelists also from the period around WWI which were created exclusively by Czech(oslovak) artists such as Jakub Obrovský whose work I have coincidentally featured here in a few recent posts. Although partially stripped of its original decoration on the inside, the church has a lot of fine architectural details which in themselves make for a striking interior. The rounded arches are a subtle nod to the Russian Orthodox Church and the pan Slavic movement .These classically styled details mimic the exterior of the building and create an imposing space. There are numerous biblical references in the plasterwork and given that Art Nouveau is in itself quite ornate there is a lot to look at. I thought the pelican feeding its young was quite poignant as was the very dynamically rendered fish, both above side entrances.

Images of the evangelists
Saint Wenceslas was re-consecrated in 1990 and is still actively used for different services, this is also the only time the church is open to the public .The leafy grounds of the hospital  are a great place to go jogging or just stroll around and the church is just one of the many  buildings worth exploring.

A small tile fresco on the side of the church-an outdoor chapel

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