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Church of St. Martin in the Wall

History of the Church

At first, the St. Martin in the Wall Church was built in Roman style between the years 1178 and 1187, probably in place of a Roman chapel which had been there before. A settlement the church was built for was named after it: the Manor of St. Martin. There were also a cemetery and a school belonging to the church. Between the years 1249 and 1253, there were established new city ramparts which divided the parish into two parts — afore the ramparts and behind them. At that time, the church was rebuilt in the Gothic style, its wall abutted against the rampart and therefore it became known as the St. Martin in the Wall. During the rule of Charles IV., the church was once again rebuilt and its vault was heightened (the floor was two and half meters lower than today!).

The corrective movement which eventually lead to the Czech Reformation was joined by St. Martin's priests very soon — the priest Václav of Jičín, known as Rohle, privately declared that the indulgences of 1393 "Jubilee" are just illusions, not indulgences. Even young John Hus bought indulgence at that time. The most meaningful moment of the St. Martin in the Wall happened just shortly after this — during the autumn of 1414 there was celebrated the first Eucharist under both kinds in Prague after hundreds of years, both bread and wine for all the participants. Local priest John of Hradec communicated it under the influence of significant Hussite theologian Jacob of Mies. Master John Hus, who wanted to communicate the Eucharist under both kinds to the laymen who had a deep spiritual interest in it, spoke of it from Constance prison — he sent word to Jacob of Mies: "Dear Jacob, hurry not, I truly want to assist when I, with God's help, come back".

The church at that time constituted one of the pillars of the Czech Reformation together with the Bethlehem Chapel, St. Adalbert and St. Michael. In the Hussite era, St. Martin in the Wall was a favourite Prague church. In 1433 the so-called St. Martin Council took place there. The building prospered at that time thanks to the benefactors — in 1488, Holec of Květnice who owned a neighbouring house (Platejz) let to build up the lateral bodies in late Gothic style. Therefore he was allowed to build a gallery which lead from his house directly into the church — remains of this aerial entry is still visible from the outside on the eastern side. In 1498, the Burgess of Louny by the name of Dorota Vančurová — who was a cousin of well-known Dalibor of Kozojedy — donated 300 Meissen groschen as a grant for Eucharist wine. In 1520, plague broke out in the parish and then tormented the whole of Prague. The cemetery became a resting place for part of the casualties of the Battle of White Mountain in 1620. The last Protestant record in the chronicle comes from 13th December 1621: "As the mandate from the clergy" (about ejecting of the non-Catholic priests) "was issued for our pastor and some others as well, they gathered here and have lamentably discoursed, 2 pints of wine for 1 kreuzer and 8 groschen on the fourth day."

In 1622 there took place the programme act of cup "withdrawal" on the "venue". Another significant event was the city fire on 15th October 1678 during which the roof of St. Martin in the Wall burned away and the tower needed to be repaired as well as the bells which melted. In the 18th Century there were some members of the Brokoff family buried on the cemetery. They had a furnace for making sculptures nearby.

In 1784, Emperor Joseph II disestablished both the church and the cemetery after he personally visited it and realized that it was "dark, wet and ruinous". The building served as a warehouse, housing markets, a famous delicatessen shop and a pub, probably even with a ballroom. During the Old Town sanitation at the turn of the 19th Century, the building was bought by the city thanks to direct initiative of the politician Ladislav Rieger and then very successfully reconstructed according to the outline of the architect Kamil Hilbert.

After the First World War, the church had been lent in the long term to the Protestant Church of Czech Brethren. Since then it has served as a church for the PCCB as a whole, at first it was used for the Protestant military administration, later for work with the youth (evening services) and foreign-language services (first in English, today in German). During the Communist dictatorship, the vening services constituted an important spiritual centre of the Protestant youth studying in Prague and thus they have significantly contributed to the formation of the contemporary Protestant middle-age generation.

What's worth noticing in the church Interior

On the right of the main entrance there is a well-preserved gravestone of Joanna Maczer of Letošice (died on 14th March 1608) with an image of a girl in long Spanish-styled dress with a lace collar and with the head underlaid with a cushion, supplied with the inscription: "The year 1608. At Friday after Ash Wednesday, Joanna, daughter of far-famed sir Peter Maczer of Letošice died and here she lies buried waiting for the Resurrection of the Lord."

A rarity not to be seen in any other Prague church is the wooden beam ceiling in the left nave. The ceiling painted with plant and animal motifs was probably established after the fire in 1678.

When we sit down on the chairs and look up, we can see a Gothic vault of the chancel with thin groins ended with picturesque heads as well as the painted decoration of the main nave ceiling — a shield with the Bohemian kingdom coat of arms — a jumping, double-tailed lion put into a laurel wreath, an empty laurel wreath and the coat of arms of important benefactors of the 16th Century Bend of Vlkanov — a silver wolf with golden tongue and Holec of Květnice — a silver anchor with three hooks.

The golden cup and Bible on the church front wall is a symbol of the Protestant Church of Czech Brethren which performs its services in the church. It is a reference to two important things which have been taking place here since Hussite times (with a long pause between the years 1784 and 1918): the Word of God is being preached and the Lord's Supper is being communicated. For Protestants, the cup and the Bible symbolise Christ, who they get to know in the Scripture, and it reminds them of times in their history when the Bible and Lord's Supper were so important that they fought for them (Hussite era), or resisted persecutions (times after 1620 known as Times of Darkness).

Exterior

The contrast between inside and outside is interesting in and of itself — inside the building is an impression of unity strengthened by Protestant decoration austerity while contrarily, the outside of the church is very diverse and we can see Gothic, Baroque and Gothic Revival elements.

On the western side of the church, where the modern entrance is located, there are elements and reliefs from the beginning of the 20th Century appropriately complementing the Gothic style of the building: an entrance portal with a stone plate with the inscription of the year 1905, the initials HK; referring to the architect Kamil Hilbert, and the sign of the city of Prague placed on the tower. Its lower part may indicate that it originally was a stronghold tower in the ramparts.

On the northern side of the church, visible from the street Martinská, we can observe a plaque memorializing buried members of the Brokoff family. To the right of it there is a Baroque portal from 1779 with, the image of St. Martin as a Baroque nobleman (it is inspired by Karel Škréta's original altar painting). At the top of the church, there are three small sharp roofs worth noticing as well as a tower with a Baroque ending which almost looks as if it didn't belong to the church.

On the eastern side of the church, where a lane leads towards Národní třída, we can see a walled up entrance high up in the wall. It was used by the owner of neighbouring "Platýz" house to enter the services from using a tiny wooden bridge. There are also reliefs of a grinning stone boy and an owl.

Legends regarding St. Martin in the Wall

Saint Martin Legend

Martin — a Roman soldier who served in today's France around the year of 334, met a half-naked beggar asking him for alms by the city gates as he went to check the guards in bad weather. Martin didn't hesitate and ripped his coat to protect the poor man from the coldness. Later, when Martin was about to be elected a Bishop, he hid in a goose shed. However, the gooses' gaggling gave him away and, as a punishment, he established the tradition of eating goose on Saint Martin's day (11th November).

Thanks to the possibility of interpreting the legend humanely and non-miraculously, Martin is one of the least controversial of the Protestant Catholic saints. That's why the church has sustained its name under Protestant administration — the epithet 'St.' usually isn't used, though. German Protestants of Prague also celebrate Martin's saint's day with a lantern procession. They commemorate the reformer Martin Luther as well during this event.

The lost seal

There's a tale regarding the cemetery which was part of St. Martin in the Wall. It was first written down by Václav Hájek of Libočany (died in 1553) in his Czech Chronicle: in 1386 there allegedly lived Jiří Šverhamr, the burgomaster of Prague's Old Town. One day he came home from the city hall, put his belt with the city seal on the table and then he went to another room. His wife was bathing his child and when it cried, she gave it the seal to play with it. Later she forgot about the seal and poured it together with the water out on street from the tub. A burgher found it and brought it to the city hall. The town councillors called for the burgomaster immediately and asked him to give them the seal. He told them he had it at home and that he would bring it promptly. The councillors went with him and took a headsman with them because loss of the city seal could be punished by death at that time. And when he left his house without the seal, they executed him in front of his house. He was then buried in St. Martin cemetery. According to the legend, the poor burgomaster's ghost in Middle Age clothing and his own head underneath his arm appears around the church at night and during the day as well. Only negligent and untidy people can see him and he tells them to look out for their possessions. The kind and harmless bogeyman doesn't want anyone to end up like him and thus he makes threatening gestures at them with his index finger and sometimes with his whole hand as well.

The story also has a grim continuance: Burgomaster's desperate wife cursed her daughter. When she grew up, she was a pretty maiden. However, she died soon after marriage. Since then, a carriage stopped every night in

Martinská street, a pale bride got out of it and wept where her father lost his life. A young man fell in love with the girl, so he ventured to address and beseech her that he wanted to accompany her wherever she goes. The girl smiled sadly and uttered: "If your love is as great as you tell, wait for me at midnight in St. Martin Church." In the morning on the second day the young man was found dead lying on the floor inside of the church with spread arms and a smile on his face. The pale bride hasn't appeared in Martinská street since that day.

The stone boy

A widow, who lived in former school of St. Martin in the Wall, had an incredibly mischievous son. When she came home after working hard all day, she saw a crowd of people watching the roof of the church. There was her son lying on the roof and he was taking eggs from pigeon nests. People berated him but he just laughed at them. When he didn't obey his mother, she shouted in immense anger: "Let you turn into stone for that sin, you rascal!" And her words came into being.

St. Martin in the Wall today

Currently there are two fellowships which meet in the church — on Sundays at 10:30 AM, there are services of the German-language Protestant community and at 7:30 PM, there are Czech services for the youth with regular shifting of preachers. St. Martin in the Wall continues with the preacher tradition of the Bethlehem Chapel. Besides this, there are also other activities taking place in the church —ceremonial services of the Protestant Theological Faculty of Charles' University as well as other occasional services, various cultural and social events. St. Martin in the Wall is a favourite church for contracting weddings, a posaune choir rehearses there and in the summer the church is usually open to the public. Most days, there are classical music concerts beginning at 5:00 PM.