Prague’s youngest synagogue – The Jerusalem Jubilee Synagogue

The Jerusalem Jubilee  Synagogue is a landmark in early twentieth century Prague architecture as well as an important spiritual and cultural centre for Jewish Prague.

The Jerusalem Jubilee Synagogue
The Jerusalem Jubilee Synagogue

Every cloud has a silver lining, as they say, and although the reconstruction of Prague’s Jewish quarter, Josefov, in the late 1800s, gave the kiss of death to three lovely old synagogues, it also gave birth, in the next century, to the Jerusalem or Jubilee synagogue, the city’s largest and most spectacular.

A “Society for the Construction of a New Temple” was founded in 1898 and in January 1899, it purchased a site for the building. Interestingly it was not in Josefov but in Jerusalem Street in the New Town. In 1904 Viennese architect Wilhelm Stiassny’s design was approved and construction began in 1906. The synagogue was dedicated on 16 September 1906 during the festival of Simhat Torah. As this was also the 50th anniversary of the Emperor Franz Josef I, it was name the Jubilee Synagogue.

The Synagogue combines the contemporary Art Nouveau and ancient Moorish styles. It consists of a triple-nave with two transverse wings. The main facade features a large Islamic arch surrounding a rosette window with a central Star of David. On the perimeter, an inscription from Psalm 118:20 reads “This is the gateway to the Lord – the righteous shall enter through it” A marble tablet, flanked by two turrets sits on the front gable. The arched entrance is inscribed with a verse from Malachi 2:10 “Have we not one Father? Did not one God create us?” The interior is lit by stained vast glass windows and ornate chandeliers. Two rows of Islamic arches support the women’s gallery above. In the main nave is an inscribed tablet from the Zigeuner, one of Josefov’s demolished synagogues. The high Ark (aron ha-kodesh) is ornamented with a vine leaf motif and the tablets of the Ten Commandments.

During the war, the Jerusalem Synagogue was used as a warehouse and, as a result, was spared destruction.

In 1992 the Synagogue was renovated with funding from the Czech Ministry of Culture, Prague City Hall and the Jewish Community. In January 2003, during a survey of the wall paintings, a parchment scroll was found under a marble stone near the high ark. It contained a description of the history of the building, information about the owners and builders of the synagogue, as well as a list of the firms and craftsmen involved. The document ends with the following text

“This document was drawn up in commemoration of the successful completion of this building. It was signed by all those who were involved in the construction and, in the presence of many guests of honour, it was placed in the last stone of the building. May this temple survive many centuries and testify, even in the distant future, to the devout souls of its founders. May it fully serve its purpose for all time: to bring together worshippers in a place where they can uplift their souls to the Creator. May the Lord give! Done in Prague, on the 16th of September of 1906.”

The Jerusalem Jubilee Synagogue is open for prayer on Saturdays at 9.00 a.m. all year and on Fridays at 20:00 from April to September. During the summer months, it is open to the public and is also used as a venue for concerts and exhibitions.

 

Two Prague Cathedrals

St Vitus Cathedral

With a skyline pierced by thousands of church steeples, Prague is often called the city of spires.

St Vitus Cathedral
St Vitus Cathedral

Star among those many houses worship is the Cathedral of St. Vitus, St. Wenceslas, St Adalbert Cathedral, commonly known as St Vitus Cathedral, which stands alongside Prague Castle.

The first church on the site was the Romanesque Rotunda, dedicated to St Vitus, commissioned by Wenceslas in 929.

In 1344, when Prague became an archbishopric, King John the Blind commissioned a new church to mark the occasion. The project was continued by his successor King Charles IV.

The first of the many craftsmen to work on St Vitus was French master mason Mathieu d’Arras. Next was German sculptor and woodcarver, Peter Parler who added his own unique Gothic style.  Parler’s sons took over when he died, completing the clock tower and transept in 1399. The Cathedral remained untouched until 1770, when the Italian-Austrian architect, Nicolaus Pacassi, added a Baroque dome.

Still the cathedral remained unfinished until 1873 when, thanks to the efforts of a group of concerned of Prague citizens, Josef Mocker began construction of the west façade. St Vitus was finally seen to completion in 1929 by Kamil Hilbert. Both Mocker and Hilbert followed the plans of Peter Parler.

If the Cathedral’s exterior is magnificent, with its baroque dome, its great gothic windows, its turrets and its towers, the interior is breathtakingly beautiful, with its many chapels, its monumental tombs, its frescoes and its stained glass windows.

Among the many masterpieces of St Vitus are the Cyril and Methodius stained glass window, created in Art Nouveau style by Alfons Mucha, the St Wenceslas chapel which is decorated with more than 1,300 semi-precious stones and the huge silver sepulchral monument of John of Nepomuk, by the Austrian architect Joseph Emanuel von Erlach.

Chram sv Mikulase, St Nicholas Cathedral

Known affectionately as the pearl of Prague, the Cathedral of St. Nicholas in Malo Strana, is one of the city’s most impressive Baroque buildings. Its dome and bell tower are Malo Strana landmarks, symbols of the city of Prague.

St Nicholas Cathedra
St Nicholas Cathedra

The Cathedral’s story dates back to 1223, when it began life as the modest parish Church of St Nicholas in the village below Prague Castle.

In 1702 Kristof Dienzenhofer designed a magnificent new Cathedral to replace the humble parish church of St Nicholas. Construction continued after his death under Kilian Ignac Dietzenhofer who also designed the vault and the landmark green dome. Two new wings were added. The left houses the Chapel of St Barbara and the right, the chapel of St Anne. In 1752 an 80 metre bell tower, by Anselmo Lurago completed the Cathedral.

During his years living and composing in Prague, Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart frequented St Nicholas and played on its organ.

During the Communist era St Nicholas ceased to be used as a house of worship.  Although today Masses have resumed, St Nicholas has gained fame as a music venue and concerts are held here all year round and every day during the high tourist season.