maandag 17 juni 2013

Czech Republic, Pilgrimage Church of St John of Nepomuk at Zelená Hora

This pilgrimage church, built in honour of St John of Nepomuk, stands at Zelená Hora, not far from Ždár nad Sázavou in Moravia. Constructed at the beginning of the 18th century on a star-shaped plan, it is the most unusual work by the great architect Jan Blazej Santini, whose highly original style falls between neo-Gothic and Baroque.


The Pilgrimage Church of St John Nepomuk at Želena Hora, Ždár nad Sázavou, is a masterpiece of an architectural style that spanned the transition between the Gothic and Baroque traditions.
The Vicar General of the Prague Archbishopric, Jan (John) of Pomuk, died a martyr's death in 1393. In 1719 his physical remains were studied by a commission appointed by the Archbishop of Prague of the day when it was found that his tongue was perfectly preserved, which was interpreted as evidence of his sanctity. This initiated a wave of enthusiasm for the cult of the martyr, and in particular at the Cistercian monastery in Ždár nad Sázavou, near the Bohemian border with Moravia. This monastery had inherited the role of the monastery at Želena Hora, near Nepomuk, where St John Nepomuk received his early education.
Works for a new pilgrimage church began in 1719, three years before the formal canonization of John of Nepomuk confirmed the unofficial status that he had been given in his native Bohemia for centuries. The architect was Jan Blažej Santini, who based his work on the symbolism of the saint's tongue and the numerological significance of the numbers 3 and 5 (the saint died at the age of 53). The unfinished church was consecrated on 16 May 1720, the date of St John Nepomuk's martyrdom. The construction of the main structure was completed by 1721. The church was a major centre of pilgrimage from its foundation until 1784, when the monastery was abolished.
The composition of the Želena Hora pilgrimage complex is based on the aesthetic concept of a perfect central complex with an explicit central vertical dominant. The centrality of the plan is accentuated by the ground plan, which is based on the parallel to two equivalent radials. The number 5 is dominant in the layout and proportions: the ground plan of the church itself is defined by two groups of five radial axes upon which the basic elements of the ground plan and the composition of the mass are organized. In the design of the cloister these ten radials, which intersect in the centre of the church itself, determine the sitting of chapels and gates. The ground plan is geometrically based on a simple design with simple proportional relationships.
An analysis of these relationships demonstrates the care with which Santini blended a concern for symbolic measurements and ratios with the creation of an independent spatial reality. The exterior of the church presents the appearance of a vertical central body that is star-shaped in form, with five points, graded outwards from the centre. Its morphology is simple, the ordine gotico forms being interpreted minimally in stucco, thus enhancing the primary impact of the complex geometry of the basic structure. The articulating motifs are reduced to simple pilaster frames, the verticals of which are linked by rustic bands. The portal and window openings have pointed vaultings and simple band frames, thus simplifying the Gothicizing forms to one with the symbolic value of the sword of the Lord.
The main impression given by the interior is its loftiness and the upward orientation of the space. This space is divided into two by the conspicuous gallery at the base of the vaulting. The central space opens into five niches; of these, four are partitioned horizontally and the fifth, on the east, is filled by the main altar. The church retains many of its original furnishings, which include the main altar, designed by Santini and representing the celebration of St John of Nepomuk in heaven and the four side altars, also designed by Santini and depicting the four Evangelists.
Source: UNESCO/CLT/WHC

Historical Description

The Vicar General of the Prague Archbishopric, Jan (John) of Pomuk, died a martyr's death in 1393. In 1719 his physical remains were studied by a commission appointed by the Archbishop of Prague of the day when it was found that his tongue was perfectly preserved, which was interpreted as evidence of his sanctity. This initiated a wave of enthusiasm for the cult of the martyr, and in particular at the Cistercian monastery in Zdár nad Sázavou, near the Bohemian border with Moravia.
This monastery had inherited the role of the monastery at Zelená hora, near Nepomuk, where St John Nepomuk received his early education, which had been destroyed in the Hussite wars. It was monks from Zelená hora who founded the Zdár nad Sázavou house, whose abbot from 1705 until 1738 was Vaclav Vejmluva, a dedicated follower of St John Nepomuk. He conceived his project to build a church to the glory of the saint which would at the same time demonstratet he relationship betweent he two Cistercian houses.
The church was intended from the start as a place of pilgrimage. Work began in 1719, three years before the formal canonization of John of Nepomuk confirmed the unofficial status that he had been given in his native Bohemia for centuries. The architect was Jan Blažej Santini, who had been working for Vejmluva since 1706 on various projects at the monastery. The abbot worked closely with the architect in the design of the church by laying down its ideological framework, based on the symbolism of the saint's tongue and the numerological significance of the numbers 3 and 5 (the saint died at the age of 53).
The unfinished church was consecrated on 16 May 1720, the date of St John Nepomuk's martyrdom. The construction of the main structure was completed by 1721 and its preliminary furnishing and decoration was celebrated by a second consecration the following year, although work on the cloisters and other ancillary elements was not completed until 1727. Major items of its interior furnishings, such as the main and side altars, the pulpit, and the many statues, were added in later years.
The church was a major centre of pilgrimage from its foundation until 1784, when the monastery was abolished. It continued as a place of worship, and in the 19th century the cloister was used as a cemetery; the tombstones of this period survive in situ.

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