Saturday, 26 December 2009

The Bells of Prague

A few weeks ago I briefly mentioned Bartoloměj of Prague, the sixteenth-century master bell-founder several of whose masterpieces are still being rung today, including one bell in the church of St Nicolas here in Vršovice.

Although these pierced ceramic bells in the Christmas market would not be much good for summoning the faithful, the true bells of 'hundred-spired Prague' have always played an important role in the history of the city - until the 1940s, that is, when their forced removal by the Nazis made a deep wound in the national psyche. Petr Ginz, writing in his diary between 1941 and 1942, notes that 'you can't hear any bells ringing: the Germans have confiscated them all - perhaps 8000 - to make into cannons.' He adds, wryly, 'At least the great bell Zikmund in the cathedral of St Vitus has been spared'.

Unlike tragic Petr, Zikmund survived the war. It is still in use, though rung very seldom, and only on great or solemn occasions. The 11-tonne bell, the largest in Central Europe, announced the general strike of 1989 which was the precursor to the Velvet Revolution, as well as the Czechs' ice hockey victory in 2000, and the tragic events of 11 September 2001.

But perhaps the most interesting bell in Prague is perpetually mute. 'Cast' of stone, it occupies the corner of a building in Prague's Old Town Square, where it has acted for centuries as a house-insignia. See if you can spot it next time you're there!


Hilda said...

That's a fascinating history of your bells, though a little bit sad too. And it makes these small bells and chimes even more meaningful.

I hope you and your family had a blessed and joyful Christmas!

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