Prague’s Marian Column

Prague’s Old Town Square used to contain one of the largest sundials I’ve ever heard of. Judging by reports in the local news, it just might be rebuilt too.

In the seventeenth and eighteenth century, European cities built Catholic columns in their centres. The idea was to venerate either the Virgin Mary or a saint, usually in thanks for curing the plague. The most popular saints were those known for helping with such situations – St Roch and St Sebastian being two of the most popular. [1] (See my article about the protective sundial guarding Prague)

The tradition to build columns topped with religious statues started in Imperial Rome. In 1614, the Vatican erected a Marian column in the square in front of St Peter’s Basilica, Piazza Santa Maria Maggiore. [1] This helped solidify veneration of the Virgin Mary which had been re-affirmed by the Church at the Council of Trent. The trend to have such a column soon spread across Europe.

A photo of the column in St Peter's Square - Vatican City

The column in St Peter’s Square – Vatican City

In Prague, locals built one in 1650 in the Old Town Square soon after the Thirty Years War. [1, 2] This was a religious Protestants vs Catholics war. The Hapsburgs used their victory to ensure people practiced the Roman Catholic religion. The Prague column also was the third such column in Europe, after Rome and the one in Marienplatz, Munich. [3]

Unfortunately this meant that some thought of the column as a symbol of imperialism. Nationalist forces destroyed Prague’s Marian column when Czechoslovakia declared independence in 1918. [1] (The one in the Lesser Town Square – Male Strana Namesti – is still there.)

A photo of the Prague meridian - Prague, Czechia

The Prague meridian – Prague, Czechia

This is a shame as the Prague column was more than just a religious column. It was also a large sun-dial. [2] At high noon, it would cast a shadow along the Prague meridian. The meridian is still there. If you stop gawking at the beautiful facades of the Old Town Square, you can see this brass strip embedded in ground.

There also are five paving stones showing the position of the original column.

A photo of the location of the Marian column - Prague, Czechia

The location of the Marian column – Prague, Czechia

The city council recently decided to rebuild the 118-tonne column using Indian sandstone. [3] The council hopes this will be complete by October 2018, exactly 100 years after they destroyed the original.

 

Do you have a Marian column in your town? Leave a comment below and tell us about it!

References

[1] Marian and Holy Trinity columns, wikipedia.org, 2017-02-13
[2] Marian column may return to Old Town square, Prague.TV, 2017-06-30
[3] Prague’s renewed Marian column to contain stone from India, 2017-07-14

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