Confession: I love flying buttresses.
It’s true, I really do and I had a close encounter with the buttresses of St. Vitus Cathedral in Prague, Czech Republic this week. I laid my hand to one and channeled the builders 800 years ago who put the blocks in place. (Okay, that part’s not true but I did touch it and think about 800 years of history since the cathedral was built).
I rarely pass an opportunity to go inside a cathedral simply because the architecture is incredible. Think about a builder’s desire to makes a statement about the bigness of God and the smallness of man. To do that technology had to be invented to support immense stone roofs and tall walls. Enter flying buttresses, enabling St. Vitus Cathedral to become the centerpiece of Prague Castle for 800 years. (Couple of pictures here, and more of Prague on my Flickr page).
The tragedy of this awe-inspiring building is that it is now only a monument to an era in Czech history when thoughts of God dominated the culture. Old Town Prague is pristine, virtually as it was when constructed in the 1200s and 1300s. Impressive churches anchor key locations, but are unfortunately now known as concert halls, museums and architectural heritage sites. The people of Prague have little interest in spiritual things, having turned their collective backs on the Catholic church and are generally closed to spiritual conversations of any kind.
There is a very strange statue of “Good King Wenceslas” riding his dead, upside-down horse. The symbolism is open to interpretation and apparently means many things to many people. One of the better interpretations I heard was that it was a Czech’s perspective on the rule of authority. Given that there is a large metronome on one of the taller hills overlooking the city where there was once a large statue of Stalin – as if to say time marches on and this too shall pass – the view of authority figures may be quite low.
The Czech Republic is steeped in history and Prague a cosmopolitan city. the country is a member of the European Union and home to a burgeoning tech industry. Possibly the place where old and new converge most is the way Czechs embrace beer. A strong argument could be made that Czechs invented beer but at the least they’ve certainly perfected the art of drinking it. Czechs consume more beer as a people than any other people group on earth.
Czechs are a proud people with a long history who made significant contributions to Western Thought and Culture. There is much worth seeing, and much of it for free….like the flying buttresses of St. Vitus and the dead horse of the Good King.