The Lady under the Chain

“THE smallest streets can reveal the biggest discoveries.” May I quote myself?

It’s one of the benefits of walking while visiting a new place. A path that leads me to a must-see destination will not be the same path I will take heading back. Point in case, the road to the Carmelite Church of Our Lady Victorious in Mala Strana, where the Il Bambino di Praga is enshrined, was not the same road taken heading back to the Charles Bridge.

Taking another route back to this gate at the Charles Bridge.

Straying from the familiar route and taking a street parallel the Vlatva River was a wise decision. Along Lazenska 2 of Mala Strana, I chanced upon this small church called the “Kostel Panny Marie pod retezem” or the Church of Our Lady Sub Catena.

Church of Our Lady Sub Catena or Church of Our Lady under the Chain. I chanced upon this church while losing myself in the streets of Mala Strana.

A puzzling name indeed, especially after knowing the full English translation-The Church of Our Lady under the Chain. Founded in the 12th century, it is the oldest church in the Lesser Quarter.

The Church at twilight. Taken from the courtyard.

There are several theories as to how the church got its name. It might have been named after the statue of the Virgin Mary by the Judith Bridge (Charles Bridge today), or perhaps from the chain that stretched from this spot and across the Vltava river to the Old Town that prohibited passing ships from passing though without paying customs. This may have given rise to the nearby street’s name, the Retezova or the Chain Street.

Quite an unusual name for a church.

The Church of Our Lady under the Chain was originally designed in the Romanesque style, however only the fragments of this style remains in the church’s courtyard.

Only a fragment of the original Romanesque design are visible at the courtyard.

The stone wall is a remnant from the past structure.

After the church was razed by fire in 1420, the transformation to Gothic style by the Knights of Templar took place, after demolishing most of the existing basilica. Construction though, was interrupted by the 15th century Hussite wars completing only the presbytery and the towers, which can be seen today.

The interior of the church.

By the 16th century, the Church of Our Lady below the Chain was rebuilt in Renaissance style, and in the 17th century, several Baroque features were added.

Baroque elements
A gilded shrine for the Virgin Mary.

The altar of the Il Bambino
A closer shot of the image of the Il Bambino.

The church interiors hold several important Baroque artworks by a Czech master, Karel Skreta — the 1651 Madonna blessing the Maltese Knights at the battle of Lepanto, which can be viewed at the high altar, and the 1674 Beheading of St. Barbara.

A Baroque artwork by a Czech master, Madonna blessing the Maltese Knights at the battle of Lepanto.

Another interesting artwork found in the church is that of a man wearing a hat, quite unusual for a Catholic Church to allow such behavior, even in a depiction. It was originally intended to be placed in another area. The statue represents the hero who defended Prague against the Swedish army in 1848, Count Rudolf Colloredo-Wallsee.

A man wearing a hat inside a Catholic Church? Well, Count Rudolf Colloredo-Wallsee got away with it. He was the hero who defended Prague against the Swedish army in 1848.

Here’s another trivia: You may have seen and touched one of the more popular statues at the Charles Bridge, St. John of Nepomuk, the Czech martyr who refused to betray a confidence and was thrown to the Vltava river. He was arrested in this church.

*****

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