Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Praha Part III- Sacred Heart History

In this post I give the story of one of Prague's most fascinating ecclesiastical structures.

In March 1914 St. Alois parishioners organized a church construction Association under the new pastor Rev. František Škarda. Almost from the start money posed a problem. The Archbishop's Consistory required proof of financing before any construction and the War years were especially difficult. At the outbreak of the War parishioners asked the Archbishop if they might rededicate their parish to the Sacred Heart. The Consistory approved the change.

Fr. Škarda, the vicar, the mayor of Vinohrady, and several architectural experts formed a jury which took 31 design proposals in October 1919.

Josip Plečnik (1872-1957), a Slovian born architect, offered a design which the committee rejected for being too costly. His second proposal of 1925 failed for the same reason. But the third time's the charm- the association accepted his 1927 proposal. Plečnik characteristically took classical iconic forms and added a personal twist- here, a rectangular Greco-Roman temple with a large tower as wide as the building over its middle. A large glass window and clock form the center of the tower.

Fundraising rapidly continued with collections, lectures, concerts, bazaars and theater p
roductions. On 28 October 1928 the Archbishop dedicated the cornerstone with thousands present. Pius XI sent a congratulatory telegram.

And then nothing happened for a year. The government finally authorized construction 26 August 1929 and 60 workers labored tirelessly excavating and pouring foundations through the fall. The Archbishop gave a dispensation to work on Sunday 15 December but the frost soon came and concrete work halted.

1930 was the big year for building- by April 1930 the foundations were complete and excavations for the basement chapel done; May 1930 walls to 1 meter, delayed because granite arrives late; June 1930 walls to 5 meters; September 1930 walls complete and choir loft built; October 1930 the steel roof from Rainberg of Pardubice installed; November 1930 tower constructed.

The 1931 winter was long so plumbers and electricians worked indoors. Father Škarda proposed purchasing six bells from the Brno firm Manoušek for CZK 208,080. The city rejected this but in September 1931 a local man donated the bells.

On 15 November 1931 the workers installed the large window and clock in the tower. Through this time the Association stayed afloat through countless donations and bequests amounting to many hundreds of thousands of Crowns.

There were 13 bids for the construction of the main altar. Prastav was selected and the altar was installed 14 February 1932. The terrazzo floor and pews arrived shortly thereafter.

On 9 April 1932 the bells arrived and the vicar general dedicated them the next day:

1), "Holy Trinity", weight 3620 kg, 1775 mm bottom diameter, tone B0
2), Divine Heart of the Lord ", 1650 kg, 1487 mm, D1
3), Our Lady ", 970 kg, 1197 mm, F1
4), Holy Family, 750 kg, 1088 mm, G1
5), St. Jan Nepomucký ", 420 kg, 895 mm, B1
6), St. Joseph "and" Soul ", 40 kg, 440 mm, B2

Sculptures of the Sacred Heart and six Czech patrons (John of Nepomuk, Agnes, Vojtech, Wenceslaus, Ludmila, and Procopius) were commissioned from the sculptor Damián Pešan and cast in bronze by Charles Pešan. The Sacred Statue arrived in the spring of 1934 and the last of the others in November 1938.

By this time there was no money for an organ (big surprise!) so the old organ from the St. Alois chapel ws moved to the church in early May 1932.

Finally, on 8 May 1932 Archibishop Dr. Karel Kašpar dedicated Sacred Heart Church to much fanfare. He placed relics of Sts. Wenceslaus and Adalbert in the altar. The church, largely constructed by the contractor Nekvasil, cost CZK 4,711,865.44- about $4 million today.

The clock already had problems in 1933 and roof and gutter deficiencies addressed in 1935 put the organ again on the backburner. Though the church was dedicated many things remained unfinished- holy water fonts of dark Silesian marble by stonemason Jan Mrazek came in December 1938, art glass windows, and side altars.

Fr. Škarda approved a window proposal in January 1941 but the Archbishop's Consistory rejected it and declared a competition. Ultimately it chose the exact same artist, Karel Svolinsky. The windows arrived in 1944 but were kept in the basement during the War. Likewise, in March 1941 Fr. Škarda ordered side altars dedicated to Sts. Anthony of Padua and Therese of Lisieux from the architect Rothmayer and mason Mrazek. When they arrived he was unhappy and things weren't resolved until August 1942.

The War years were hard. On 27 March 1941 the occupying authorities confiscated all but the smallest bell. On 16 June 1942 the assistant priest Father Zamecnik was arrested by the Gestapo- a German woman in the neighborhood turned him in for not wearing his cross badge. He tried in vain to fight the allegations but was sent to Terezin and then Dachau where he died 22 November after being subjected to medical tests regarding artificial infection methods.

Father Škarda witnessed the arrest with horror and fortunately evaded it himself. He died 7 October 1942 at age 75, having guided the parish for over 25 years.

53 parishioners died in bombings in February 1945.

During the 50's the Communist government persecuted the priests, often removing, arresting, or pressing them into military work. Following the Prague Spring uprising of 1968 things began to gradually improve for the parish.

In 1991 three new bells were finally ordered from Manoušek.

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