23 April 2023
Morning prayers in Easter
with USPG: (15) 23 April 2023
Today is the Third Sunday of Easter (23 April 2023). Although this day may also be observed in many parts of England as Saint George’s Day, liturgically it ought to be transferred to tomorrow, because this is a Sunday in Easter. Because Saint George’s Day falls on a Sunday this year, the traditional Saint George’s Day celebrations in Lichfield took place yesterday, including Saint George’s Court in the Guildhall, with the appointment of the officers of the Manor of Lichfield, when the Mayor and councillors instal two High Constables, seven Dozeners (or petty constables), two Pinners and two Ale Tasters, and the Constables and officers make their annual reports.
Later this morning, I hope to attend the Patronal Festival for Saint George’s Day at Saint George’s, Church, Wolverton.
But, before this day begins, I am taking some time early this morning for prayer, reflection and reading. Following our recent visit to Prague, I am reflecting each morning this week in these ways:
1, Short reflections on a church in Prague;
2, the Gospel reading of the day in the Church of England lectionary;
3, a prayer from the USPG prayer diary.
Saint Vitus’s Cathedral, Prague:
Saint Vitus’s Cathedral is a key architectural building that has influenced Gothic architecture throughout Europe. This spectacular cathedral in the grounds of Prague Castle stands in a dominant position at the top of Hradcany Hill. It is the Czech capital’s most prominent landmark and its spires can be seen from every vantage point throughout the city.
The cathedral is the seat of the Archbishop of Prague but is owned by the Czech government as part of the Prague Castle complex. It is the largest and most important church in the Czech Republic and here too are the tombs of King Wenceslas and many Bohemian kings and Holy Roman Emperors, as well as the Bohemian crown jewels.
The dimensions of the cathedral are 124 by 60 metres, the main tower is 102.8 metres high, the front towers 82 metres, and the arch height is 33.2 metres.
The current cathedral took almost 600 years to build, and this is the third in a series of religious buildings on this site, all dedicated to Saint Vitus.
The first church on this site was an early Romanesque rotunda founded in 930 by Vaclav I, Duke of Bohemia – better known in the west through the popular Victorian carol as ‘Good King Wenceslas.’
Saint Vitus, a Roman martyr, was chosen as the patron when Wenceslas acquired the arm of the saint as a relic from Emperor Henry I.
When the Bishopric of Prague was founded in 1060, Prince Spytihněv II began building a larger Romanesque basilica on the site. This was a triple-aisled basilica with two choirs and a pair of towers connected to the western transept. The design was inspired by Romanesque architecture in the Holy Roman Empire, including the abbey church in Hildesheim and Speyer Cathedral.
The south apse of the older church was incorporated into the eastern transept because it included the tomb of Saint Wenceslaus, who had become the patron of the Czech princes.
Work on building the present Gothic cathedral began on 21 November 1344, when the Bishops of Prague were raised to the rank of archbishops.
King John of Bohemia laid the foundation stone for the new building. The patrons were the dean and chapter of the cathedral, Archbishop Arnost of Pardubice and King Charles IV of Bohemia, soon to become the Holy Roman Emperor. Charles IV envisioned the new cathedral as a coronation church, family crypt, treasury and the tomb of Saint Wenceslas.
The first master builder was Matthias of Arras, who was brought from the Papal Palace in Avignon. Matthias designed the overall layout of the building in the style of a French Gothic cathedral. This included a triple-nave basilica with flying buttresses, a short transept, a five-bayed choir and a five-sided apse with an ambulatory and radiating chapels.
However, Matthias lived only long enough to build the most easterly parts of the choir: the arcades and the ambulatory. The slender vertical lines of late French Gothic style and clear proportions indicate his work.
After Matthias died in 1352, 23-year-old Peter Parler assumed control of the cathedral workshop as master builder.
At first, Parler only worked on plans left by Matthias, building the sacristy on the north side of the choir and the chapel on the south. But once he had finished all that Matthias left unfinished, Parler continued with his own innovative ideas, with a unique new synthesis of Gothic elements seen in the vaults he designed for the choir.
Parler trained as a sculptor and woodcarver, and he approached architecture as a sculpture. His vaults have double diagonal ribs that span the width of the choir-bay. The crossing pairs of ribs create a net-like construction that considerably strengthens the vault. They also give a lively ornamentation to the ceiling, as the interlocking vaulted bays create a dynamic zig-zag pattern the length of the cathedral.
His pillars have classic, bell-shaped columns, and he designed the dome vault of the new Saint Wenceslaus chapel, the clerestory walls, the original window tracery and the blind tracery panels of the buttresses.
His influence is also seen in the corbels, the passageway lintels, and the busts on the triforium, depicting faces of the royal family, saints, Bishops of Prague, and the two master builders, Matthias and Parler.
However, work on the cathedral proceeded slowly because the Emperor wanted Parler to work on other projects, including the new Charles Bridge in Prague and many churches. When Peter Parler died in 1399, only the choir and parts of the transept were finished.
Parler’s sons, Wenzel and Johannes Parler, continued his work, and they in turn were succeeded by a Master Petrilk. Under these three masters, the transept and the great tower on its south side were finished, as well as the gable that connects the tower with the south transept. Known as the ‘Golden Gate’ because of its golden mosaic of the Last Judgment, the kings entered the cathedral through this door for their coronations.
The Hussite Wars put a stop to building work in the first half of 15th century. The workshops closed, and the cathedral furnishings, pictures and sculptures were damaged. A century later, a great fire heavily damaged the cathedral in 1541.
Several attempts to resume work on the cathedral were unsuccessful. Later attempts only brought some Renaissance and Baroque elements into the Gothic building, including the baroque spire of the south tower and the great organ in the north wing of the transept.
At a conference of German architects in Prague in 1844, Václav Pešina, a canon of the cathedral, and the architect Josef Kranner presented a programme to renovate and complete the cathedral.
Josef Kranner headed the restoration work in 1861-1866 which consisted mostly of repairs, removing many baroque decorations and restoring the interior. The foundations of the new nave were laid in 1870, and in 1873, after Kramer’s death, the work passed to the architect Josef Mocker, who designed the west façade in a classic Gothic manner with two towers. After Mocker’s death, Kamil Hilbert became the third and final architect of the cathedral restoration.
The sculptor Vojtěch Sucharda worked on the façade in the 1920s, and the Czech Art Nouveau painter Alfons Mucha decorated the new windows in the north nave. Frantisek Kysela designed the Rose Window (1925-1927) that depicts scenes in the creation story.
Saint Vitus Cathedral was finally finished in 1929, in time for the Saint Wenceslas celebrations and almost six centuries – 585 years – after it began.
Although the entire west half of cathedral is a neo-Gothic addition, much of the design and elements developed by Parler were used in the restoration, giving the cathedral a harmonious, unified appearance as a whole.
The cathedral has influenced the development of Late Gothic architecture throughout Central Europe, including the Stephansdom cathedral in Vienna, Strasbourg Cathedral, Saint Marko’s Church in Zagreb and Saint Barbara’s Church in Kutna Hora.
Regional Gothic styles in Slovenia, northern Croatia, Austria, the Czech Republic and southern Germany were all heavily influenced by Parler’s design, especially his net vaults.
Did Parler’s work on Saint Vitus Cathedral, with the ingenuity and ornamentation in his design of the vaults, influence the Perpendicular Style of English Gothic at the end of 14th century, or was it the other way around?
Visitors also have their attention drawn to the spires, the gargoyles and the stained-glass windows. But close by are many other church buildings, including the Archbishop’s Palace, the Church of the Holy Spirit and the Basilica of Saint George, the best-preserved Romanesque church in Prague, dating from 973.
A government decree in 1954 entrusted Prague Castle to ‘all Czechoslovak people’ and to the administration of the President’s Office. Today, the Metropolitan Cathedral of Saint Vitus, Saint Wenceslaus and Saint Adalbert is the Roman Catholic cathedral of Prague and the seat of the Archbishop of Prague.
Until 1997, the cathedral was dedicated only to Saint Vitus, and it is still known popularly only as Saint Vitus Cathedral. In 1997, on 1000th anniversary of the death of Saint Voitechus, the church was re-dedicated to Saint Wenceslas and Saint Adalbert.
Luke 24: 13-35 (NRSVA):
13 Now on that same day two of them were going to a village called Emmaus, about seven miles from Jerusalem, 14 and talking with each other about all these things that had happened. 15 While they were talking and discussing, Jesus himself came near and went with them, 16 but their eyes were kept from recognizing him. 17 And he said to them, ‘What are you discussing with each other while you walk along?’ They stood still, looking sad. 18 Then one of them, whose name was Cleopas, answered him, ‘Are you the only stranger in Jerusalem who does not know the things that have taken place there in these days?’ 19 He asked them, ‘What things?’ They replied, ‘The things about Jesus of Nazareth, who was a prophet mighty in deed and word before God and all the people, 20 and how our chief priests and leaders handed him over to be condemned to death and crucified him. 21 But we had hoped that he was the one to redeem Israel. Yes, and besides all this, it is now the third day since these things took place. 22 Moreover, some women of our group astounded us. They were at the tomb early this morning, 23 and when they did not find his body there, they came back and told us that they had indeed seen a vision of angels who said that he was alive. 24 Some of those who were with us went to the tomb and found it just as the women had said; but they did not see him.’ 25 Then he said to them, ‘Oh, how foolish you are, and how slow of heart to believe all that the prophets have declared! 26 Was it not necessary that the Messiah should suffer these things and then enter into his glory?’ 27 Then beginning with Moses and all the prophets, he interpreted to them the things about himself in all the scriptures.
28 As they came near the village to which they were going, he walked ahead as if he were going on. 29 But they urged him strongly, saying, ‘Stay with us, because it is almost evening and the day is now nearly over.’ So he went in to stay with them. 30 When he was at the table with them, he took bread, blessed and broke it, and gave it to them. 31 Then their eyes were opened, and they recognized him; and he vanished from their sight. 32 They said to each other, ‘Were not our hearts burning within us while he was talking to us on the road, while he was opening the scriptures to us?’ 33 That same hour they got up and returned to Jerusalem; and they found the eleven and their companions gathered together. 34 They were saying, ‘The Lord has risen indeed, and he has appeared to Simon!’ 35 Then they told what had happened on the road, and how he had been made known to them in the breaking of the bread.
The theme this week in the prayer diary of the Anglican mission agency USPG (United Society Partners in the Gospel) is ‘Praying for Peace.’ This theme is introduced this morning by the Anglican Chaplain in Warsaw, Poland, the Revd David Brown, who reflects on peace in the light of this week’s International Day of Multilateralism and Diplomacy for Peace:
‘As we celebrate the United Nations International Day of Multilateralism and Diplomacy for Peace this week, the Anglican Church in Poland remains greatly blessed by all those people within the Chaplaincy and from outside who are giving so much personally, and through groups, to help support refugees from Ukraine and the people suffering in Ukraine. We have been greatly blessed by financial support for our use from the USPG/Diocese of Europe Lent Appeal, and in many other ways.
‘Our Church has helped refugees who required assistance in Poland while awaiting permission to travel to England under the Homes for Ukraine scheme and continues to offer individuals help with accommodation and other expenses. We are constantly looking at ways to help other Churches and groups supporting Ukrainian refugees and have begun supporting the Ukrainian House in Warsaw with its assistance programmes for the most vulnerable refugees.
‘The ongoing war on the other side of Poland’s border and the millions of refugees coming into Poland continually remind us of the importance to pray for peace, not just for our nearest neighbours but for all peoples on God’s earth.’
The USPG Prayer invites us to pray this morning:
Journey with us, risen Lord,
as we seek to understand your ways
and as we discover your truth,
may our hearts burn within us
and our lives give way to peace.
who in your great mercy gladdened the disciples
with the sight of the risen Lord:
give us such knowledge of his presence with us,
that we may be strengthened and sustained by his risen life
and serve you continually in righteousness and truth;
through Jesus Christ your Son our Lord,
who is alive and reigns with you,
in the unity of the Holy Spirit,
one God, now and for ever.
your Son made himself known to his disciples
in the breaking of bread:
open the eyes of our faith,
that we may see him in all his redeeming work;
who is alive and reigns, now and for ever.
Scripture quotations are from the New Revised Standard Version Bible: Anglicised Edition copyright © 1989, 1995, National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide. http://nrsvbibles.org
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