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Indian origin of Marian Column in Prague

On August 15th, 2020, after many challenges regarding the restoration of Marian Column at Old Town Square in Prague, this 16 metres tall historic monument has been officially launched.  India is also a part of the history of this column. 

The Marian column  in Prague is a religious monument consisting of a column topped with a  two-meter statue of the Virgin Mary, located in the city's Old Town Square. However this is a copy which has the longest pillar brought from Rajasthan, India.

The original column was erected there in 1650 as thanks for the city's role in the White Mountain Battle of Prague in 1648, which resulted in a Bohemian victory over the Swedish Empire and it was the end of Thirty Years’ War. The column was sculpted by the Czech sculpturor Johann Georg Bendl. It was the fourth oldest Marian column in Europe following Rome (1614), Munich (1638) and Vienna (1647). 

The column was almost 16 meters high and bore a two-meter gilded statue of Virgin Mary. At the base of the column was a hollow space that served as a chapel. Inside there was a Gothic panel with the image of the "Virgin Mary of the Square" (in Czech: Panna Marie Rynecká), dating from the beginning of the 15th century. In the corners of the column stood four statues of angels symbolizing the four cardinal virtues fighting the forces of evil. The first angel struck down the devil with a spear and represented wisdom, the second defeated a lion with a two-handed sword and represented righteousness, the third fought a dragon and represented bravery, and the fourth angel defeated the devil with the cross and expressed gentleness.

During the Prussian siege in 1757, the southwest corner sculpture was damaged by a cannonball during the shelling of Prague. 101 years later, in 1858, it was replaced by a copy from the Prague sculptor Josef Böhm.

In 1915, the Jan Hus Memorial, sculpted by Ladislav Šaloun, was erected in the square. Hus was the founder of the Hussites, a pre-Protestant religious reform movement, who was executed by the Catholic Church for heresy. The construction of this memorial was considered to show the shifting attitudes of Prague, which increasing shifted away from the Catholic Church.

In autumn of 1918, the Austro-Hungarian Empire was close to defeat and about to be dismantled. Many people considered the column as a symbol of the monarchy and Catholicism. On October 28, 1918, the Czechoslovak National Council had proclaimed Czechoslovakia an independent nation-state.  Six days after, the angry mob, who believed that this monument is anti-Czech and that it stood there to remind their defeat at the battle of Bílá Hora resulting into Habsburg oppression, torn down and ripped off the column. 

The Czechoslovak official press accepted the demolition of the column with understanding, but most of the important political figures of the First Czechoslovak Republic did not publicly support its destruction, though they expressed understanding in private. 

Marian Column 1

After 268 years, the remaining parts of the column were removed on the night of December 18 & 19, 1918 and taken to the courtyard of the Church of St. Anna in the Old Town. Fragments of the statue of the Virgin Mary, the four sculptures with angels, and the stone railings were stored in the Prague Lapidarium at Výstaviště Praha. The broken head of the Virgin Mary was found in 1957 in an antique shop on Národní třída. It was bought by the National Museum and also placed in the lapidarium. 

From the very beginning, after pushing the column on November 3rd, 1918, the idea of restoration came up.  But for many years and decades there was not enough will and finance to do it. Then the World War II came from 1939 to 1945 and subsequently the rule of the Communist regime in Czechoslovakia, which was refusing the religion as such in general. The new petitions came up only at the end of eighties.

After the Velvet Revolution in Czechoslovakia in November 1989,  a private association for restoring of Marian column was founded in Prague. It started the national collection of funds for the reconstruction of the Marian column in 1995. Since then, a group of four Czech artists was involved in the restorative activities: sculptor Jan Braddna, Miroslav Kratky, Karel Kronych and Peter Vana. They were searching a suitable sandstone and finally they found a very good quality stone in India.

In 2000, Petr Vana was asked to sculpt a replica of the head of statue of the Virgin Mary. This part of the work was completed in 2002 and installed in the southern yard of the Church of Our Lady before Týn (in Czech: Chrám Matky Boží před Týnem) in Prague. Petr Vana, with his brother and an assistant, continued the work.

On February 24, 2001, five stonemasons reached Jaipur, Rajasthan and prepared the stone for the main pillar. The stone was transported from Jaipur to Mumbai by truck and in March 2001, the stone left the port of Nava Sheva, Mumbai. It reached the Czech Republic few months later. Since then the Czech sculptor Petr Vana worked on the replica of the Marian column.

The reconstruction of the column was rejected several times by the Prague City Council. In September 2017, the city councillors suggested that the idea of restoration of the Marian column divides the people of Prague, rather than reconciling them. Opponents saw the column as a symbol of post-White Mountain oppression by the Catholic Habsburg rulers. However, according to Prague's Mayor, Zdenek Hrib, the column symbolizes the defeat of the idea of tolerance, which is still relevant today.

Before the expiry of the building permit on 29 May 2019, the contractor tried to start the construction by uncovering the foundations of the original column. However, he did not have permission to occupy the space needed for the arrival of construction equipment. The area was then barred by a city police van and the contractor had to restore the site to its previous state. A few days later, 26 Czech art historians published a call not to allow the city authorities to renew the column. In January 2020, however, the reconstruction of the column was approved by the Prague City Council.

Work on re-erecting the column started on 15 February 2020. Major work was completed on 4 June 2020. The column has been finally re-installed at Old Prague Town Square and it was officially open on the India's Independence Day on August 15th, 2020. On that date, the column became a property of the Prague Municipality.

The purpose of the reconstruction was to make a most faithful reproduction of the original statue of the Virgin Mary. A copy was created from the preserved torso of the original. The missing left part of the statue with folded hands was reconstructed according to a similar statue on the main square of Louny and relevant photographs. So-called Božanovský sandstone from Teplice nad Metují was chosen for the copy of the statue, while the column with the Corinthian head was made of sandstone originating in India. The pedestal is made of Pietra Dorata sandstone from Siena and was dedicated by the Italian town of Vitorchiano. The sanctuary is made of Mrákotín Granite. The four pedestals for the statues of angels were dedicated by the four orders: the Knights of Malta, the Teutonic Order, the Knights of the Cross with the Red Star and the Order of Saint Lazarus. However, it is not yet clear whether the statues of angels will be installed. The remaining architecture was reconstructed according to the preserved parts.

The restoration is great news for the Czech Catholics but many protestants and non-believers also supported the project because of the statue’s historic and artistic importance in Prague.

Moreover with the Covid-19 pandemic in spring 2020, the Marian column is nowadays considered also as a symbol of the end of the pandemic in summer 2020. 

Restoration of the Marian column was the first construction in the historical part of Prague after many decades since the new construction is generally not allowed. Many Indians are happy to hear that the longest pink pillar of the Marian column is from India and that the official inauguration of the newly restored column was selected on India's Independence Day.



Destruction and Restoration of Marian Column