Built in 1316, St. Ann’s Church stands at the foot of the Charles Bridge in the Old Town of Prague. The church maintains most of its timber roofing, a unique example of an original Gothic truss system. Wall paintings from that period also, remarkably, remain. Emperor Charles IV commissioned the interior decoration and it was carried out by members of his imperial court workshops, thought to include the Master Theodoric. Subsequent painted additions by Renaissance and baroque artists created a series of frescoes that reflect the flow of Czech artistic styles. In 1782, St. Ann’s Church became one of many Catholic structures converted to secular use by the Emperor Joseph II as part of his reformation program. Over the last 200 years it was used as an industrial building that housed printing machinery and then as a warehouse. Three floors were installed within to tailor the church to its new function, blocking the vault from view, damaging murals, and disrupting the timber configuration from the 1730s. An unsound arch collapsed in the early 1880s and no reconstruction was attempted until 1989, when insensitive renovations removed pieces of the original Gothic truss.
2004 World Monuments Watch
WMF placed the St. Ann’s Church on the 2004 Watch List to raise awareness for a project to completely restore the church and use it as a community center. We procured a grant for the conservation of the enormous Gothic windows. After a conditions survey, it was determined that most would have to be dismantled and fitted with new, stronger parts. Lead glazing was manufactured to prevent leakage of water from the exterior and inhibit movement of the hexagonal glass pieces, which could weaken the entire structure. The new windows were installed in 2007.
St. Ann’s Church is a grand example of Prague Gothic architecture of the Luxembourg period. Because of the adaptive reuse solution, the church continues to represent its history while serving a positive, modern function. During the course of the project, the insensitive additions were removed, the murals were conserved, and both the interior and exterior were fully refurbished. With the aid of WMF, the church was transformed into a functioning community center, becoming a part of the Prague Crossroads Program to promote cultural dialogue. St. Ann’s is now the home of that organization and functions as a performance space. The 400 seated guests for concerts, lectures, and public forums can look up and see the original Gothic nave.