Since its founding in 925 by Wenceslaus I, Duke of Bohemia, the site of St. Vitus’ Cathedral has been the burial place of Czech rulers. During the fourteenth century, the tenth-century structure was rebuilt. In December of 1373, by order of the emperor and King Charles IV, the remains buried in old St. Vitus were exhumed and reburied in the new cathedral, which at that time was still under construction.
Several of the tombs and figural markers from the first cathedral still survive in the eastern most chapels of the present structure. While some of the tombs have undergone conservation efforts and archaeological explorations over the last 30 years, the tombs of Bohemian Prince Bretislaus II (r. 1092–1100) and his half-brother Prince Borivoj II (r. 1100–1107, 1117–1120) in the Chapel of St. John the Baptist were not touched. Both of these tombs are believed to have come from the workshop of Peter Parler, a fourteenth-century German architect and sculptor also believed to be responsible for the design of the cathedral.
How We Helped
In 2000, WMF, with support from the Samuel H. Kress Foundation, assisted authorities at Prague Castle with conservation efforts at St. Vitus’ Cathedral with specific attention paid to the needs of the tombs of Bretislaus II and Borivoj II. While the studies found the tomb of Bretislaus II to be in relatively stable condition, the tomb of Borivoj II was in need of emergency restorations.
Both tombstones were cleaned and repointed. Since the original metal anchors that fixed the tombs to the cathedral’s masonry had rusted and damaged the stone, they were replaced with stainless steel rods. Archaeological studies were conducted on the tomb of Borivoj II and discovered surviving medieval relics within his tomb. These relics were explored with an endoscope and video recorder, but were left in situ. Plaster castings were taken of both tombstones for documentary purposes. Similar conservation procedures were recommended for four other tombs of Czech rulers in adjacent chapels.
Why It Matters
St. Vitus’ Cathedral is one of the most important architectural monuments in the Czech capital and a dominant presence in the precinct of Prague Castle. The two tombs conserved in this project are notable products of the workshop of Peter Parler and as such are significant monuments in the cathedral. Now that they have been conserved, visitors can continue to enjoy these fine examples of medieval funerary sculpture.