Brno keeps century-old promise to restore chapel

22-07-2009

Královská Kaple, the King’s Chapel, was part of the history of the city of Brno for 600 years. But at the beginning of the 20th century it was pulled down to make way for modernisation. The destruction caused protest, and the progressive city planners were made to agree that one day they would resurrect the building. It might have been a long time coming, but now Brno City Hall has announced it will be making good on its 101-year-old promise.

Brno’s King’s Chapel was almost as old as the city itself, consecrated by King Václav II at the end of the 13th century. The chapel was an architectural marvel, as Brno art historian Dagmar Koudelková says.

“It was a very exceptional monument for its time. It was almost a square and was arched on a single pillar, which was uncommon here. It was very elegant: it had an enormous ground plan and was very lofty, 12 metres high - very majestic. And it had beautiful elements: every window was different in structure and in aesthetic motifs. The chapel was fascinating architecturally, spatially, and for its sculptural craftsmanship.”

The ancient structure met its end in the first decade of the 20th century, when modern city planners decided to redevelop the square.

Photo: CTKPhoto: CTK “A lot of monuments in Brno were demolished in the 19th century - the same time they tore down the city walls. In this case the problem was that the chapel was dilapidated and ugly, and the locals didn’t like it. It was being used as a storage building for a military barracks. So that was one thing, that it was a blemish on the surrounding area. The other reason was that it was blocking a projected tram route. There were probably more reasons for tearing down the chapel but these seem to have been the basic ones.”

One of those other reasons included the high value of the land the chapel occupied, and a debate began in Brno between moneyed townsmen, who wanted its redevelopment, and preservationists in Vienna. In the end, “progress” won out, and the chapel was demolished. But not before the Brno town council made a binding promise. Pavel Žára is the spokesman for Brno’s City Hall.

Photo: CTKPhoto: CTK “In 1908 the Town Hall made a promise that if they destroyed the chapel they would have to rebuild it one day. So the chapel was very carefully photographed and its unique components were dismantled and have been maintained in various places around Brno, And now, the city management, led by the mayor, has decided to incorporate the chapel into the construction of a new parking garage, putting it back together as part of the of the upper section of the garage. After that it will be ceremonially consecrated and will once again be a holy place in the city of Brno. And with that the promise will be fulfilled after 101 years.”

Brno has taken a long time in making good on its promise, but then one could argue a turbulent 20th century for the Czech lands stood in the path of progress on many fronts. Still, a promise is a promise, and even if the original deal didn’t envision the chapel going on top of a car park, it is expected the King’s Chapel will rebuilt by the end of 2010 – better late than never.

22-07-2009