Charles Bridge statue vandalized

29-01-2007

Someone has damaged a valuable historical artifact on Prague's Charles Bridge. While the sculpture itself remains intact, the golden lettering surrounding the figure was partly destroyed. The police are investigating, but the incident is raising questions about how best to protect the historical treasures of Prague's streets.

Photo: CTKPhoto: CTK The statue, dating from the mid-17th century, is known as the Crucifix and Calvary. It is a bronze cast, several meters high, depicting the crucifixion. To the right of Christ's abdomen, someone has ripped away several Hebrew letters that made up a semicircular epigraph from the book of Isaiah.

Monday morning found Ondrej Sefcu of the National Heritage Institute inspecting the harm done.

"I'm the designated overseer of the bridge for the National Heritage Institute and I'm mapping the damage so that we can eventually give police an overview of exactly what happened. In terms of the value of the materials, the damage is perhaps not so great. But we are talking about artifacts from the late 17th century, and in that sense the damage is incalculable. You can't replace original pieces like this."

It is unclear when exactly vandals attacked the statue. Mr. Sefcu was told of the damage on Friday. He says while the bridge's statues have occasionally suffered a lost fingertip or toe, this is the first such orchestrated attack.

Photo: CTKPhoto: CTK "It must have been difficult to do from a technical standpoint. The vandal would have had to climb up the little hillock representing Calvary. And then if they couldn't climb the cross, they would need some kind of help from other people, or maybe a machine. To me, it suggests a carefully planned act and I imagine it'll be difficult to find the perpetrators."

Right now police aren't saying much about who did it or how.

The Hebrew epigraph makes the statue of the Christ and Calvary one of the more controversial works on Charles Bridge. The words were added in 1696, and paid for by a Jewish citizen of Prague, as punishment for defaming Christianity. In the year 2000, the city of Prague added plaques in three languages to the surrounding parapet, explaining the historical context.

Understanding how this incident happened, and how similar acts of vandalism can be prevented, is another matter. Again, Ondrej Sefcu:

"The legal custodian of the statues is the City Gallery of Prague, but our first line of defense really is the artists who sell their paintings and crafts here, and who are contractually bound to watch the statues. And the police also use a camera to monitor the bridge, which may provide clues... Because of attacks like this and the stresses of tourist traffic, more and more sculptures are being replaced with copies. It's not ideal, but it's one way to protect the original works."

29-01-2007