Thousands of people waited for hours on Thursday to catch a glimpse of the medieval Bohemian crown jewels. The opening of the Crown Chamber was quite a ritual in itself, as it required the presence of the holders of no less than seven keys - the President of the state, and the highest political and the Church authorities. Mirna Solic reports:
Seven key holders gathered at Prague Castle to open the gates of the Crown Chamber above the southern aisle of St. Vitus's Cathedral. After 1918 and the establishment of the Czechoslovak Republic the Coronation Jewels ceased to serve their original function, but remained important as symbols of national independence and statehood. According to the ancient tradition and regulations laid down by Charles the Fourth in the 14th century, the jewels are exhibited only to mark special occasions, and only within the precincts of Prague Castle. The director of the national heritage department of the President's Office, Eliska Fucikova, accompanied the seven key holders. Once they had opened the great door, she carried out the crown, wearing white gloves to protect its original leather case.
"It's always connected with a national day, some centenary or celebration. This time it's ten years since the foundation of the Czech Republic, it's also 85 years since the foundation of the Czechoslovak Republic, and we have a new president. So I think those events were inspiration for the decision of the president to make access to the coronation jewels to the public."
The Bohemian Crown Jewels comprise of the St. Wenceslas' crown, the royal orb and sceptre, the coronation vestments of the Bohemian kings, the gold reliquary cross, and St. Wenceslas' sword. The exhibition is not only an occasion for thousands of people to see the medieval treasure, but also a unique chance for experts to conduct further research and check the condition of the jewels kept in the controlled climate of the Chamber. During the last exhibition five years ago, experts discovered that some stones on the crown, some of them the largest of their kind in the world, are not in fact real rubies, as had been thought. According to Fucikova, the identification of the stones didn't affect their artistic and historic value:
"The biggest headstone was for a quite a long time meant to be one of the biggest rubies, and nowadays we know it's rubellite or tourmaline. That doesn't mean that the evaluation of the stone is lesser than originally, because this is one of the first use of the stone as a jewel, and one of the biggest stones used as a jewel. So, the crown didn't lose its high evaluation, because the technique was much more elaborate, complicated and precise."
The jewels were meant to be used only for the coronation of Bohemian kings, and legends predict a tragic fate everybody else who attempts to use them for any other purpose. According to one widely spread legend, Reinhard Heydrich died only one year after he became the head of the Nazi-occupied Czech Lands during the Second World War, because he tried to put the crown on his head. Eliska Fucikova:
"During the Second World War Protector Heydrich visited the crown's jewels. It was said that he put the crown on his head, and shortly after he was assassinated in the car when passing from his flat to the castle. This was never mentioned in relation with visiting the jewels, so I think it was more contemporary legend connected with his death. People thought it was punishment because he really touched Bohemian crown jewels."
The exhibition can be seen every day from 9-17 until July 13th. The entrance is free.