The Prague City Council has approved a revitalization plan for the capital’s Old Town Square that includes the installation of a replica of a Marian column that stood on the square for over 250 years until it was torn down in 1918. Many consider the column a symbol of oppression, but its supporters, who have campaigned for its return for over 20 years, have found a strong ally in the current mayor.
The original Marian column was built in 1650 to commemorate the Habsburg victory over the Swedes. Measuring 16 meters, it was topped with a statue of the Virgin Mary and surrounded by four stone angels. Today, some interpret the column as a tribute to the end of the bloodshed of the Thirty Years’ War, others as a symbol of the definitive Habsburg takeover of the Czech lands and the violent re-Catholicization that followed.
Architect and architectural historian Zdeněk Lukeš says the 17th century monument is valuable in several respects:
“It is a very important monument from a historical point of view. It is important for this space, since it was one of the foci of the Old Town Square. And of course it is a wonderful example of Baroque art. This is a very early example of this type of monument, and we don’t have very many of them from that time left.”
Its supporters – representatives of the Catholic community, historians and artists – argue that the column is an important element in the heritage of Prague’s historical center. They say that the mob that toppled it in 1918 to rid the capital of the new Czechoslovak republic of a symbol of Habsburg oppression was acting with irrational nationalistic fervor. But the proposal to replace it also has many opponents – among them is the writer Lenka Procházková:
“I think it is absurd. The Marian column was a symbol of the humiliation of the Czech people. Replacing it would be similar to, for example, re-building the statue of Stalin at Letná.”
After two decades of campaigning in vain, the monument’s proponents finally got their way on Tuesday, when the city council voted to erect a replica next year. Among its chief backers has been the mayor of Prague, Bohuslav Svoboda.
“A new Old Town Square – where the statue of Jan Hus, representing Protestantism, and the statue of the Virgin Mary, as a symbol of Catholicism, could stand side by side – would show that Prague is truly a city of the third millennium, where differing world views and religious views can naturally co-exist.”
Although it will take a few months to clear up all the details, the pedestal, column and the sculpture on top are ready for installation, thanks to sculptor Petr Váňa who has spend the last 15 years working without pay to construct an exact replica.