The Sanctuary and the Choir

The Main Altar is dominated by the two huge copies of Peter Paul Ruben works The Conversation of Saint Augustine and the Martyrdom of Thomas the Apostle. Unfortunately, the originals commissioned in Antwerp by prior Jan Svitovsky, OSA, in 1637, installed in 1639 were taken from the Church in 1921 and never returned. The altar built between 1730–1731 on grand scale by Christian Kovar, a local artist, possesses in toto nine freestanding statues bracketed by two supporting angels. On the left is the large image of St. Nicholas of Tolentine, the “Augustinian Wonderworker”, who, pointing to the star on his chest, intently looks to the tabernacle surmounted by a statue of the humble Immaculata, the Mother of Jesus Christ, in an attitude of prayer. To the right stands the companion image of the Spanish Augustinian friar, St. John of Sahagun. Likewise contemplating the tabernacle, the he holds a chalice symbolizing Catholic belief in the real presence of Christ in the Eucharist. These three statues were executed by Filip Quittainer (+1729) a local Czech sculptor and teacher of Ferdinand Brokoff (+1731).

There are three smaller images on either side of the tabernacle. On the left from top to bottem are the statues of Saint Augustine, Saint Monica and Saint Vit; on the right in the same order are the statues of Saint Vojtech-Adalbert, Saint Ludmila and Saint Wenceslaus. Originally commissioned by the Countess Helena Martinitz nee Vrsovice in her last will (1680) as six large companion pieces to Saint Nicholas and Saint John Sahagun, they were to be cast in silver by a local Prague artisan. Unfortunately, no suitable artist could be found and the work was to be done in Augsburg. However, in the midst of such arrangements, the Countess died (August 22, 1682) and her original bequest with the outbreak of the Turkish-Habsburg hostilities (1683–1699) was loaned to the imperial war effort. 40 years later in 1720 the Prior Tadeas Bauml, OSA, once more attempted to complete this long pending project but upon learning of the immense expense, he, too, postponed the project. Finally, Kilian Ignac Dietzenhoffer, the commissioned architect of the Church, understandably anxious to complete such an important detail as the main altar, suggested to the Prior Seraphim Maltzer in 1730 that he hire Ferdinand Brokoff. Well known for his work on the Charles Bridge, Brokoff with characteristic ingenuity and industry first reduced the size of the six images and with exemplary speed finished three (Saints Augustine, Monica and Ludmila) just before he died on March 08, 1731. Ignac Muller, his otherwise unknown protégé, finished the remaining Saints Adalbert-Vojech, Wenceslaus and Vit which (undoubtedly to the relief of many) were finally installed on the main altar in May that same year. In front of the main altar is situated the crypt of the Lobkowicz family with the date 1713.

On the left side of the sanctuary is the altar of Saint Sebastian, the Soldier Martyr, which was executed in 1767. The altar’s patronal picture is the work of Bartholomew Spranger (+1611) a Belgian renaissance artist commissioned court painter for Emperors Maximilian II and Rudolph II. On either end of the altar table are statues of Saint Roch and Saint Charles Borromeo; below the altar is the recumbent image of Saint Rosalia, who, with the other three named saints, was particularly invoked in times of plague – a common enough occurrence in the 18th century.

The adjacent altar built in 1730 commemorates the Holy Trinity. The original patronal picture painted in 1644 by Karel Skreta (+1674) now inexplicably found in the Prague church of St. Henry, matches his other masterpieces such as the Crucifixion in St.Nikolas Church (Mala Strana) and the paneled Life of Saint Vaclav in the former Augustinian Church (na Zderaze, Praha – Nove Mesto). The monumental statues of Saint Athanasius of Alexandria and Saint Gregory of Nazianzus, typical of “baroque triumphal art” recall two Greek theologians who defended the doctrines of the Trinity and the divinity of Christ in their writings. Enshrined in the center glass case is an indigenous carving of Our Lady of Guadaloupe “Patroness of the Americas” donated by the Mexican community in Prague.

Across the sanctuary is found the altar of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary and patronal picture also painted by Karel Skreta in 1644. The cartouche above the altar portraying the Blessed Sacrament in glory is a memorial to the Confraternity of the Lord’s Body which before its suppression in 1785 by the relentless Emperor Joseph II was one of Prague’s oldest confraternities. Initially approved by Pope Gregory XIII in 1580 this religious fraternity or pious society devoted to the veneration of the Eucharist, was in turn endorsed by Pope Sixtus V in 1588 and Clement VIII who was inscribed as a member. Many other wellknown personages were counted among its devotees including Emperor Rudolph II (+1612) and Emperor Ferdinand III (+1657). A statue of Saint Augustine is found in the enclosed glass case.

The adjacent altar is that of Saint Roch, the patron of the infirm, with a picture of that saint painted by Frantisek Karel Pelka (+1767) that was installed in 1767. The two statues (attributed to Ignac Muller) of the “physican saints” Cosmas and his brother Damian – who for their free services were known as the “penniless doctors” – frame the altar. Dedicated to the “healing saints” these votive altars were erected in times of epidemics by fearful suppliants or in thanksgiving by grateful survivors. The plague column standing outside of Saint Nicholas Church in Mala Strana was one such a piece. Another more celebrated example was the Marian column that formerly stood in Stara Mesto until it was senselessly pulled down by a mob of vandals in 1920.

The wall of the sanctuary (the former choir) is punctuated by eight oratory windows covered with exquisite cast metal tracery executed and installed by Matthew Pucher in 1731.