© Vincent Bridges 2011
In the heart of Prague’s Old Town, just off the main tourist routes and a few blocks southeast of Charles Bridge, is the semi-restored church of St. Anne and St. Lawrence, now a cultural center sponsored by the former Czech President, Vaclav Havel, and his wife Dagmar’s foundation. I had no idea, when I attended a reception there last October, that I was in fact at the center of a fascinating mystery, one that is virtually unknown, even in the Czech Republic.
I was mingling, drinking excellent champagne and making good use of my half dozen or so words of Czech, when I stopped to look at one of the exhibits on the restoration of the church. It contained a timeline of the church’s history, which informed me that it had once been the property of the Knights of the Temple, The Templars, then passed to the Knights of St. John of Jerusalem, now of Malta, before becoming the property of the Dominican Order in the mid 14th century. The arc of that ownership was striking enough, but under the Templar reference was a line about the church as “V Jerusalemu.” Now, even my far from adequate knowledge of Czech could handle that one: In Jerusalem. Why, I wondered, would a church, especially a Templar church in the depths of Prague’s Old Town, be called “In Jerusalem?”
As I considered it, I could remember only two connections between Prague and Jerusalem. The cornerstone of the Old-New Synagogue had supposedly been flown straight from the ruins of the Old Temple in Jerusalem to Prague, making the city something of a second “Mother Israel” to the Jews of the Disapora. Curiously enough, that legend had emerged at the same time the second connection to Jerusalem was established. Charles IV, the Luxemburg Emperor and King of Bohemia in the mid 14th century, had been somewhat obsessed with building churches modeled on the “New Jerusalem” of St. John’s Revelation. One such model church had stood in the center of Charles’ Square for over 400 years. Neither of these stories, however, had anything to do with the Templars, or the Church of Sts. Anne and Lawrence.
The reception wound down, and, standing in St. Anne Square waiting for my taxi, I tried to put this new idea into the context of Prague itself. Within a few blocks in any direction of where I stood, one could find traces of mystics and alchemists, from Giordano Bruno and John Dee to Jan Kominsky and Jan Hus, scientists, Kepler and Tesla, freemasons, theosophists, spiritualists, musicians and artists. Prague is perhaps the most densely esoteric city in Europe. And that deep substratum of esotericism seems to rest on the bedrock of an unseen web of inter-connected places, thresholds actually, portals in the original mythic sense of praha itself. Could there be one of these energetic portals, doorways, between Prague and Jerusalem?
The idea tickled my fancy and so, a few weeks after my return from Europe, I turned my attention to unraveling the mystery. Within days of my decision, a good friend in the Czech Republic, Radka Slooten, sent me coincidentally a website on Prague Castle that included a whole page on the work of Jan Cihak. Suddenly, it all clicked and a strange pattern emerged, one that I found hard to believe. Think of a Great Cross, centered on a Holy Crossing point, aligned to the winter/summer solstice axis, the Solar Cross, and anchored on what was then the spiritual center of the world, Jerusalem, built, maintained and elaborated on for over a millennium as a great city grew up around it. What was the purpose? And why here, why Prague?
The starting point of any answer, of course, is the curious story about the stones from the Temple in Jerusalem being brought by an angel to the Old-New Synagogue. The story as commonly told is that the angels brought the stones of the Temple to Prague on the condition that they would be returned when the Messiah came. In Hebrew “on condition” is “al tnaj;” which can be divided, incorrectly, to give us the German “alt neu,” or Old-New, according to its sound. While this derivation is unlikely, for many reasons, it does give us a very curious Green Language pun. The old becomes new under certain conditions, the arrival, or return, of the Messiah. It is in this sense that the Jews called Prague the “City and Mother in Israel,” and considered it second in importance only to Jerusalem.
However, no one is quite sure when the Jews arrived in Prague. David Gans, in his 17th century Branch of David, gives a date of 995 CE for the first settlement, but there surely would have been Jews in Prague long before that date, with or without a fixed settlement. The Old-New Synagogue was built in 1270 CE and there is no contemporary mention of stones from the Temple in Jerusalem. In fact the earliest versions of its origins describe another sort of miracle: the synagogue was supposedly discovered fully constructed under an ancient mound. The Jerusalem story apparently dates to the era of Charles IV, the mid 14th century, who had a curious interest in connecting Prague and Jerusalem. By the early 16th century, Hapsburg Emperor Ferdinand I could be reassured by the Old Town council that the Jews shouldn’t be banished, as they “had lived in this land before their Temple in Jerusalem was destroyed.”
The Jewish legends are suggestive of some kind of link to Jerusalem, but they depend on other influences. Those influences are mostly Christian and they provide a context in which the legends of a direct Jewish connection to Jerusalem become plausible, if not actually required. And curiously, the era that Gans notes as the beginning of Jewish settlement in Prague is also the era we must turn to next to understand the Christian context of the Prague – Jerusalem connection.
For the first thousand years or so of the Christian era, from the 1st century to the 10th, Bohemia was a pagan no man’s land beyond the Danube border of the Old Roman Empire. Dark Age states came and went, built on shifting tribal alliances and trade with the west. Around the turn of the 10th century, a new dynasty, the Premyslid, gained ascendancy over the other small states by straddling the divide between the newly Christianized civilization of the west and the ancient tribal and pagan culture of the Slavs. From these tensions came the beginnings of the Kingdom of Bohemia. The Premyslids created their own national myth in the story of All-Father Czech, his son Krok and his three daughters. The youngest of those daughters was the mystical Libusse, who traditionally named Prague, foresaw its future and made Premysl the Plowman a Duke, founding the dynasty bearing his name.
In 995 CE, the same year Gans credits the Jews with a permanent settlement in Prague, the Premyslids conquered the last remaining tribal holdouts, the Slavnikovici, to become the uncontested Dukes of the region. Over the next two centuries, they consolidated their power, creating Bohemia in the process. The Premyslids did not become Kings until the later part of that process; the Bohemian region remained under the authority of the church, and indirectly under the Pope. During those centuries, as a sort of undercurrent to the political strife, betrayals and assassinations, a group of small round churches were built across Prague and Bohemia. These vaguely Byzantine small domed rotundas were built by design on the older pagan power places in a conscious attempt to co-opt the sacredness of the landscape into a new Christian pattern.
It began with the early Premyslids. To show the power of his new religion, Duke Brivoj, the first Christian Premysl, had a chapel to the Virgin Mary built on the sacred hill, the pagan Gigi or world center on the plateau where Prague Castle now stands. This chapel, built in the late 9th century, was also meant as the Premysl family mausoleum. When Duke Vaclav, the future St. Wenceslas, was murdered in the early 10th century, he was buried in the new rotunda to St. Vitus built on or near the site of the earlier chapel. This rotunda lasted only 140 years or so; it was rebuilt on a much grander scale in 1060 CE, then rebuilt again as the core of St. Vitus Cathedral.
Around this center point, a constellation of Christian institutions developed. On the Hradcany plateau, the St. George Basilica, with its convent, and the lost rotundas to St. Maurice and St. Bartholomew were built near St. Wenceslas’ rotunda. Further out, the Praemonstratensian Monastery claimed the high point of the saddle between Petrin Hill and the Hradcany, calling it Mount Zion. The Benedictines had earlier claimed Brevnov Hill, near the ancient settlement at Sarka to the west, and The Knights of St. John built a monastery and command center on a key location by the left bank of the river. Between the arrival of the Knights of St. John in the mid 12th century and the arrival of the Templars in the early 13th century, there was a wave of rotunda building across Bohemia, including the three remaining rotundas in Prague, St. Martin at Vysehrad, St. Stephan in what would become New Town, and Holy Cross near the Old Town riverfront.
By the time of Premysl Ottakar II and the height of Premyslid power in the mid 13th century, the transition from pagan sacred spots to Christian churches was almost complete. From the Hradcany plateau with its growing cluster of Christian structures, the ancient pagan alignments were maintained. To the north, a line ran through the Premysl stronghold at Levy Hradec to Rip Mountain, which also has its 12th century rotunda perched on top. The St. Vitus rotunda, and later the cathedral, acted much like the long vanished Gigi; it became a switching point in the web of leftover pagan astronomical alignments and the newly Christianized dynastic alignments. One of the most important of the pagan alignments was the sight line toward the winter solstice sunrise, and this also became Christianized.
Sometime after 1060 CE and the rebuilding of St. Wenceslas’ rotunda on Hradcany, but before 1090, a small chapel was built on the southern end of the Romanesque Old Town, near the river’s right bank. It was originally named the chapel of the Finding of the Holy Cross, after a local miracle involving a Christian girl tied to a cross and thrown into a sacred spring. The cross was returned to the surface by a high wind; the girl drowned however, and the rotten cross was buried in the crypt of the 12th century rotunda. In this story, we can see the transition from pagan to Christian in stark relief; the pagan virgin spirit of the lake or spring is sacrificed to the new power of the Cross. And, as with the old castle at Vysehrad, there are stories of hidden crypts filled with ancient treasure under the rotunda.
But we are left wondering: what makes this “cross” particularly holy?
Perhaps the simplest explanation is that someone did “find” the Holy Cross spot, the sacred lake and its legends, and by making it the center of a sacred alignment created its own special quality of “holiness.” From the St. Wenceslas rotunda on the Hradcany plateau, the Holy Cross Rotunda is in the general direction of the winter solstice sunrise. A third point is needed is make a clear alignment, and this point is provided by another rotunda, built within a generation of Holy Cross, on another watery sacred spot. The Rotunda of St. Stephan was the center of a small village, Na Rybnicku (“By the Pond”) just outside the Old Town wall and whose springs would provide the water for the 14th century expansion of New Town. It falls in line with the St. Wenceslas rotunda and the Holy Cross to point directly toward the winter solstice sunrise.
We can think of this as the vertical axis of a cross, aligned to the winter solstice sunrise. The horizontal axis was also part of the plan. Two other Romanesque chapels, with towers if not rotundas, fall in a line perpendicular to the winter solstice axis; St. Clement in Po?í?í, or “riverside,” the center of an old settlement along the Vltava, and the church of Sts. Phillip and James, on the ancient pagan sacrifice spot dedicated to Petrun, at the foot of the hill named for him, Petrin, on the far left bank of the river. St. Clement, although extensively and heavily rebuilt through the centuries, has at least survived. The church of Sts. Phillip and James was demolished in the late 19th century, and its place is marked by the modern Arbes’ Square in the lower part of the Little Town. These churches however were built equidistant from the Rotunda of the Holy Cross, at about 2,400 meters, or 7,200 feet, roughly one and a third miles.
Thus the Romanesque Prague of the 13th century was incorporated within a great Holy Cross aligned to the solstices, winter solstice sunrise and summer solstice sunset along the vertical axis, and anchored east-west by a pair of chapels with towers on pagan sacred spots. Another Romanesque church from the mid 12th century, St Peter’s on the Riverside, marked the summer solstice alignment from the Holy Cross rotunda through the more distant location of Old Boleslav, an alignment deemed important by the early builders on the Hradcany plateau. But, to the Christians of the 11th and 12th century who built the pattern, even a great Cross based on the solstices would not have been considered as a Holy Cross. Unless it also pointed to another, even more sacred location?
Curiously, the winter solstice sunrise at the latitude of Prague is in fact in the direction of Jerusalem, which makes the alignment from St. Wenceslas’ rotunda through the Holy Cross and St. Stephan’s, who was martyred in Jerusalem, even more remarkable. In the era when the western Crusaders were in fact conquering Jerusalem, the builders in Prague were constructing their Great Cross in an alignment with the Holy Cross in Jerusalem. No wonder the Knights of St. John and the Knights of the Temple were attracted to Prague.
These two crusading orders occupied opposite sides of the river, with the Knights of St. John, who arrived first, taking the area near the old settlement below the castle on the left, and the later arriving Templars taking the right bank in Old Town, just north of the Rotunda of the Holy Cross. In that sense, the proximity of the Templar Church of St. Lawrence to the Jerusalem alignment of the Holy Cross line could be said to give meaning to the “In Jerusalem” of the church’s name. The church was in Jerusalem because it was, roughly, within the Prague/Jerusalem alignment. Soon, the idea of “In Jerusalem” would become even more prominent as the last initiated King in Europe, Charles IV, tried to transform Prague into a new version of Jerusalem.
A century after the Templars built St. Lawrence, the Luxemburg dynasty having married into the last of the Premyslids, Prague was in the hands of Charles I of Bohemia, Charles IV in terms of Holy Roman Emperors, and he was an Emperor with a plan. Prague was going to surpass Rome by being rebuilt in the shape of Jerusalem itself. The upper portion of New Town, the region between Wenceslas Square and Charles Square and down to the river, was laid out using a 12th century map of Jerusalem as template and the major squares and thoroughfares follow the same pattern to this day. The central region of the upper portion of Charles Square corresponded to the Temple Mount in Jerusalem, and Charles eventually built a small church there, the Church of the Holy Body, built, like his reworking of St. Wenceslas’ Chapel in St. Vitus, as a model of the New Jerusalem from St. John’s Revelation.
In his Jerusalem template for the New Town, the region near the Rotunda of St. Stephan corresponded to the hill of Golgotha in Jerusalem, and since, as Holy Roman Emperor, he owned the original Spear of St. Loginus, the Roman soldier who thrust his spear into Christ’s side on the hill of Golgotha during the Crucifixion, Charles renamed the rotunda for St. Longinus. This of course fixed the winter solstice alignment with Jerusalem, specifically Golgotha. Jan Cihak, a Czech researcher who has spent years following these esoteric clues, finds that the line from St. Wenceslas, through Holy Cross and St. Longinus, falls almost exactly on the Rotunda Anastasia built in 335 CE on Mount Calvary (Golgotha). Such precision indicates that the early 12th century cartographers were sophisticated enough to account for the curvature of the earth’s surface.
The mystery is not about Prague’s connection to Jerusalem, but who created the alignment of rotundas that defines the connection? And why?
The best we can do is to suggest an anonymous, or at least unrecorded, organization of monks or clerics, operating with church and state approval and charged with the process of absorbing and transforming the infrastructure of the local paganism. Around the time Jerusalem fell to the 1st Crusade, 1099 CE, the basic outline of the alignment and the urban Great Cross was in place. And, perhaps, this was the moment when the realization dawned that the winter solstice sunrise line also pointed to Jerusalem. Hence the naming of the third marker in the winter solstice line for St. Stephan, the first martyr of Christianity who was stoned to death in Jerusalem. There is also the connection between St. Wenceslas and St. Stephan, martyrs who shared, early on, the same Feast Day, December 26th, as noted in the 19th century Christmas carol: “Good King Wenceslas looked out/On the feast of Stephen…” From the Rotunda of St. Wenceslas one can indeed look out on a winter sunrise over St. Stephan’s on St. Stephan’s Day.
And that is also the best answer to the question: why? To the Dark Age and newly Christianized builders, working to establish a Christian gloss on the local pagan sacred spots and alignments, the accident of the winter solstice’s alignment with the almost infinitely remote Jerusalem, the center of the known universe and the place where the new Dying God of Christianity saved the world, must have seemed the epitome of the miraculous. This allowed the superimposition of Duke Vaclav’s murder over St. Stephan’s martyrdom to create the new patron saint of Bohemia, St. Wenceslas, whose rotunda and tomb marked the sighting point for the line, through the Holy Cross and the Rotunda of St. Stephan to the Holy City.
A thousand years ago, when the pagan sites and alignment were Christianized, the winter solstice sunrise fell half way through Sagittarius, a thousand years from the cusp of Sagittarius/Capricorn, the winter solstice point in Ptolemy’s era, and a thousand years from our present point on the cusp of Scorpio/Sagittarius. To cartographers and astronomers smart enough to create the alignment to Jerusalem with such precision, then the knowledge of the precession of a fixed point, such as an equinox or solstice, through time would have been apparent. And so, in this way, the rotunda builders were also creating a pattern that pointed unerringly toward a very specific moment in time, a thousand years later, our current era.
At the present moment, the winter solstice sunrise over Prague, viewed along the axis of the Holy Cross, presents us with an amazing vision. In the predawn sky, the figure of the 13th sign of the Zodiac, Ophiucus the Serpent Holder, stands with his left foot on the rising sun, in alignment with the hidden sun of the center of our galaxy, which appears from Prague to be the center point where all these images come together, Jerusalem. Could it be that this is the real mystery of the alignment? Could a thousand years of visionary Emperors and alchemists, magicians and scientists and astronomers, all have been attracted to and working with the energy of Prague as a kind stage in which to glimpse our current era?
This literal sign in the sky also suggests Fulcanelli’s idea, from the Hendaye chapter of Mysteries of the Cathedrals, of aligning the celestial and terrestrial crosses as a way to predict the season of catastrophe. The celestial cross of the solar and precessional year aligns in Prague with the terrestrial cross of the city itself, and the very earthly cross of the crucifixion. Could the creators of this alignment have been aware of this ancient way to time the apocalypse? It seems quite likely and perhaps the most telling piece of evidence is the use of the symbols on the Hendaye Cross, the angry Sun, man in the moon face and the eight rayed star, on the old stained glass windows of the Templar Church “In Jerusalem” and dedicated to St Lawrence. The only change is the four ages have here become an explosion from the sun, the 17th ray, which echoes the use made of this symbol by the Knights of St. John on Malta.
In 1585 Dr. John Dee, perhaps the smartest man in the world, arrived in Prague to preach the coming apocalyptic new age to the Emperor Rudolph II. Rudolph was perhaps unimpressed by Dee’s angelic warnings, but the choice of Prague as the imperial city had not been by accident. Rudolph had a sense for the larger destiny of Prague, one that definitely included its mysterious alignment with and affinity for Jerusalem, and perhaps had a better idea of its importance to our current era than did Dee.
As I mingled last October, enjoying the ambiance of the restored church and the convivial atmosphere, I knew that I had indeed found some sort of nexus, a crossroads or a doorway, I just didn’t know to what. Turns out it was not only a doorway to a mystery, the Jerusalem alignment, but a portal to our future as well. I plan to be there for the solstice in 2012. Seems like a good place from which to watch the show.