Prague: Two Religions, Two Cemeteries

We began our day on Friday with a late breakfast and a walk around the old Jewish area of Prague. I had noticed it’s location on the map and thought that it was further to the north, but it is just 100 metres from our hotel.

There a seven or eight sites that make up the Jewish Museum and together, then tell a vary interesting story of a strong religious and ethnic group of people over the centuries. I understand that the first Jews reached this are in trading caravans around the year 1000. They were alternatively accepted and rejected by society over the centuries but a key period for their life in Prague was at the time of the Habsburg Era in the 1500’s when the rulers allowed this area to be one of the only places on the world to allow freedom of religion. So many Jews came to Prague, that by 1708 they comprised 25% of the population. There were more Jews here then, than in any part of the world.

The Jewish Museum has done a great job of collecting and maintaining some of the most important Jewish artifacts in history. The main sites in the museum are a number of old synagogues, an assembly hall and the old cemetery. The still functioning ‘Old New’ Synagogue was completed in 1270.

Each synagogue of the museum is established to show a different part of Jewish culture and history. The first one that we visited described the integration of religion into Jewish life and had some interesting stories and displays on things such as marriage, circumcision, Passover and other festivals. Another synagogue provided details about how, over the history of Prague, the Jews contributed to society and as artisans. Another is completely bare except for the names, birthdays and date of death of over 80,000 people who died during the holocaust.

The old cemetery, near the assembly hall, is a small area in which thousands of headstones are arranged in a higgeldy- piggeldy fashion. Over 100,000 people have been buries here in multiple level graves. The last burial was well over 200 years ago. Some of the graves that we could see dated back to the 1400’s.

In the afternoon, we took a tour to the town of Kutna Hora, a world heritage site, about out of Prague. In the medieval days this was a silver mining town. It had a royal mint that made coins for a number of centuries and it became the seat of King Wenceslas’ reign.

Near the town is the famous bone church – the Sedlec Ossuary. (I had to look up the word ‘ossuary in the dictionary to remember what it meant – a place for storing bones and human remains). Well, this is a very prolific ossuary. A family had purchased Sedlec monastery in 1870 and allowed a local woodcarver to use the bones that had been piling up in the crypt for centuries. Just a few – 40,000 of them! They are now arranged decoratively in the church in various way. I thought that it was time to think about the afterlife – once you die, you can come always come back as a piece in a chandelier! It doesn’t have the same type of dignity as the Jewish cemetery in Prague.

Nearby is the more serene and splendid cathedral of St Barbara. This is undergoing renovation to replace the roof and is a splendid piece of gothic architecture.

It was almost dark when we left and we back in Prague for dinner at 6.30 pm.


Bruce is a keen traveller and photographer. This web site describes his travel and family interests

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