The Bethlehem Chapel in Prague Old Town is a place of great importance because of the reformer Jan Hus, who used to preach there in the 15 th century. It was a birthplace of reformative movement in the Czech Kingdom. Other reformers, such as Thomas Müntzer, used to preach there as well. The chapel was demolished in the 18 th century and there were only remains of the walls preserved, but it was built again according to the original plans in 1950s.
The origin of the name “Bethlehem Chapel”
The Bethlehem Chapel was built in 1391 by rich courtier Hanus of Mühlheim and tradesman Vaclav Kriz. They donated relics for the chapel – probably relics of one of the murdered Bethlehem babies. That´s also the origin of the chapel´s name.
The Bethlehem Chapel is very large, it has enough space for 3000 visitors, so it used to be called simply “Bethlehem”. It was also a burial place – several important personalities, such as Jakoubek of Stribro, are buried there.
Jan Hus in the Bethlehem Chapel
Bethlehem Chapel became very popular because of reformer Jan Hus (John Huss), who preached there from 1402 to 1413. Noblemen as well as poor people attended his preaching, even Queen Zofie did. The reformative movement grew here, and it escalated when Jan Hus was burnt as a heretic in 1415. The situation led to the Hussite wars.
The Bethlehem Chapel remained a centre of Protestant Church after the Hussite wars ended, but Catholicism finally won in the Czech Kingdom. The rebellion of Protestant nobles was defeated at the Battle of White Mountain in 1620. The Church of Rome confiscated the chapel then and Jesuit order bought it in 1661. They made it a Catholic church.
Demolition and rebuilding of the chapel
After the Jesuit order was suppressed in the 18 th century, Emperor Joseph II. had the Bethlehem Chapel desecrated and demolished in 1786. Only a sacristy remained there, with a room, where Jan Hus used to live.
The idea to rebuild the chapel was realized in 1950s. The original shape of the building was found out from old illustrations and it was projected by Jaroslav Fragner. The remains of the original Bethlehem Chapel were integrated to the new one. Its walls are decorated with paintings by art school students, inspired by biblical themes.