The order of St. John of Jerusalem founded a monastery in Prague Lesser Town in 1158. They built a church there, consecrated in 1182. The three-nave Romanesque basilica was a predecessor of the present Church of Our Lady Below the Chain near the Charles Bridge. You can see valuable Baroque paintings inside the church.
Gothic church of the Knights of Malta
Fragments of Romanesque walls are preserved to the present day. The church alteration in Gothic style began in 1314. The Order of St. John of Jerusalem gained money by selling property of the abolished Knights Templar. They demolished the most of the existing basilica and started to build a Gothic nave, but it was never finished. The reformation Hussite wars in the 15 th century interrupted their work. A presbytery and partly the towers of the church were finished at the time.
The Church of Our Lady Below the Chain was rebuilt in Renaissance style in the 16 th century and it was given Baroque features during the 17 th century by Carlo Lurago.
Arrest of St. John of Nepomuk
St. John of Nepomuk, the martyr, was arrested in the Church of Our Lady Below the Chain on a peaceful meeting in 1393. He was thrown to the river Vltava later because he refused to reveal a secret, confided to him by Queen Sophie. He was reportedly already dead when thrown to the river, because he was tortured before.
Paintings in the church
The interior of the Church of Our Lady Below the Chain is adorned with paintings by Czech Baroque master Karel Skreta: “Madonna blessing the Maltese Knights at the battle of Lepanto” (1651) at the high altar and “Beheading of St. Barbara” (1674).
An interesting statue of Count Rudolf Colloredo-Wallsee from 1850 represents the hero, who defended Prague against the Swedish army in 1648. The statue has a hat on its head, despite of being placed in a Catholic church: it is because it was intended to be placed elsewhere.
Unclear origin of the name “below the chain”
The origin of the name “Our Lady Below the Chain” is unclear. The reason could be a statue of Our Lady with a chain round her neck or the Judith Bridge gate with a chain that used to be nearby. But it is most likely called after the chain, that used to be stretched from this place over the river Vltava to the Old Town on the other side. Its purpose was to stop ships coming to Prague from passing through without paying customs. According to that, a near street is called Retezova (= Chain Street).